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

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46. Makeover

Hi Elly, said Joey, rushing inside the back door, shedding his boots and coat in the mudroom off the kitchen. He looked at himself in the small mirror there over the bench and fixed his hair that had collapsed under his beanie and helmet all day. He ran his fingers through the straight lengths that hung into his face, knowing it was time to go see Jose for another haircut. He hadn’t had time for one since they returned from tour, and he was overdue.

“You guys are back already?” she asked.

“No, I sent them for a drink at the bar. We should have at least another half hour before Mick, Kip, and Rocco pull some chicks off them and bring them home. I’m going to get changed. Would you please check in with Mack and have him light the grill soon?”

“I will light it, Joey. Mack is not here.”

“Wait, where is he? I thought he was taking over for Mick tonight.”

“He took the girls to Mr. Yong’s.”

“Why?” Joey took a glass from the cupboard and put it to the fridge door, pressing the button for crushed ice and then filtered water. He drank down half of it before refilling it and drinking more.

“They changed their mind about take out, and they wanted to go out together. Neither one of us saw the harm. Maia needs to be more social, Joey. She’s had quite a day today, and I think Angie can help get her out of this funk.”

Refilling the glass for the third time, Joey asked her, “When did they leave?”

“Four-thirty?”

“It’s nearly eight,” said Joey, turning on his phone and calling Mack.

“Hi, Mr. Cravens.”

“Hi Mack, how are the girls?”

“They are at the mall getting Maia’s ears pierced.”

“Maia is getting her ears pierced?” exclaimed Joey, as Elly turned and clapped her hands jubilantly.

“They just got her makeup done at Sephora.”
“Her makeup done?”

“She had them customize Maia a kit with all of her colors and some facial care products? I got the receipt here,” he said as Joey heard the rustling of paper on the line.

“That couldn’t have been cheap. Who paid for it?”

“I did, with Mr. Lenci’s card. I hope that is all right.”

“That’s perfect, thank you.”

“Mr. Cravens, the girls are done. How are you doing, Miss Maia? Do your ears hurt? Come here, you’ll be all right,” he said, hugging her. “Do you have a tissue?” he asked the girl behind the counter as she rang up the transaction. The girl held out a pretty shopping bag with tissue paper sticking out of the top like a gift bag to Maia.

“It’s okay, Maia,” said Angie. “They won’t hurt soon.”

“Is she okay?” asked Joey, concerned.

“She’s fine,” said Mack. “That’s a great look on you, Miss Maia. What a beautiful young lady you are becoming,” he said, making her smile. “Wait until Joey and Miss Elly see you!”

“C’mon Maia, we are going to Victoria’s Secret. You are not going to school wearing little girl underwear,” said Angie loud enough for Joey to hear her.

Joey laughed. “Go Angie,” he said, “you tell her.”

“Well, Mr. Cravens, I’m getting a lemonade and waiting outside,” said Mack, “they will be in there for a while.”

“Excellent, thank you, Mack, for chaperoning. I will keep a steak for you.”

“I already ate with the girls, Mr. Cravens, please save me some lemon meringue pie though.”

“I sure will, Mack. I think Angie is good for her,” said Joey.

“I know she is. I think we will close the mall and go out for ice cream. Then we’ll be home.”

Joey and Elly were ready for the guys when they walked through the door only a half-hour later. They had just stopped and sat on the kitchen bar stools with glasses of ice water, figuring they would have a few more minutes to rest when they saw the headlights in the back driveway.

“They are here already?” asked Joey, getting up. The booming male voices emanated as they exited the Suburban and Hummer, and they sauntered inside, kicking off their boots and shedding their coats on the mudroom hooks, dropping their gloves and hats in the bin.

“Now that I see the whites of your eyes, I’m going to get the steaks on the grill.”

“Where’s Mack? He’s the steak man. You, not so much, babe,” said Paul, kissing him.

“He’s out with the girls,” said Joey, “So you are stuck with me.”

“Nope, we got Kip,” said Mitch, stepping out onto the deck. “Yo, Grillmaster,” said Mitch.

“Wassup?”

“Mack is chasing the kids. We need your grill skills.”

“You got it, Boss,” said Kip. “Is the grill hot?”

“Yeah,” said Mitch. “Joey put it on.”

Kip took off his gloves and chucked them in the bin with the others. “Tell Joey to meet me at the sliding door. I’m not treading my boots into Elly’s kitchen.”

“Good move,” said Paul, “Thanks, Kip.”

“Yeah, no worries, Paulie.”

Elly met him at the door with the plate of thick steaks and the tongs.

“Hey Elly,” he said, bending down and kissing the petite elderly woman on the cheek.

“Thank you so much, sweetheart. Only Mitch wants his medium. The rest want theirs mooing.”

“So what do you think? 8 for Mitch and 6 for the rest of these Tomahawks?”

“Exactly.”

“You are missing one. Where’s Mack’s?”

“He already ate with the girls.”

“Where did they go?

“Mr. Yong’s and to the mall.”

“Better him than me, Angie at the mall means she’s getting her ears pierced and spending no less than an hour at Victoria’s Secret.”

“She’s making Maia lose the tomboy exterior.”
“That ought to be fun. What rub did you use on these?”

“Yes, with that rub you gave me.”

“Awesome.”

“Would you like a lager or a glass of water while you wait?”

“Water would be great, I’ll have a lager one with dinner unless you are uncorking wine?”

“They said they wanted their Yuengling.”

“They would,” laughed Kip about the Amish brew that as teens, he and Mitch stole from Simon’s beer fridge in the summer when they would spend the nights out in their tent in Kip’s back yard.

“Joey just uncorked a bottle of Bordeaux if you want a glass of Merlot,” she said, knowing Kip liked his wine more than a lager with dinner.
“You know, I would love one with dinner.”
“I will pour you one.”

“Thanks, Elly,” he said, handing her the empty plate.

“I will bring you a fresh platter,” she said.

“Give them their salads, so they are sitting down when I bring these steaks inside. If they walk into Paulie’s studio, we are going to eat cold steaks in about two hours. They were already talking about something Paulie was working on.”

Elly returned to the kitchen and told Joey what Kip said. The guys had already taken off their ski pants and had their lycra leggings on with their lycra tops clinging to their tight muscles. Alex opted to go upstairs and change into his jeans and a flannel shirt, tired of feeling like a stuffed sausage.

When Alex returned to the living room, Joey was shooing them into the dining room already. “Hey Joey, where are the girls?” he asked.

“Angie decided to take Maia out to dinner and the mall. So far Maia got her to makeup done, her ears pierced, and is going to Victoria’s Secret.”

“On who’s plastic?” asked Paul, handing Alex an emerald longneck beer bottle.

“Yours,” said Joey.

“Good. Glad Mack had it. She’s not too tired?”
“She’s okay. Her meds were due an hour ago, so we shall see how much longer they are there.”

“She had her inhaler with her,” said Elly.

Paul smiled and kissed Joey. “She’s fine, quit worrying.”

“I hope that’s all right,” said Alex, as Mick approached him, his boots off but he still had on his coat. He handed Paul his wallet.

“Are you kidding? That’s awesome!”

“Everything is secure Mr. Lenci, and I put the Suburban away for the night. You left your wallet in the car.”

“Oh wow, thanks, Mick.”

“Yeah, no worries. I think that the new ski jacket’s pocket is not right. You keep dropping stuff out of it.”

“You’re right. I’ll put my wallet in the interior pocket from now on since my lift pass is on this one. Are you heading out?

“Yes sir.”

“Have a great night, Mick. Thanks for going out with us today.”

“Thank you, sir. I liked skiing with you guys. My kids only like the little slopes. Skiing Catamount with pros like you guys was amazing. What time should I be here tomorrow?”

“You can go out with us any time,” said Andy. “Rocco and I will hit you up the next time I’m in town. This is my last hurrah probably for the rest of the season, being that Ace set me up with this new composer, who is already making me crazy. I’m going to Manhattan to deal with her until she and New York piss me off, then I’m coming home to ski until she realizes who’s boss.”

“You will play nice with Taylor. She’s amazing,” said Alex. “You want a number one like Candace Stevens and Grant Matthews? You got to deal with Taylor. She’s a rainmaker.”

“Dutch is all about her,” said Rocco, backing up Alex.

“Grant told me how she is, and I’m not putting up with Miss Bossypants taking over my studio sessions.”

Paul rolled his eyes and looked at Mick. “Let’s say nine for breakfast, then we’ll leave soon after. I heard something about Cinnamon Rolls and Eggs Benedict.”

“Oh, I’m always down for Miss Elly’s homemade Hollandaise sauce. I’ll see you then Mr. Lenci. See you guys in the morning.”

“So, what’s it like living with a teenage girl?” asked Mitch.

“Maia is not a typical teenager—” started Paul.

“Yet, you mean,” interrupted Alex. “It’s in there, I promise. Your days are coming. You’re still honeymooning.”

“We already had Ruby up here yesterday. Thank God she is in the neighborhood twice a week.”

“An hour out from her neighborhood, you mean?” asked Alex about the Center. “She’s got at least another hour southwest to get there from here. It’s only an hour from West Plains.”
“Trust me, I know, I’m paying for the emergency sessions with the mileage.”

The guys had just finished eating when the girls got home. Maia was all smiles about her earrings and make-up, as Elly praised her on how beautiful she looked while Joey beamed about the transformation, as Paul fist-bumped Angie.

“Great work, Ang,” said Paul, as she hugged him from behind.

“Thanks, Uncle Paulie.”

The girls had disappeared into the kitchen for Cokes when Mack entered, after kicking off his boots in the mudroom.

“Hey Mack—” said Paul, as Mack approached him in the dining room.

“There’s the man of the hour,” said Kip, as the rest cheered for him.

Mack laughed and handed Paul the receipts. “They were good, Miss Maia had a great time with Miss Angie. Good times.

“We appreciate it, thanks Mack,” said Paul.
“How is she doing?” asked Joey.

“Winded. I had to call time and bring them home. She used her inhaler a couple of times near the end.”

“Thanks again, Mack.”

Paul looked at the receipts and handed them to Joey.

“Well, that card is sizzling, $1,500,” said Paul with a smirk.

“Where did they go?” asked Andy.

“They went to Claire’s for the piercings? She got two?” asked Alex.

“Angie probably got another set. She’s always getting another set. They run up her ear now. I can’t believe she still has room for more.”

“They went to a jeweler?”

“What?” asked Paul.

“Quarter carat stud earrings and two bracelets?”
“Haha, Little Orphan Annie got herself some bling there, Daddy Warbucks,” said Mitch being crass. Joey stared him down and Mitch picked up his beer and sipped it.

“They went to Macy’s for shoes. Two pairs of Chuck Taylor’s, a pair of boots and a purse, Kate Spade with matching wallet.”

Andy laughed. “That’s it? For a thirteen and seventeen-year-old?”

“There’s still more,” said Joey, shaking the receipts.

Paul reached for one. “Victoria’s Secret and Pink haul. $450,” he scrutinized it and handed it back to Joey. “I did not need to see that.”

Joey took at it and laughed, folding it over, seeing the descriptions of push-up bras and boy shorts, panties, yoga pants, hoodies, and socks.

“Where else did they go?” asked Mitch, as Joey wrinkled his brow.

“A bookstore.”

“Okay, someone needs to take away the teenager card—”

“Maia is a massive bookworm,” said Paul. “She’s got a fricking genius IQ and will graduate from St. Nick’s by the time she’s 16.”

“No way,” said Mitch.

“Serious, brilliant,” said Alex. “Speaks how many languages?”

“Three fluently,” said Joey. “English, Italian, and French.”

“Watch out Paulie, someone got himself a translator now,” said Rocco.

“She won’t translate,” said Joey. “Maia said I needed to learn it, and she would teach me.”

“Good lord,” said Paul, “When did she say that?”
“When we met.”

“She appreciates giving me shit all by herself, so I don’t see her teaching you any time soon.”
“Does she now?” ask Mitch.

“Every chance she gets.”

“What did she get at the bookstore?” asked Andy.

“Dictionary, thesaurus, a book on the Renaissance and the Allegheny mountains. Art sketchbooks, pencils, a book on doodling, and two sets of gel pens?”

They laughed. “It’s for her New Testament class. She has to personalize her journal entries.”
“Sounds like the Padre is trying to make them give a damn,” said Mitch.

They laughed.

“Maia doesn’t know how to draw so Angie’s teaching her,” explained Joey as Elly cleared some dishes from the table.

“They drew French fries for the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand,” said Elly.

“What? No way,” laughed Mitch. He picked up his phone. “Ang—” he said, “Lemme see this art project for Maia’s Bible class.” He hung up.

“They’ll be down in a minute.”

“Hope they have time to do trig,” said Alex.

“I know they will. Maia has the rest of the weekend planned out for their schoolwork.”

“They went to H&M. Skinny jeans?” asked Joey.

“Maia?” asked Paul. “No way.”

“Says size XS. Some tops. A coat? A jean jacket, size small, socks, leggings.”

Maia and Angie came down in new matching outfits of skinny jeans, flannel shirts, and new black Chuck Taylor high-top sneakers.

“Don’t you look cute twinning,” said Joey.

“What do you think about her outfit?”

“I think it’s adorable.”

“Let’s see your ears.”

Maia went close to Joey.

“Where’s the diamond studs?” asked Paul.

“On my dresser. I can’t wear them for a month.”

“I’m shocked you got bling,” said Paul.

“I don’t want cheap earrings turning my ears green. I wanted to get like little ball studs but the ones they had were too big and yellow gold. These were a perfect size and were on sale, forty-percent off, only twenty more than the gold ball studs.”

Paul picked up the receipt. “Not bad at all,” he said with a smile. “What are they mounted on?”

“White gold,” said Angie.

“Very well done,” he replied. “$139.” The guys all nodded.

“Those are okay for now,” said Joey about the little cubic zirconia training pair. “Angie is going to teach you how to care for them and not get an infection, right?” asked Joey.

“I’m already on it. We already did an application of the solution. I found the Q-tips.”

“Did you get another piercing?” Alex asked Angie.

“Yes, see?”

“How many on each side now?” asked Andy.

“This is 8.”

Maia went to the sideboard and got her meds, still too quiet for his liking.

“Is she okay? whispered Paul to Angie.

“She’s okay. Just tired. We came down hangers and her meds.”

“You should have used your plastic for you,” said Alex.

“I did for all of mine but the piercings and jewelry. Maia and I got matching bracelets and she wouldn’t pierce her ears if I didn’t do it with her. I was going to pay but Mack got to the register before us.” Joey laughed. “Maia got two pairs of Chucks?”

“She loves them. “One high top and one regular.”

“We had fun, thanks Uncle Paulie,” said Angie hugging him.

“Thank you, Angie, I never could’ve gotten her there,” said Joey.

Maia entered the dining room with two glasses of Coke and handed one to Angie.

“Elly will get us hangers after dessert,” said Maia.

“Did you have fun?”

“Yes, thank you, Paulie. It was my first time in most of those stores.”

“You look like a thirteen-year-old now. How’s the makeup?”

“Irritating,” she said as the guys broke out in laughter.

“You will get used to it,” said Angie.

Maia nodded and sipped her Coke.

“Do your ears hurt?” asked Andy.

“A little. Are you recording a new album any time soon?”

“Well, how do you do,” asked Mitch with a cocky smile as Maia’s countenance fell.

“Ignore him, Maia, he’s clowning as usual,” said Andy. “Miller teases everybody. I have the album planned out. I’m meeting with a composer this week to start fleshing out the rest of it.”

“Very cool. My mom had all of your and Mitch’s albums. I grew up listening to all of you guys’ CDs to of I even had the Heartbeat vinyl and all of Paulie’s music.”

“That’s cool.”

“How about you?” she asked Mitch. “We got your new one right before she died.”

“I’m going on tour this year.”

“I saw the dates in Billboard. Are you only doing a US Tour?”

“This time I am.”

Maia nodded. “I heard you guys are neighbors.”

“We are, we share a property line in the back.”

“They got quads to ride on between houses. It’s cool,” said Angie.

Elly returned and asked the guys what kind of pies they wanted for dessert. As always, she had baked the pies for them the day before. Maia watched with great interest as Elly made the pies, as she had never seen one made before. She got to sample each of the fillings and marveled at the meringue peaks that Elly made on the lemon meringue pie. for pie orders.

“Lemon all day,” said Mitch.

“Ooh!” exclaimed Angie, “Can I have the lemon too?”

“Andy?” she asked.

“Triple berry.”

“Alex?”

“Cherry please.”

“Maia,” said Elly, “she supervised the pie baking.”

“And the turkey baking. I grew up with vegetarians so that was not something I had ever seen prepared before.”

“Did you decide which pie you would like a piece of?” asked Elly.

“I can’t decide yet, so please come back to me.”
“Paulie?”

“Apple,” he said.

“Me too,” said Joey.

“Maia?”

“Umm…a little piece of cherry and a little piece of berry?”

‎They laughed.

“Okay, ‎you girlies help me bring out dessert.”
‎Maia and Angie followed her into the kitchen where Mack was scooping little dishes of vanilla ice cream. Kip was pouring coffee into mugs. Elly handed Maia the cream pitcher and sugar bowl to take into the dining room and sent Angie in with clean forks wrapped in paper napkins. She handed them out to each of the guys there as Maia returned to the kitchen, bringing in a couple dishes of ice cream as Angie followed with another pair. As soon as the ice cream was in, they brought in the mugs of coffee while Elly cut the pieces of pie, Rocco heated each piece in the microwave and handed them to the girls to take into the dining room with the designated slices.

“Daddy, your cherry,” said Angie, setting the warmed piece of pie before him.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Angie, how did you get her into skinny jeans?” asked Joey above a whisper.

“She was just ready, Uncle Joey.”

Angie set her and Mitch’s pies down in front of them as Maia returned with hers. She had a little less than half of each.

“She had the right idea,” said Andy.

“Wow,” said Maia, tasting the berry.
“It’s good isn’t it?” asked Andy. “Elly always makes it for me. She makes Alex the cherry, Mitch the lemon, and Paulie the apple.”

“Oooh,” she said after taking a bite, “Sour Cherry pie. That’s heaven on a fork.” They laughed, as Alex nodded approvingly.

“Maia, I hear that you are going to St. Nick’s?” asked Mitch.

“I start next Monday.”

Before Mitch could continue, Andy interrupted, knowing Mitch was getting ready to tease her. Maia eyed Mitch from across the table, joking with Kip, his security.

“How’s school, Ang?” asked Andy.

“It’s good. I got accepted to Winston and NYU, but I accepted NYU’s offer to be close to home. I’m on the prom committee for the school.”

“Did they decide where it’s going to be held yet?” asked Alex.

“At the Met. I’m doing a class there this semester. It’s so awesome. I get a pass and everything.”

“What era?” Asked Andy.

“Post-modernist.”

“Warhol and Matisse?” asked Kip.

“Yes, actually.”

“Love the Met. Enjoy it,” he said, “If you got access to the whole enchilada, spend as much time there as possible soaking up that inspiration.”

“Pretty much do that now,” she said. “I have so many sketches in my book from just sitting there.”

Maia ate her ice cream bite by bite with the pie. Alex watched her.

“You’ve come a long way from being a girl in a box,” said Alex.

Maia blushed. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“Kid, how did you do it?” asked Mitch.

His calling her kid caught her off guard, and unlike before, Andy didn’t rush to shut him up.
Maia put down her fork and picked up her glass of water. “Well, I staked out the joint, I mapped it out, and sheer dumb luck,” she said, then took a swig.

“I don’t know how to respond to that,” said Mitch. “You really could’ve died you know.”
Maia smirked. What a clown this guy was. His long black hair tied back in a ponytail, he took another bite of his pie and wiped his mouth with his napkin while she considered her answer.

“Well, it wouldn’t have been the first time.”

“You’re pretty close to using up your nine lives, so I think the time you slow down some,” said Paul, as Alex and Joey nodded.

“If you were a fan and if you had died, what a fucking mess that would have been.” All the guys, including Paul, nodded in agreement.

Maia took immediate offense, and Joey stared her down, hoping she wouldn’t say anything awful. After the last couple of days, he had no idea what she would say. “Oh, I’m sorry, I was out of options.”

“We get where you were coming from, but you just proved to the rest of the wackos out there that they can do it too and they may not be so lucky to make it out alive,” started Mitch.

“I agree, it’s why I’m removing the plywood crates from the trucks. Regular tour crates and cardboard boxes for merchandise. We got to be safer now,” said Alex.

“I’m sorry, Uncle Alex.”

“Kiddo, you woke us up. It wasn’t okay what you did, but I accept your apology because I understand why.”

“Cramer says that he told all the roadies to have any stowaways arrested. No questions asked, just do it. Zip tie them and call the cops,” said Mitch, regarding his executive producer.

“Wow,” said Andy. “Really?”

“Just got word of it yesterday.”

“I can’t say I blame him. I locked down my crews with the same. We aren’t playing.”

Maia put down her fork with her half-eaten pie.
“Maia, look at me,” said Alex. She slowly looked up.

“You and me, we are okay. I’m not mad at you. These guys, they get it too and need to let up on her. This is settled.”

Maia nodded and wrung her napkin in her hand. “It’s just I caused so much—"

“You showed us how important this is for everyone’s sake,” said Alex.

“It was just such a violation. We already live behind electric fences,” said Mitch. “Fuck, I hate living in a fortress.”

“Hold up,” said Maia, “Why do you need an electric fence?” Before he could answer, she looked at Paul and asked him. “Do you have an electric fence?”

“No,” he said, “Not on any of my properties.”

“Wait, I don’t get it. Why not?” she asked Paul.

Joey smirked.

“I have a different approach to my fans. I like them. They approach me and I take photos and talk. They give me gifts. They matter. Without them, I wouldn’t have any of it.”

“These guys have crazy fans who want to get close to them,” said Alex. “Now Andy is better than Mitch because of Fuzzy Bear. But you, sir, have crazy fans because of your party lifestyle and claim privacy to cover it up,” explained Alex.

They all laughed.

“You are like every tabloids’ dream headline of where bad boy Mitch Miller is going to end up this week,” said Angie.

“If only they knew what a fucking hermit he really is,” said Andy in his defense.

“Xylon also lets him be both the hermit and the distant Playboy. If you were on my label—” said Alex.

“Hence, why I am not.”

Maia laughed. “What would you do to change that Uncle Alex?”

“Well, nothing he’d like.”

“Ace knows that’s why I’m still with Xylon. Fulfilling this contract gives me complete rights to my music catalog. I can go anywhere else afterward and do greatest hits albums for retirement. Trust me, Ace, I can’t wait to be done with Xylon after this tour and officially divorce Cramer. I’m going to throw the biggest fucking party.”

“Can I come?” asked Maia. The guys all laughed and shook their heads.

“No, Maia,” said Joey. “Uncle Mitch does not have kid-friendly parties. We’ll have a Fried Chicken Friday here with cake and cards, won’t we, Mitchell?”

“Sure,” he said with a laugh. “Anything for the fam.”

“Are you looking at free agency or retirement?” asked Alex.

“I’m taking a break then deciding, but I will probably retire, once those albums are remastered.”

“Really? Are you going to make me break it to Dutch?” Asked Alex.

“Fuck, Ace, I know—Andy Weans hollered at me last week when I saw him in LA.

“Andy is one of the best executive producers for rock genres. So is Dutch. Look what he’s done with Grant Matthews.”

“I’ll think about it. I got mama and this tour first.”

“How’s she been?” asked Alex.

“We are back to bald. The second round of chemo didn’t do much.” Maia’s eyes met Mitch’s, “The talk is metastatic breast—"

“Are they doing radiation?” interrupted Alex.

“Yeah.”

“You need to postpone this tour. Mama comes first.”

“Cramer won’t, he says get through what you can then reschedule the rest.”

“What do you want to do?” asked Paul, as Maia put her fork on her empty plate. She bit her bottom lip and wrung the napkin in her hand as she did earlier when Paul wanted her to listen to him, and she wanted to dart out of the room and avoid him. His eyes bore into hers until she looked down at her plate.

“Stay in Philly with her.”

“Why aren’t you there now?” asked Maia.
Mitch looked at her and scoffed.

“My dad and I don’t get along. I’m there Tuesday through Thursday, and I come home Fridays to ski and return by Monday afternoon. My dad goes on business trips Mondays to Thursdays, so I take care of her.”

“Breast cancer sucks,” said Maia. Mitch nodded.
“It takes away the best part. Hugging hurts, cuddles aren’t like what they once were. Nothing tastes right to them after radiation. You feel guilty for enjoying it. Even what was her favorite—I’m sorry you are going through this. I really need to get back to my homework. Please excuse me.”

“Maia—" said Joey, as she left them. Angie went after her.

“I got her Uncle Joey.”

“Wow,” said Andy. “Is she okay?”

“She has her moments. She did her own hospice. Her mother refused treatment or hospice. She wasn’t enough of a priority as a Medicaid patient to keep track of,” said Joey.

“Fuck man—” said Andy.

Mitch finished off his mug of coffee. “At least with mama, we smoke weed together.”

“That has to piss off Pete.”

“She says he smokes a joint with her and puts on the Beatles vinyl when I’m not there. You know how Pete is. He’s not happy unless he’s giving me shit.”

“I can’t imagine Mama Maria smoking weed,” laughed Paul.

“She’s hella funny. Smoking da dope,” said Kip.
“Man, I still can’t believe you guys got kids,” said Mitch.

“Neither can I,” said Paul.

“Fuck man, what was that like? I’m like dying a thousand deaths seeing it on ZNN. How on earth did you live through it?” asked Andy.
“It was pretty crazy. I got to say, the worse part of it was flying my mama home to Florida and putting her in a psych ward so she didn’t go to jail.”

“What the fuck man?” asked Kip a laugh.

Alex explained, “Mama Mussolini tried to off Maia with a pair of sewing shears. What a shitshow that day was. I had to keep Maia from dialing 911 on her room phone until Joey returned from dealing with security.”

“We’re talking within hours of Maia regaining consciousness. I didn’t get to even have a ‘Hi, nice to meet you,’ with her until she recovered from the attack. Fuck, mama almost succeeded. I had to wheel and deal with the hospital not to call in the authorities. They agreed if I had her out of the state within a couple of hours. So, I called Ernie and Mack and I flew them down in my jet. We stayed with her until the next morning when one of her guys shows up at the hospital.”

“Did Penny go take care of your dad?”

“Oh, hell no, she’s pissed at me for taking in Maia. She’s not talking to me, and Philly is pissed that I missed her birthday because of Maia.”

“Where’s Philly?” asked Mitch.

“Betty Ford.”

“What’s she bitching about? She gets to have it with a cake and an AA group hug. Betty Ford birthdays are such fun.”

“You would know, Miller,” said Paul.

“So Paulie, how’s Penny’s little troublemaker?” asked Andy.

“Antonio? Oh, he’s supposedly keeping out of trouble, but I doubt it,” said Paul, “he was wheeling and dealing with me about prom already. Make no mistake, Antonio has nothing on Maia. She bleached the tank of that fucking Caddy. She has a warrant for her arrest for that one, and her attorney just found out that she has fines that need to be paid to the transit police as well.”

They laughed. “What a little shit,” said Rocco.

“You totally wouldn’t know it by looking at her.”
“What you don’t expect is for her to be a brilliant nerd who likes the real scandalous stories in the Bible and gets off on shocking whoever is in company with her rendition of them.”

“Ooh,” said Mitch with a laugh. “Think we can con her into storytime this weekend?”

“Good luck with that,” said Paul. “Though she is easily persuaded with pizza and a Big Mac.”

“Sounds like a teenager to me,” said Andy.

“Someone’s getting Nonni’s, what does she like on it?” asked Mitch.

“Same as Paulie,” said Elly, “We are having salmon tomorrow night, and she hates seafood.”

“Italian Sausage, Mushrooms, and Green Peppers,” said Mitch to Kip as Elly cleared their plates.



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