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

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6. Breaking News

When Paul stepped out of the bathroom, he toweled off his hair with one bright white towel and had its match wrapped around his waist. Hearing Joey's voice, Paulie combed through his black hair with this hands, hoping to get Joey in bed before he had the chance to get dressed and run head first into the family drama.

"Yes, I'll hold for the nursing supervisor," said Joey, exiting the walk-in closet.

Paul huffed in disappointment seeing Joey fully dressed in a pair of chinos and forest green cashmere V-neck pullover. He coughed and tried to clear his throat as Joey started to talk again.

“That’s right, Maia Lenci,” said Joey. “L-E-N-C-I.”

Holding back that cough did not contain it, and Paul coughed violently and wheezed as Joey held the box of Kleenex and Paul pulled out a wad of them. “Speaker--” he croaked.

“Thank you. Her brother is right here. I’m putting you on speaker.”

Paul coughed louder and spit up more phlegm.

“That’s him coughing in the background."

“Hello, Mr. Lenci,” said Minerva loudly into the phone. Paul rolled his eyes. He took Joey by the wrist and pulled the cell phone closer to his face.

“Hi, you can call me Paul. What you need to know from me, Joey can tell you."

“I’m Minerva, I’m the nursing supervisor. I’m sorry to hear you’re not feeling well. I need to know what is Maia’s mother’s name?”

“Catrina Anne Prescott.”

Father’s Name?”

“Saverio Fernando Angelo Lenci.”

The nurse apologized, “I’m sorry to pry and I hope that you feel better soon. There’s a terrible strand of pneumonia going around right now. This is the sixth call I’ve gotten. People trying to act like you for information, but they didn’t know your dad had 2 middle names.”

“Do you know who?”

“I think they were reporters.”

“Reporters?” asked Joey, rolling his eyes as Paul’s bugged out of his skull. “How do reporters know of this?”

Paul cleared his throat and motioned for the phone to be moved closer to him.

“Can you hear me, Minerva?” he asked above a whisper.

“Yes, Paul.”

"What floor is she on?”

"She’s on the 6th floor, CICU.”

“CICU?”

“She had acute anaphylaxis when we administered penicillin what led to asthma induced cardiac arrest."

"She had a heart attack?”

“Yes.”

“Is she okay?”

“As best as she can be right now. We have her on a ventilator and getting what she needs as far as fluids and antibiotics.”

Paul coughed and wheezed.

“You don’t sound so good yourself.”

Paul whispered. ”I need you to talk to Joey. He’s a nurse and understands all this. Please tell him everything.”

“Hi, Joey,” said Minerva. Joey tended to Paul while listening, getting him to sit in the high back chair and putting the trashcan in front of him between his legs and the Kleenex box on his lap.

“Sorry about that, Minerva, I just had him steaming in the sauna trying to clear out this croup before it goes deeper into his lungs. Tell me about the girl and what you need from him.”

"As I was saying, she had acute anaphylaxis when we administered penicillin and arrested. With her diminished lung capacity, we have her in CICU.”

“Penicillin allergy and asthma are Lenci family traits, I’m afraid.”

“From what we found on her, we know that her mother died from cancer. She has been on her own for three months on the streets of Chicago. She’s unconscious, covered in frostbite and has a bad case of pneumonia.”

“Is Alex Corwynn and Daniel Stockton still there?”

“They are in the waiting room.”

“Please give them access to her. We are in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and Paul is very sick and still running a low-grade fever. He needs them to be his eyes and ears right now until he can travel. I’m not clearing him to go anywhere until that fever is gone. The flight home from Cleveland was bad enough on his ears.”

“Poor Paul. I wish him well.”

Paul wheezed.

“Where’s your inhaler?” asked Joey. Paul pointed to the dresser. Joey reached for it and popped the cap off and shook it before handing it off to Paul who put it to his mouth and used it.

“Is he asthmatic?”

“Only when sick now. He was asthmatic as a child.”

"We think she is, too, from what we found in the backpack. Three empty inhalers and pill packs of prednisone.”

Joey gave Minerva his cell phone number. “Call me and don’t give out my number. How late are you on? Oh good, you just started. Are you working a 12? Right. Okay, thanks, Minerva. Keep us posted. Paul really appreciates your help. Thanks. Bye.”

Paul pressed his back against the wingback chair and stared up at Joey for a report.

“Alex is with her now. Ernie’s flight hours are maxed out, so he got Andy’s pilot to cover for him and Bart took off for Florida a half hour ago. Your parents will be here for dinner. I will ask Elly to put a roast in the oven.”

“Good idea.”

“Come downstairs while I get lunch on the table.”

“Tell me what the nurse said first,” said Paul.

As Joey took the towel from him to hang on the towel bar, Paul pulled him into his lap, hugging him tightly and tickling Joey’s sensitive shaved face with his wet and bristly goatee. "C’mere, you.”

Joey sighed. “You just inherited another problem child, Daddy Warbucks. Her mother’s dead.”

Paul hit his head against the back of the chair. ”Merda, Mama won’t have her under her roof that I pay for.”

Joey continued. “If she makes it. She’s in critical condition and on a ventilator.”

“Fuck, Joe."

Paul wanted to disrobe Joey and spend the day alone with him in bed as they had planned, rather than deal with a bastard child, his parents and the press right now. As Joey broke free from Paul’s grasp, he gave him a slight smile and tapped his hands for release. Paul acquiesced and Joey popped off his lap and left Paul alone in their bedroom to dress. Paul hoped that Joey would forgive his parents’ and this bastard’s intrusion upon their lives.

Clad in a pair of acid washed jeans and a camel cashmere sweater, Paul stepped down the white marble staircase that segued into the foyer and the great room when the phone rang again. Elly stood in the foyer and held out the phone on speaker so that Paul could hear his Mama bellowing from the receiver, ”Voglioparlare con Paulieora! . . . I want to speak to Paulie right now!"

“Mama Mia,” he grumbled, as he hurried down the remainder of the staircase. Exasperated, he took the phone handset off of speaker and held it near his face but not against his ear as he followed Eleanor into the kitchen where Joey ladled stew into bowls for them.

"Pauliequesto bambino non è buona, la suamadrauna prostitute chetuo padre adescati da me…” Rosa defended, slandering Catrina as a slut who tried to steal his father from her. Rosa spent years loathing her and the child she hid from her children, but especially Paul, all these years.

Paul wandered towards the kitchen, watching Elly put their bowls on the table, while Joey ladled out a bowl of stew for her and took it to the table with theirs before she could refuse. Their unspoken relationship was always apparent to him, and Paul wished he could've shared the same dynamic with his own mother. He ignored Rosa's pleading as she continued to defend her actions in Italian to her son who wasn't buying a word of it.

Paul watched Joey with Elly. He knew Joey called her when Paul went on stage. They grew closer after Joey had lost his mother two years ago. Paul's family wasn't the easiest on their best days and on their dramatic ones they were far worse. Elly was always there in Joey's corner, reminding him to assert himself around them when Paulie wasn't able to do so.

When Elly returned for the bread basket, their eyes met and she reached out for Joey and hugged him.

Paul leaned against the door frame leading into the kitchen, now listening to his pleading mother now bitch about Catrina and her child. No longer the one in the wrong, she tried to vindicate her transgression with her own form of victimization. Not buying it, Paul remained silent watching Joey lean down to Elly to accept her hug. Seeing Paul, he stepped back and took three glasses from the cupboard.

“It will be okay, Joey,” she said as he poured the glasses of water.

“He’s so sick, he can’t travel. Rosa here...smoking...”

“Is he still smoking?”

“I threw them away. He wheezes so much. If you find any more packs in the suitcases, please throw them away as well. He wouldn't be this sick if he wasn't smoking and he knows it."

Without warning, Rosa screamed and Paul dropped the phone handset onto the floor. As he picked up the phone Rosa's sobs intensified as she begged for mercy from the Mother of God.

“How is this on ZNN?” asked Paul out loud, straining his voice. Joey reached for the remote for the small flat screen in the kitchen nook and switched it from the Weather Channel where he was looking for the ski report to BREAKING NEWS about Paul’s fan in the tour cargo—his little sister?

Rosa’s shrieks into the phone and sobs amid her Sicilian curses. “Mama Mia, shh,” said Paul, “let me hear.”

“This just in,” said Terry Sadler, an investigative reporter with his own afternoon talk show on the station, “a 14-year-old girl was found in the tour cargo of pop star phenom Paul Lenci. Sources say that she is in critical condition and was taken to a local hospital via ambulance. This note, obtained by a source, shows in the girls’ handwriting that she believes she is the little half-sister of Paul Lenci, whose tour ended in Chicago. Lenci canceled the final tour date in Cleveland after he and his band were in and out of the hospital with influenza-related pneumonia and Lenci with severe laryngitis. This story is still developing but this is what we know thus far.”

“Jesus, Mary, Joseph,” said Joey.

“Mama, I got to call Alex. Get packed. I will deal with it on this end. I need you two here. No, you two need to be here. He’s got papers to sign. No, I will pay the medical bills. These are legal papers. I will call Alex, you get packed. Andy’s pilot, Bart, will call you as soon as the plane lands.”

"Ohmygod, is that her?” Asked Rosa screeching.

Paul stared at the television unable to believe this was his sister, this was his life, that this was really happening to him right then. He left the kitchen for the den and put on the large flat screen plasma television. He stared at it and said nothing, letting the phone fall to his side while his mother kept rambling on in Italian. Finally, after he didn’t respond to her, she hung up. Joey stepped up behind him and put his hand on Paul’s back.

“You really never knew? About her?”

“No, honest. If I did, she wouldn’t look like that. She wouldn’t be nearly dead or felt that she had to hide in tour cargo to reach me. Fuck, Joey, fuck.”

Paul called Alex.

“What the hell, Ace?”

“You’ve heard.”

“Heard? You mean saw! What in the hell just happened here? How is this kid on ZNN?”

“Wait, what do you mean ZNN?”

“Get to a TV. ZNN. Why in the fuck didn’t you call me?”

“It’s not my news to tell. It’s his.”

“Speaking of news, how the hell did pictures of her and her birth certificate get leaked to ZNN?”

“What? Wait,” Alex bustled into Maia’s room and turned on the tv and mumbled an expletive under his breath. “Heads are going to roll. That’s my warehouse. I’m sorry Paulie, I will make this right somehow.”

“This is so bad. What if she dies?”

“Dude, you’re telling me! Do you have any idea how much legal trouble we are in right now with this stunt of hers? If she dies...Daniel won’t even tell me yet. He’s already filing briefs.”

“Does she really look that bad?”

“Yes. She’s a bit cleaner now.”

“Cleaner?”

“She was filthy. She’s been homeless since November. I’m still trying to piece together how she got there.”

Sadler began interviewing a young girl via phone about Maia. ”Shh--” said Paul, as Joey approached and they listened. On the screen was a picture of two young girls at a school function and captioned below was Brianna and Maia’s names.

“Hello Brianna, thank you for joining us today. I understand that you are a friend of Maia Lenci?”

“Yes, we went to elementary school together.”

“When was the last time you saw her?”

"The Fourth of July, we went to the fireworks together was the last time we hung out. I did see her on Halloween.”

“Was she homeless then?”

“No, Ms. Prescott died on Halloween in the morning. I went to Maia’s because we were going to go Trick-or-Treating together that evening with other friends, and that's when she told me. I brought her some of my candy that night but she wouldn’t answer the door so I left it on the stoop. It was the last time I saw her.”

“When was this picture taken of you and Maia together?”

“Last Spring, before school let out, Maia had helped me with a science fair project. I had built a robot and it stopped working, so I called Maia. She helped me fix it. She’s very smart.”

“I see. What can you tell us about her?”

“She’s the smartest one in the class, always. She’s so good at math and science they sent her to a special school, and she got into the University of Chicago this year. Maia plays the piano and has medals for it.”

“She’s smart but stupid enough to do this?” asked Paul.

Smart people often lack common sense,” said Joey.

"Brianna, thank you so much for checking in with us today. But before we let you go, did you know that Maia was related to Paul Lenci?"

"Of course. She told me. I hope she'll be okay soon. She always wanted to know him and her dad."

"Why didn't she reach out to his record label?"

"Here we go..." said Alex.

"I don't know, we moved to North Chicago before Christmas and I hadn't heard from Maia. We used to text on our iPods. I thought maybe she had found Paul because we didn't hear from her. I had no idea Maia was homeless. We would have taken her into our home if we knew."

"Thank you, Brianna."

"You're welcome, Mr. Sadler. Could I say one more thing to her brother Paul?"

"Certainly."

"Maia has always wanted to know you and play the piano for you. You mean a lot to her and she doesn't know you yet. I hope she will mean a lot to you too. She's not some bum on the street. She's funny and smart and a musical genius like you are. She just needs a home and her family."

Paul chuckled with Alex. "Don't let that go to your head, Paulie," said Alex.

"Thank You, Brianna."

"Bye Mr. Sadler."

As it went to commercial, Paul muted the television. “Alex, she expected to be out in Cleveland? How big was that crate?”

“It was one of the six-foot wooden merchandise crates with the lid.

“So, she could breathe. I can’t believe this is on fucking ZNN.”

“Neither can I, Paulie. I’m sorry.”

“Fuck, why didn’t she tell Dad what was going on?”

“Maybe she couldn’t reach him. He told me he had an anonymity clause on the trust fund so that they couldn’t reach you. If they contacted you they forfeited the trust,” said Alex.

“Fucking hell I’m going to be in orange.”

“Breathe, Paulie,” said Alex as Paul began coughing again. “I need to talk to Joey.”

Paul kept coughing. ”Paulie, you okay?” Asked Alex. Paule handed the phone to Joey.

“Hey, Alex.”

“Joey, I need you to run point on this deal.”

“What?”

“Maia. I need someone objective and medically savvy to manage this until the rest of them can pull their heads out of their asses.”

Joey smirked. “Fine, what do you need?”

"Hospital administration was just here. Paulie has to identify you as the person to contact and discuss her with. He needs to admit that he is her brother. Minerva is sending a form via fax to Paulie. Make him fill it out and sign it and return it here to this number immediately so they will tell us what’s going on with her right now. Have him give me and you access to her information since he and her dad are out of town and won’t be there until morning.”

Joey walked into the office and picked up the faxed form and sat at the desk and filled it out while Alex filled him in on Maia.

“How bad is the frostbite?”

She’s missing nails.”

Joey sighed. “Necrosis?”

“What’s that mean?

“Dead skin, turning black?”

“Yeah, they got those inflatable boots on her."

"Circulation issues?”

“Wow, that’s bad.”

“She’s a mess. 2 IV’s. One in each arm.”

Joey sighed and filled out the rest of the information on the form. He heard Paul swearing in Italian.

“Rosa must have called back,” said Joey. “I’m going to get him to sign this and I’m faxing it right back.”

The whole world would know his family’s secret before the day was done. Paul turned up the volume as the broadcaster discussed Paul and his family.

Rosa cried on the other end of the phone, swearing about how she would not be able to show her face in public without any thought to Paul’s in the least: “come possomostrare la miafaccia in pubblico?”

Joey walked over and took the phone from Paul, his face was bright red and nostrils flared with each exhalation. He knew he had to calm down Mama Rosa because Paul was already at the breaking point. He handed Paul the form and the pen.

“Sign this so we can get this sorted out sooner. I can’t help you if you don’t sign this.” Paul was flustered and threw up his hands. Joey took the phone and tapped the form.

“Rosa, please, calm down,” he said as he listened to her broken English entangled with Italian in both rage and language.

"Non voglioparlare con te. Joey, give me back to Paulie.”

“No, you calm down first. Deep cleansing breath, dear, or you’ll give yourself a heart attack.”

“We couldn’t be so lucky,” mumbled Paul under his breath as he signed the paper.

When a commercial followed the newscast, he pressed the remote’s mute button then reached into the freezer for a hidden pack of cigarettes that he kept there for emergencies, and as far as he was concerned, this was enough emergency for the entire carton he had hidden behind the turkey.

After his first drag, Paul exhaled deeply and coughed, then opened and shut his hand repeatedly at Joey to give him the phone.

Joey waved him away and walked into the dining room with the phone as he attempted to reason with the old woman, while Paul grumbled and Elly attempted to calm him.

“She’s a sick little girl, Rosa. She’s got pneumonia, frostbite, and her mother is dead. Little Maia has nowhere to go.”

"Chuidere, don’t even think you can make me care, Joey.”

“Well, someone better start caring here. This girl is homeless, and she’s Saverio’s responsibility now. Do you expect Paulie and me to raise Saverio’s daughter? Paulie didn’t make that child. Is that what this is about?"

Paul had followed Joey into the dining room, cornered him and held his hand out for the phone.

“We’ll put her up for adoption,” stated Rosa.

“Put her up for adoption? Why?” asked Joey, refusing to surrender the receiver until he had his say. He, who had wanted a child for a long time, knew that adoption process wasn’t as easy as posting an ad for a kitten: free to a good home.

“Rosa, answer me. Why would you put her up for adoption? Why?” asked Joey, refusing to surrender the receiver until he had his say.

Before Rosa could answer, Paul wrestled the phone from Joey. As the phone receiver was between them, Rosa exclaimed, “I’m too old for another one, and that bastard will kill me.”

The two men looked to one another then Joey surrendered it and snatched Paulie’s cigarette, leaving him for the kitchen to douse it in the sink and throw it in the trash. Paul knew better than to smoke in the house.

“Put her up for adoption?” asked Paul, “How could you, Mama? You do not have a say in this. She is Dad’s child.”

“Basta la vacha! You haven’t lived where I’ve lived these years, done without to pay her support—”

“Mama you don’t live without, I pay your bills, remember?”

“Paulie…you know that’s not what I mean.”

“Mama, don’t be unreasonable. I’m sure we’ll work this out.”

“Catrina’s dead? Of what?”

“Cancer.”

“Who would want a teenager? They want ah… babies when they adopt.”

“Mama, I don’t know,” said Paul, taking another cigarette from the pack in his pocket and lit it with the lighter. He took a deep drag while considering an answer.

“Fourteen years and Catrina Prescott haunts me from her grave.”

“Mama, stop.”

“I curse her and that child for what they did to me.”

“That’s nice Mama, cursing people. It comes back to you. Does your priest tell you that?”

“Don’t…ah…blaspheme the father,” she said to him.

“Oh no, not the good father,” replied Paul, who pushed up the sleeves of his camel cashmere sweater. This same priest told his parents that God would make him pay for his sins someday and that AIDS was God’s curse.

Paul followed Joey into the kitchen, wanting the Irish stew and fresh bread on the table, not the problem in his ear.

“Mama, I got to go. Lunch is on the table. I need to eat so I can take more antibiotics. Get packed and let’s take care of this.”

“Fine, you tell Eleanor no cooking.”

“She’s already put a beef roast into the oven, Mama.”

“She no cooks for me.”

“You’ll eat and not be nasty,” said Paul under his breath. Eleanor heard and laughed.

“Joey told her to do it on purpose.”

“He did it to be a good host. Now be a nice guest, smile and eat your food. You can cook tomorrow.”

Joey and Elly rolled their eyes then laughed at the thought of it as Paul said goodbye and shut off the phone, then Elly put the crystal ashtray from the sideboard on the table next to Paulie’s plate.

“Our kitchen will never be the same,” sighed Joey. “I’ll have to repaint it again.”

“Stop, you’re as incorrigible as Mama,” replied Paul, sitting down to his lunch at the table. Even half cold, Eleanor’s stew was delicious and Paul figured he had better eat now before the phone rang again. Before he could see the bottom of his bowl, the phone rang. Paul answered and told the reporter on the other end that he had no comment at this time, and to contact AC Records for an official statement.

He turned to them at the table, put his hand through his black hair and disheveled its waves as he reached for the cigarette pack that Joey snatched from him before he lit another cigarette. Releasing an exasperated sigh, Paul put the heels of his palms to his eyes and his elbows on the table in resignation. “The feeding frenzy has begun.”

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