7. Self-Appointed Guardian Angels
Joey released his legs from the lotus position he was sitting in on the sandalwood floor of his yoga studio. This was his personal space. This was where Paul and no one else could enter. He laid back on the yoga mat with his knees in the air and sighing as he pressed the heels of his hands into his eye sockets. He was so tired, his eyes ached. Every muscle taut and strained and he could not shut off his mind in order to meditate. He wondered if Paul’s parents were in bed yet. Over an hour ago he was tired of being ignored as they bit each other with their Italian jabs and the waving around of the cigarettes whose butts filled up at least two ashtrays that evening.
All the opened windows and emptying of ashtrays did not air out the permeated stench that kept layering with every wave and cigarette lit. When Paul’s ran out, he reached for his mother’s until he went into the kitchen for another pack his own, as Joey discovered the hiding spot in the freezer. After Paul went into the other room, Joey pulled out the carton and took out 5 packs, leaving only two behind. He put them in the bottom of the trash and scraped the dinner plates on top of them then emptied the remainder of the congealed cold beef gravy over every pack until he couldn’t see any more of their packaging. To fill the rest of the trash, he walked about and collected all of the mini trash cans of Kleenex and poured them on top of it before he carried the bag out to the can with the garbage left from dinner.
On his way back inside, he thought of his yoga studio and hid downstairs, not saying where he was going, because, at the moment, Joey knew he didn’t matter to Paul. He lit a piece of sandalwood incense and let his nostrils fill with its scent, realizing that would not mask the odor that permeated his clothes. Joey turned on the heater in the cold room and shut the door for it to warm up and entered the bathroom off between the yoga studio and the gym. There he kept workout clothes in the linen closet. He stripped off his clothes, leaving his cell on the counter and climbed into the shower and washed the cigarette smoke out of his hair and off his body with his favorite shea butter soap. After reaching for a towel, Joey heard the text notification. He picked it up and saw the text from Alex.
Alex: Hey Joey, have you heard anything?
Joey: No, have you?
Alex: Dr. Brown said he would call you tonight. Keep your phone on.
Joey: Will do.
Alex: How’s it there?
Joey: same shit different spawn.
Alex: You okay?
Alex: You mean no.
Alex: Let me know if you hear anything.
Joey: Will do. You too.
Alex: I will.
Joey pulled on a pair of shorts and a wife beater, turned on the fan and left the bathroom for the yoga studio. He needed to forget what was said and not said his presence about the girl. The two of them had a lot alike, as he was once an outcast that Paul was ordered not to have in this house, in his life, in case one of Rosa’s friends or Paul’s fans found out he wasn’t who he said he was--not Joey’s partner.
For once, it wasn’t about him. Joey was important to this equation. He knew how to hide and he could teach the girl accordingly if she made it. He knew they talked about him in Italian, the way Rosa smirked and glanced at him. Lenci drama mattered and their youngest son was their savior to fix it all. It didn’t matter that he was the one they were hiding it from in the first place. The rehashing of decisions made 14 years ago and the retelling of their truth for the umpteenth mattered more than the promised rest, the fact that Paul needed another steam instead of 2 packs of cigarettes and his voice strained back to that of a whisper come morning.
After a dozen asanas sequences and a half-hearted attempt at mediating, Joey picked up his phone and dialed the hospital for a report on Maia, seeing the number come up as a notification and a missed call. It was Minerva, saying it was important that he call immediately. She was off soon and needed to give him the information regarding the next nurse that was taking over for Maia.
“Hi Joey, thanks for calling me back. I hope I didn’t wake you. The doctor wants to speak with you. Could you hold while I get him? He was just about to call you regarding palliative measures.”
The nurse put Joey on hold and a moment later, a doctor was on the phone.
Dr. Brown cleared his throat. “Between her dehydration and pneumonia, right now we’re trying to keep her kidneys working and clear her lungs of fluid. When do you expect the family to arrive?”
“I had thought we’d drive down to Queens in the morning. We’re in Northeastern Pennsylvania at the moment.”
“I think it ought to be sooner.”
“I’ll do my best. If not them, at least I’ll be down tonight.”
Upstairs Joey found Paul staring out his studio window smoking a cigarette. Before Paul noticed Joey’s reflection in the window, Joey took the cigarette from Paul’s hand and snuffed it out in a crystal ashtray full of butts. Every tour, Paul would begin smoking again, as if he couldn’t tour without it, and it would take a week or so of nagging and forcing him to smoke on the deck before Paul would end his ‘tour’ addiction in a full dramatic fashion like a spoiled brat who needed to be appeased.
“The hospital called. She’s not improving.”
“He suggests that if you want to see her alive, you need to go now.”
“Dad needs to go—”
“I will wake him. How about you take a shower and wash off the ashtray while I get them ready to go?”
Joey went into Rosa and Saverio’s room and shook Saverio awake, but Rosa woke up first, scowling at him and turning on the bedside lamp.
“They do not expect her to make it. Paul and I are driving down to Queens tonight. Do you want to go with us or do you want to take the limo down tomorrow?
Saverio sat up, his hands to his face. “Mama, you go with us?”
“Yes, I go. Better than listening to Eleanor.”
The four of them dressed and Joey phoned Alex and woke him with the bad news while Paul alerted his staff, including Mack, his head of security and Mick who is both chauffeur and bodyguard that they needed to leave within the hour. Joey sent Paul in to shower and get the cigarette stench off him while he packed them an overnight bag and got a smaller bag for Rosa to do likewise for her and Saverio. As tired as he was, adrenaline kept taking over and a frustrated Joey just wanted to go to Queens.
He descended the staircase to hear the Hummer being pulled around the front of the house and groaned, calling Paul’s cell.
“Why are we taking that thing?”
“So we can sleep,” said Paul.
“Are you dressed yet?”
“Putting my shoes on now.”
“I’m going to get them in the car. I will shut off the lights. Lock the front on your way out. I will get the rest.”
Joey went into the kitchen, smelling the freshly brewed coffee he had started for Mick and Mack. He reached for the travel mugs and filled them both, scooping sugar and pouring cream into Mick’s and put the lid on Mack’s black coffee. He checked the back door and the slider off the den and as he picked up the coffee he saw Paul’s meds and inhaler and zipped them into his coat pocket then took the coffees out to Mick to put in the front cab of the Hummer. Dressed in a white velour tracksuit with a matching beanie, skinny and tall Mick was just exiting the back of the Hummer as Joey approached him.
“Thanks, Mr. Cravens. Where’s your bag?” asked Mick, whose white teeth matched the tracksuit as his deep skin contrasted against it.
“It’s in the foyer. Do you have Mr. and Mrs. Lenci’s bag yet?”
“Mack put it in already,” said Mick, opening up the driver side door of the Hummer and putting the coffees in the cup holders.
“Where are they?”
“She’s having a smoke and Mr. Lenci is using the john.”
“Got it. All right, did you set out the pillows and blankets?”
“Yes, Sir. The iPhone chargers are on the back of the long seat.”
“Thank you, Mick. Sorry to have woken you.”
“Unlike you, I went to bed after we got home, so no worries. You don’t look as if you slept a wink.”
“Do I look that bad?”
“You look stressed. You tell me if I can do anything for you, Mr. Cravens.”
“Get us there safely and quickly. They don’t expect her to make it.”
Mick’s countenance fell. “I will, but I want you to sleep if you can, Mr. Cravens. You can’t do it all when you are dead.”
“Thanks, Mick. I will try.”
Saverio walked out of the house and Joey left Mick to steady the old man down the front stairs and to the ground as Rosa joined them.
“I’m going to see what’s keeping Paulie,” said Joey, “wait here.”
Joey popped back inside. ”Paulie?” He asked. Joey found Paul in the kitchen. He had pulled out the turkey and set it on the center aisle in search of the rest of the packs of cigarettes.
“What are you doing?”
“What do you think?”
“Making a mess of the freezer?”
“I’m getting my cigarettes!”
“Why are they in the freezer?”
“They stay fresh.”
“Convenient hiding spot too.”
“New carton, two packs left.”
“How many are in a carton?”
“How many did you smoke?”
“We need to get going.”
“Joey, don’t act as if they just disappeared. Where did you put the other five packs?”
“In the garbage under the gravy from dinner.”
Paul smirked. He shoved the turkey back inside and the packages of frozen peas and took the two packs with him.
“We’re not done with this.”
“We never are. Let’s go.”
“Don’t start on my smoking. She’s not staying here.”
“I’m more worried about her surviving. Could we please leave?”
“I mean it, Joey. I don’t care what you or Alex or any of them say, don’t get it in your head about her living here. She’s not staying with us.”
Joey shut off the kitchen light and left Paul in the dark. He walked out ahead of Paul and said nothing to him as he saw Mick loading their bags from the foyer into the trunk as Mack helped Rosa and Saverio up the small step and into the back of the Hummer.
Joey stepped up and directed them as if he was an airline stewardess. “Rosa, you are over there on the end on love seat, and Saverio, you are there on that one, so your heads are together, said Joey pointing out the love seat that formed an L with Rosa’s only divided by a small table in the corner with a cup rail and a small book light where a crystal dish held the remotes.
On the seats were fresh pillows with pressed and folded pillowcases set upon them and soft fluffy chenille throw blankets folded on each seat as well. Paul barked out another cough as he entered the Hummer, seeing Joey sleeve each pillow with the creased cases as Mack shut the door behind Paul. Reaching for his parent’s coats and his mother’s purse, Paul set them in the captain’s chair near the front with his and Joey’s. Joey helped Saverio with his shoes and Paul set them all with the coats as his mother took off her glasses and set them on the table.
The intercom bell rang.
“Mr. Lenci, we are ready when you are.”
“Go ahead, Mick. Be swift but safe. Maia’s not good.”
“If you get pulled over, wake me. I’ll deal with the cop.”
“Yes sir,” he replied, putting it in gear. Paul sat on the long bench couch as Joey handed him the fresh pillow and sat and sleeved his own. Paul watched out the window as the gate shut behind the Hummer that pulled out of his lane to the gated community’s street.
“Mama, hand me that remote, please,” said Paul. Rosa reached for it and he met her more than halfway with his long arm stretching across to. “Lay back and rest, Mama,” he said to her sweetly, her tired eyes meeting his. As she did, he stood and covered her with the blanket then did likewise to his father’s blanket.
“Cells?” Asked Joey. Paul nodded and handed his to Joey who plugged both into the charger on the narrow shelf behind the long couch that they would nap on as they had many times before on trips.
Paul laid down and Joey covered him with the blanket and set a box of Kleenex and a small trash can near Paul on the floor before Joey finally laid down with his head on the pillow next to Paul’s and covered himself with the blanket. Paul clicked on the remote and the interior lights dimmed down to dark with the slight night light hidden in the track lighting in the ceiling as he felt the limo accelerate, knowing that Mick had merged onto Interstate 80.
“Okay, let’s get some sleep,” ordered Paul, as if he was talking to his band or roadies. “We got about 90 minutes to 2 hours, depending on how fast Mick gets us there.”
Within minutes, the rest were blissfully snoring but Joey couldn’t stop wondering about Maia and if she was beyond help. Palliative measures, two words he didn’t want to hear, along with the word expire, would end his short-lived fantasy of parenthood. He knew that Paul’s idle threats were to appease his mother but he had more than that old bat to contend with. His fan base would keep an eye on where little Maia ended up, and as long as she’s breathing, Joey still had a chance.
Joey adjusted himself so that he could reach his arm up under his pillow so that his thumb could stroke the cross on his rosary ring, saying the Apostle’s Creed and the Glory’s in his head before spinning the gold ring to touch the first gold stud to say Hail Mary’s in his head, trying to calm himself to sleep.
Everything hurt. Each joint, muscle, his eyes, his heart hurt the worst. Not because of his physical exhaustion but because that little girl did not matter to these people. He could not begin to imagine the pain that filled her heart, and now that she’s so close to doing what Brianna said she wanted to do—meet Paul and play the piano for him—her body was giving out.
It hardly seemed fair to him. He had wanted a child for the last five years, and each time Paul refused him. It would out him and he was not ready to be one of those artists, said Paul. He didn’t want to be wrapped in rainbows and AIDS ribbons. Yes, he was gay, but at-risk youth and homeless children were more important to Paul’s philanthropy than LGBT causes or fatherhood for that matter. Until Paul was ready, it was a no.
Maia might be Joey’s maybe. Maybe she would be the yes. Paul could be her brother, and Joey could be her dad. Those roles would work. As talented and as smart as this girl is, Joey would enjoy her. She’s pretty and maybe a little social awkwardly nerdy that he could direct to be a proper lady and mold her into a successful adult. He had to get his mind back on the Hail Mary’s. Mother Mary knew the longing of his heart. Please, Holy Mother, keep her alive. Please let me keep her. Please let me have a chance. I won’t let you down, please.
A tear dripped from his eye and he didn’t even know he was crying.
“Joe, you okay?”
“Yeah, fine, just praying.”
Paul turned and kissed the crown of Joey’s head. “Sleep, Joey. Maia is in God’s hands. It’s up to him. No one else.”
At a quarter to three, Alex texted Joey that he was on the 6th floor at CICU lobby, waiting for them. A tired Joey, who felt as if he had finally fallen asleep only minutes before, groggily sat up and then called Mack who was riding shotgun with Mick.
“We are just about ten minutes out, Mr. Cravens.”
Joey woke the rest and put shoes and coats near them. Paul checked himself in the mirror behind the bar and pulled his leather jacket into place as Joey folded up the blankets and set them on Rosa’s seat for Mick and Mack, knowing they would take shifts sleeping until dawn.
After arriving at the hospital around three that morning, the four rode the elevator to CICU. Alex, who had gotten there only moments before, stood near the nurse’s station for an update on Maia’s condition while his bodyguard, Mike, stood guard only feet behind him between him and the elevator. Alex pushed back the black leather coat he wore to expose a maroon V-neck sweater tucked into a pair of jeans as he stood in front of the elevator doors as they stepped off the elevator.
Alex hugged and greeted Paul, already clad in a yellow hospital mask due to his illness. Paul stayed close to Alex to whisper in his ear, as his throat was back to where it was when they left Cleveland after all the cigarettes and straining to argue with his parents. Alex met Joey’s eyes and nodded as Paul talked, his mother not waiting, demanding to know where the Lenci girl’s room was.
Joey followed Rosa and the nurse and said Paul’s name as the old woman stormed into the room with Saverio behind her.
“Che casino, what a mess," said Rosa in Italian to Saverio.
“Si, si, Mama,” he replied.
"Guardala. Puzza, odora come se fosse giàmorta... Look at her. She stinks, smells like she’s dead already.”
Joey wished he had learned Italian from the Rosetta Stone he had purchased before Paul found it, laughing and disregarding Joey’s intention completely. He wanted to know what they were saying about Maia. Saverio could be plotting with Rosa and agree to tell the doctor to let her go.
Paul would have to fight for her, and right then, Joey didn’t know if Maia had a true ally in Paul—whose life stood to be most compromised by her survival.
Joey looked at the monitors, at the rate that the IVs were dripping, and he raised the blanket hearing the whooshing of air from the circulation boots on her feet. As Paul and Alex entered, getting a whiff of her body odor, Joey quickly lowered the sheets and blankets.
Saverio stood motionless at her side and stared at the girl as if he was looking at a stranger—not a child who was a part of him.
“She’s pretty small for a thirteen-year-old girl,” said Alex, standing at the foot of the bed. “If I didn’t see the birth certificate, I would have thought eleven or twelve, maybe.”
Joey nodded in agreement as Saverio touched her face and brushed Maia’s grimy dark hair from her temple as tears fell down his own.
Paul said nothing. He conveniently hid behind the mask, for no one could tell but by his eyes what he was emoting. Joey had seen it all play out over the years. The only person that put the fear of God into 6′4" Paul Lenci was his 4′11" mother. His eyes welled up with tears as one betrayed him and dripped down the side of his nose.
Rosa’s face turned red seeing his pity for the girl.
“She looks ahh like her mama, my nose, but she is ahh little Catrina,” said Saverio as tears fell from his own. He reached for the handkerchief in his back pocket and blew his nose and wiped his face as Paul and Alex approached the bed.
Joey heard that growl of displeasure he knew all too well from Paul. His raw throat hiccupped its effect with a cough and wheeze.
Rosa, her handbag in the crook of her elbow stood firm. “Lascialaandare. Hai davverobisogno di un altrosegreto da mantenere? Joey non è abbastanza difficile da nascondersi? … Let her go. Do you really need another secret to keep? Isn’t Joey hard enough to hide?”
“What did she just say about me?” Asked Joey.
Paul raised his hand. Joey backed off. When that hand went up, shut up, shit was about to get handled. That was Paul’s signal that he was done. He would have the last word, the final say, and that would be the end of it.
Paul lowered his mask and took a whiff of her and grimaced, not lessening his resolve. His large olive-skinned hands held onto the bed rail as his knuckles went white and he braced himself on the bed rail and bent his long torso over the bed to his mother’s height.
"Segreti, mamma, guardailtuosegreto di 14 anni... Secrets, Mama, Look at your 14 –year-old secret.”
"Guarda la tuabocca, questa è tuamadre...Watch your mouth, that is your mother,” barked Saverio, pointing a crooked finger at his son.
“Go tell them to let her go,” said Rosa in English to Saverio. “What else is there to see?”
Saverio went to leave the room, and Joey stood there with Alex.
“Dad, stop. You can’t tell them--” said Paul. “Not yet.”
“Why not?” Asked Rosa.
“She needs time and a chance,” said Joey. “If you’ve seen enough of her, the waiting room is that way,” said Joey, pointing to the door.
Rosa stormed out and Saverio followed her as Paul stared at Maia and he broke down. His knees wobbled and he bent down to her side, his eyes covering the back of his hands still clutching the bed rail.
“I would have left my tour to get you,” he whispered behind his mask.
Alex put his face nearby to ask him to repeat it. Paul pulled out his phone and texted Alex what he said. “I need to talk to Joey.”
“Joey, Paulie wants you,” said Alex.
Joey walked over and bent down to Paul who reached for his hand. He put his face to Joey’s ear and removed the mask. “How bad is she?”
“I meant her health.”
“What did you think I meant? Palliative measures. They gave you enough time to come in here and say goodbye to the sister you never knew. The little girl that was robbed from knowing you, the big brother she idolized, who she practiced the piano for, waiting for that day when she would play for you and see your smile and accept her as a part of your family. That child,” Joey pointed to the bed.
Alex walked to the other side of the bed and watched Joey handle Paul like a pro.
“What else do you want to know? She probably will take her last breath when they shut off the ventilator. Make your peace, so you can say what you need to in front of the cameras tomorrow.”
Paul searched Joey’s eyes then whispered, ”Why are you pissed at me?”
“They wish her dead, and I think you are there with them.”
“No, I don’t,” croaked Paul.
“So, if she gets well what’s the plan? Let’s get her well enough to go somewhere else. House a homeless girl at some boarding school or her own place with babysitters and not make her a part of the family? Not love her through the grieving of her mother? Okay, Paul, that baby girl right there is no different than any of the ones you give away money to every year. She’s homeless. She’s sick, she’s an orphan who ran away from foster care. For once, think about her!”
Joey stomped out of the room and Alex followed him to the waiting area as Paul stood and walked to the other side of the bed.
“Hey,” said Alex, putting his hand on Joey’s shoulder. “Are you okay?”
Joey shook his head. “I want her. He says no. They’d rather pull the plug than let her fight a little longer.”
“What do the doctors say?”
“I got this. If she dies I’m as good as finished. The DA was already at ACR today.”
“Then you better talk Paul into a stay of execution. I have no sway over them. They have always hated me.”
As Alex left Joey for Paul, a nurse approached and introduced herself to Joey. He walked with her to the nurse’s station and watched Alex approach Paul and shut the door of the room. He watched them through the plate glass window.
Joey knew that Paul’s best friend realized the enormity of angst that Paul had been through that day. Alex put his hand on Paul’s shoulder as Paul stared at her. Paul’s eyes were filled with worry instead of his brows crossed and his square jaw set like he was angry.
Paul texted Alex.
Paul: We gotta say something before another kid tries this--
Alex nodded and replied out loud, “Easy, we will, this afternoon, I promise. I wrote it, and had P.R. contact the press. We’re meeting at one at ACR’s office in Manhattan. I brought you a copy.”
“Paulie, if she dies, we got a nightmare on our hands. Don’t let your dad shut her off. Give her a chance to fight back. This kid, fuck man, she’s a fighter. Daniel and I read some of her journals.”
Paul’s eyes widened.
“I will show you. She fought her way to you. Thing is, we are really worried about legal issues with the authorities like manslaughter if she dies. They’ve already reached out to us. Daniel is dealing with them. She has to survive, Paulie. Don’t let your dad shut her off.”
“Stop this now. Use the filing.”
Alex saw Joey out with Saverio and Rosa arguing with them. With a clipboard in hand, Saverio tried to sign but Joey kept covering it with his hand as Rosa attempted to shove him away.
“Stop,” barked Alex, “Paulie says no. If you don’t want her Saverio, he will see you in court this morning to surrender parental rights to him.”
“What?” asked Rosa.
“The papers for an emergency guardianship injunction are already filed. Serve them, Mike.”
Mike, Alex’s bodyguard, opened the Pendaflex and handed each to Paul and Rosa.
“You’ve been served.” Said Mike.
“Daniel will be picking you up from my house this morning.”
“May I have a copy?” asked Dr. Brown.
Alex nodded to Mike who opened the Pendaflex and handed it to him.
“That’s his copy,” said Mike. “Mr. Stockton filed the injunction today, here’s that one.”
Dr. Brown flipped through it. “This is so she cannot be removed from life support until I get an order from the judge. I’m glad you are here. Legal did not send these to me.”
Joey looked at Paul in disbelief.
Play along, said Paul’s text.
Dr. Brown looked at the paperwork. He put his hand out for the clipboard and Saverio surrendered it and Dr. Brown ripped up the form.
Joey beamed at Paul who winked at him. He texted Joey.
Paul: Legal trouble for ACR if she dies. She’s got to make it. Play along and you can have your puppy. Remember, you got to walk her and clean up after her.
Joey nodded and winked back.
“How could you do this?” barked Rosa coming within inches of Paul.
He texted Mack. “Find them and you a hotel. Take them to the court date in the morning. We are done here.”
He forwarded the text to Alex.
“Make me the bearer of bad news?” He asked Paul aloud.
Alex smiled. “Oh, I got this. Mr. and Mrs. Lenci, please come with me,” said Alex leading them to the waiting room.
Rosa fumed and Mick and Mike blocked her from attacking Paul and Joey as Paul walked Joey into her room and shut the door behind them. He handed the folded Court docs to Joey.
Joey reached for the drape and shut it then kissed Paul hard on the lips.
“How? Did you know about this?”
“This was only if necessary. It became necessary.”
“What legal trouble?”
“DA at ACR,” mmbled Paul.
Paul nodded. “She has to make it.”
“We can keep her?”
“You…can keep her.” Strained, Paul took out his cell phone and texted Joey.
Paul: I have no choice in the matter. She may not be what you expect. Something tells me she’s more ghetto funk than high society classical. What a little shit she is. Climbing in tour cargo.
Paul pulled the drape back as Alex entered the room.
“They’re gone?” asked Joey.
“Oh yes. She’s hot.”
“I’ve heard enough excuses, whispered Paul.
Dr. Brown entered. “So you will be back tomorrow?”
Joey nodded, clutching the papers. “Paul will, I can stay. I’m a registered nurse.”
"Excellent. There’s a pullout recliner there. I will have one of the MA’s bring you some blankets and a pillow."
Paul put out his hand for the papers, and Joey put them in his hand.
Joey took Paul’s meds from his pocket with the inhaler. "Take another antibiotic tonight. Eat something first. Then go to bed."
“What time is the court hearing?”
“Ten. The press conference is at one,” said Alex.
“I will see you when I see you,” said Paul, hugging Joey. “Text me if her condition changes.”
Joey left a kiss on his neck away from the window then parted.
“Please rest, Joey,” whispered Paul.
“I will if she will let me.”
“She needs a bath.”
“Can’t do much about that in her present condition.”
“You ready, Paulie?” Asked Alex.
“Yes. Remember, she’s your puppy.”
Joey beamed and hugged Alex. “Thank you,” he said in his ear.
“C’mon Paulie, let me tell you all about life with a teenage girl,” said Alex, as they left Joey alone in Maia’s room.