"I should get Stephanie home", said Ranger. "She has been working a lot of hours lately and has been really tired. Today is the first day off she has had in over two months."
"Then we are honoured you chose to spend it with us", said Elena.
Ranger pulled me to my feet. The Manosos all walked outside with us. "Looks like somebody is having a party next door", commented Ranger. The house was decorated with streamers and bells and pots of flowers. There was a couple emerging from the house at the same time as we were, and they also were saying goodbye to their family. A car was waiting for them at the curb with tin cans attached by string to the rear bumper. From what they were saying, it appeared as though the couple had just gotten married and were being sent on their way. Of course, the tin cans on the car were also a clue.
As I was giving Mrs. Manoso a hug goodbye, I saw a lady with black bristly hair slip out of the house, throwing confetti on the couple. I went completely still. I was looking at Aphrodite Akuna.
I turned to Ranger. "Remember Aphrodite, the lady that approached us in the pub who I later found out was my skip? I think that is Aphrodite right there, the one in the black robe." Ranger looked. "I'm going over." I reached in my purse and pulled out my cuffs, then gave my purse to Ranger.
"Excuse us a minute", said Ranger to his family. He put my purse in the car and then, still and focused, he watched me walk away.
Aphrodite started to walk away. I walked faster in pursuit, and called Aphrodite's name. Aphrodite looked up, and recognition crossed her face before she turned and started to run. I set up chase after her, and Ranger set up chase after me. She was fast. I chased her for the whole of the block, finally tackling her just before she crossed the street. I skidded across the sidewalk, grazing my knees and hands, but was able to pull her to the ground. We rolled around in the dirt of someone's garden, crushing plants, me trying to get cuffs on Aphrodite and Aphrodite spitting and hissing and trying to bite me as she attempted to get away. I finally snagged one of her wrists. "Bond enforcement", I said and, flipping her over onto her stomach, secured her other wrist. I paused to catch my breath.
"I showed my underpants to your family and neighbours, didn't I?"
"It's okay. I think I was the only one who noticed."
"What are you doing to our minister?" asked the bride, just catching up with us.
"This lady is not a minister. She has been arrested for performing marriages when she has not been authorized to do so. This means that, if she just "married" you, you are no more married than you were yesterday. You are still legally single. She was released on a bond and failed to appear in court. This means that not only were you married by someone who was not authorized to marry you, but you were married by a fugitive of the court system. She needs to go back into the police station to reschedule her court date."
"Oh, my, God", said the bride. "What do we do?"
"Personally I would remember the reception as being a wonderful reception, chalk this up as a good story to tell the grandkids, and head off to city hall to get married as soon as you are able to", I said.
Ranger pulled Aphrodite to her feet, helped me up, and the caravan of people – Ranger, me and Aphrodite, most of the Manoso family, and the entire neighbouring family – all walked down the street back to the waiting cars.
"I will marry you if you let me go", pleaded Aphrodite. "You two deserve to be together. Anyone can see how dedicated you are to each other."
"We already know that your marriages are null and void, so why would you offer that? You are on a small charge. You will probably just get community time. It's no big deal. However, by not going to court you are making yourself look bad. The courts don't tend to like that, so you may want to show up for your next court date. How did you recognize me?"
"I was in the office on the way to the train station when you came in to ask about me. I peeked into the reception area, then watched you walk out of the office back to your car. I recognized you from then."
We got to the cars. The bride was crying, the groom looked upset that his bride was crying, Grandma Rosa was wringing her hands, Mrs. Manoso was worried about my skinned knees, Cecelia was in William's arms asking what was going on, Gabriel and Celia were holding their two little ones and asking what had happened, and even Roberto was talking as he and Carlos, energized, laughing, gave a blow-by-blow commentary to everyone who had missed the takedown.
Ranger put Aphrodite in the backseat of the Cayenne. "Do we have a couple of minutes to let me get cleaned up before we go home?" I asked.
Ranger looked at me and smiled. His eyes went dark as he said "for you, anything. Although I think I will like getting you clean when we get home."
Mrs. Manoso smacked her son on the arm. "Behave, Ricky. This is a wonderful woman here. Treat her with respect." She took my hand and led me in the house to the bathroom. She got me a clean facecloth and towel, and came back a few minutes later with gauze and antiseptic cream.
I ran some water in the sink and washed my hands. The soap stung against the scrapes. I washed my skinned knees, sitting down on the closed toilet seat while I daubed them dry with the towel. Mrs. Manoso then took over. She fashioned bandages out of the gauze and spread on antiseptic cream. She taped them to my knees. The antiseptic cream felt good against the oozing scrapes.
"I am sorry I ruined your dinner party tonight."
"You didn't ruin it! Goodness, for Carlos and Roberto, you just made their day and probably their week. Maybe even their month."
"I ruined the neighbour's wedding. I didn't mean to. It is just that I have been chasing Aphrodite for a few days."
"Don't worry about it. They will live and, as you said, they will have a humdinger of a story to tell their grandkids."
"My ex-boyfriend used to say that I always land in doggie doo-doo, that nothing ever goes right with me."
"What does Ricky say?"
"He doesn't really say anything. He just picks me up, cleans me off, sets me on my feet, and lets me do it all over again."
"Isn't that the better way to live? We all need people to support us, no matter what we do. We all need people to love us."
We got to the front hall and Mrs. Manoso took out a clothes brush from the front closet. She brushed the worst of the dirt from my dress, then gave me a hug. "You are good for Ricky. I can see why he loves you. I hope to see you again soon."
"Thank you", I whispered. I turned around and went outside. Ranger had put the seatbelt on Aphrodite and had powered down the windows to give her some fresh air. He was talking to his father, William and Gabriel, but as soon as I stepped on the front porch he looked up and gave me one of his half smiles.
I came down the porch stairs and gave hugs to the entire Manoso family, thanking them for a lovely meal and a nice evening, and apologizing once again for the disturbance I had caused at the end. Everyone was remarkably easy-going about it.
I got in the car and Ranger softly shut the door after me. He walked around the car and got in the driver's side. He put the car in gear and drove away.
"Now, about cardio training…"