Chapter Three


Sunday - 1:20 pm - The Sky

While Betty, Diane and Abram were all sitting on airplanes worrying about where they would stay should they make it to Erie, Rita only worried about whether or not she would make it to Erie, since she had a 40,000 square foot house with a Jaguar in the garage to come home to. Rita moved into the house with her family when she was fifteen, and her parents still lived there from May through December. (The past couple of years, her parents had gone to Florida during the "cold months" after Christmas.) This was fortunate for Rita, because it was late February so she would have the house and her father's car all to herself.

Rita sat back in her seat in first class looking-forward to the quiet, peaceful, relaxing few days that she would spend in her house. Unfortunately, she thought, looking at the old lady who sat right next to her, the plane ride won't be quite as quiet and peaceful. Rita took out her medal of Saint Christopher, patron saint of air travel and prayed that she would have a safe ride, entirely aware that the old lady was watching her do this. When she finished praying, she no sooner got the medal back into her purse when the old lady next to her asked, "You're that little Democrat girl that always bitches on TV, aren't you?"

"Um, yes, I think so," said Rita. Old ladies could be very rude.

"What's your stand on abortion?"

'Abortion,' thought Rita. 'Such a controversial and over-talked about issue.' She hated talking about abortion for the afore-mentioned reasons, but hearing the word always brought back a very fond memory of eighth gradeā€¦


**


Back when I was in school, if it was January and you were in eighth grade, you knew it was time to argue Supreme Court cases. It sounds silly, but in those days, that's what we looked forward to. Eight grade - Supreme Court Cases. Each and every one of us rang in the new year of 1982 with the knowledge that as soon as we returned to school we would start the cases.

I adored George Carlin, and the case that I most wanted to do was FCC vs. Pacifica Foundation, the case that called his "Filthy Words" 'patently offensive' and were therefore protected under the Communications Act of 1934. But Meier wouldn't allow it, because even patently offensive words were too obscene for a Catholic school. So I got stuck with the death penalty, which I thought was very boring to argue.

The real fun came when we got to be Justices. I was teamed up with Abram Roberts and Frank Bishop, and we had to listen to Diane Bizzaro and Nora Connors argue for and against abortion. At that time, Roe v. Wade was fairly new, so it was all very interesting to us. We listened to each side argue, and then we were sent to a secluded corner of the library for about an hour to come up with an opinion. I think Abram, Frank, and I had the hardest time of all the justices because our topic was, at the time, very rarely mentioned at a Catholic school. We all agreed right away that abortion is immoral, so we started writing an opinion paper favoring the Pro-Life side that was Nora. But then I thought a moment, and I said, "Wait a minute. We're supposed to see if abortion is Constitutional or not, not if it's moral." Then I saw the look cross Frank and Abram's faces. We all knew that it complied with the Constitution. We would just have to write that in such a way that didn't make us look anti-Catholic. Lucky for us, Meier was ahead of his time, and would readily accept a Pro-Choice opinion paper from us.

We discarded our original opinion paper and started writing a new one that favored Diane. We worked a lot more enthusiastically now that we were writing about something that we agreed with. But suddenly, right as Frank was in the middle of reading our rough draft, the door to the basement opened and old lady after old lady began coming up the stairs. "Quick! Hide the papers!" I said. Frank hid the Pro-Choice papers in a folder and Abram fished the Pro-Life ones out of the garbage can.

"Oh my, it's the little students!" the old ladies said.

"Are you doing homework?"

"Look at this beautiful library!"

"Ooh, the students are Pro-Life!" An old lady put her hand on my shoulder. "This one's never going to get an abortion!" (One out of two's not bad.)

We just smiled and let the old ladies pass. When we thought they had gone, several more came up the stairs. When we thought they had gone, we sent Frank down the stairs to see if there were more. "There are still about twenty of them down there," he said when he came back up. "They're unplugging their crock pots and stuff."

Then, Abram had to go downstairs to look at the ladies. When he came up, he was carrying a crock pot.

"What are you doing with a crock pot?" I asked.

"It's Barb's crock pot!" he replied. "I have to carry it out to Barb's car."


**


The woman sitting next to Rita in the plane reminded her very much of Barb. She wondered if there was a crock pot in her enormous carry on bag. 'No,' she thought. 'A crock pot would never make it past security.'

"What's your stand on abortion, girl?" the woman in the plane asked.

"Pro-Choice," said Rita, without looking up from her purse. (She was trying to find the little case she kept her medal in.)

"You Catholic?" the lady barked.

"Yes," said Rita. She put her purse on the floor and looked out of the window. 'It's lucky I have the window seat,' she thought, 'or else I'd go mad.'

"You can't be Catholic and be Pro-Choice, girl." Rita chose not to respond. She'd been hearing that phrase ever since the eighth grade, and she disagreed with it. "You have any kids?"

"No."

"Why not?"

Rita shot the old lady an irritated glance and said, "Because my husband is sterile."

The woman chuckled. "Sterile? Then why'd you marry him?"

Rita shot the old lady an even more irritated glance and said, "Why'd I marry him? Because I love him!" She turned back to her window and muttered, "Sound's like you're the one in need of Catholic lessons.

"Humph," said the old lady.

Rita ignored his comment, if you would call it a comment, and noticed that finally, the drink cart was coming by. Rita ordered from the over-enthusiastic stewardess her favorite drink, one which some might call a 'highball'. "Afraid of flying, Ms. Fiorelli?" the stewardess asked in that entirely-too-chipper flight attendant voice. "No!" replied Rita, in an entirely-too-chipper-not-to-mention-fake flight attendant voice as she reached for her drink. The old lady 'humphed' again, then reached into her bag for some knitting. Rita looked to see if there was a crock pot in the bag, but there wasn't.



Sunday - 9:17 pm - Erie

Betty Sorenson had had a long day. At the moment, she was in one of Erie's four taxicabs riding to the Clarion Hotel for a second time. She had gone there the first time immediately after she arrived, and was told by the woman at the desk that she should go to dinner and when she returned there should be a room for her. So Betty had gone to dinner. Or rather, tried. The only decent restaurants she remembered in Erie were clubs, and she had belonged to all of them when she lived there, but since she'd been away for so long, she could no longer go to these clubs. She had spent a better part of the evening driving around in a cab looking for somplace to eat. She finally found an Outback Steakhouse, but had to wait forty-five minutes before she could be seated. Luckily, the food was good, because if it wasn't, after the day she'd had she could have been very hostile to the Outback employees. After all, she was an old lady.

At 9:17, Betty had finished eating, and was now riding back to the Clarion in a taxi. She looked back and forth from the cell phone in her purse wondering about whether or not she should call Dick. She had told him that she'd call him when she got to the hotel, but she wasn't sure if she would get a room at the hotel, and she didn't think she could bear calling him if she had to stay at a crappy motel. She glanced at her watch and noticed that as time went by, she grew more and more worried as the possibility of having to stay in a motel got realer and realer.

Finally, she pulled up in front of the stucco building with stone lions in front of it that was the Clarion. She told the cab driver to wait for her in case she couldn't get a room. Then she walked into the lobby of the hotel, and was greeted by two very familiar, if very distressed, faces.

"Mrs. Sorenson!" the female one said, putting her arms out for a hug.

"Diane!" said Mrs. Sorenson, hugging Diane happily. She pulled away and said, concernedly, "Did you get a room?"

"No!" said Diane.

"We were just leaving to try to find a motel," said the familiar male face who was Abram.

"You mean there isn't even one room left?" Betty asked in disbelief.

"Not one," said Diane, "but the woman at the desk complained rather irritatingly about some 'bitchy old lady who said that we'd give her a room'. That wasn't you, was it?"

"It was, I'm sorry to say. But what are we going to do?"

"Wait, didn't Rita come home?" asked Abram.

"Yes."

"I wonder where she's staying at." Betty cringed at Abram's poorly-structured sentence, but didn't correct him.

"Yeah," said Diane, a smile crossing her face. "Maybe if she's staying here, and I doubt she's staying anywhere nastier, she can share her room with us for a few days!"

"Don't get too hopeful," said Betty. "Why don't one of you ask the woman at the desk if a Rita Fiorelli is staying here. I would, except I've spoken to her too many times."

"I'll go," said Diane.

Betty hoped that Rita would be at the hotel, and that she would be kind enough to share her room, but something inside her told her that she was going to have to spend the next few nights at the EconoLodge.

"Nope," said Diane, disppointedly, as she came back to where the others were.

"Maybe Mr. Meier knows where she's at," said Abram.

Betty couldn't resist this time, "You never end a sentence with a preposition, Abram."

"Alright, maybe Mr. Meier knows where she's at NOW. That better?"

Betty smiled sarcastically as she took her cell phone out of her purse and Diane punched Abram in the arm. "Shh sh sh sh sh, guys, I'm on the phone!" Betty said, in a very teacherlike way, to Abram and Diane, a pair of forty-year-olds who were play-fighting in the lobby of a hotel. They stopped immediately and listened intently to Betty's end of the conversation that would determine where they would stay that night.

"Mike?" said Betty into the phone. "It's Betty...I'm with Diane and Abram, we're at the Clarion...no, no, we don't have a room...Have you talked to Rita?...do you know where she's staying?...alright, I'll keep my phone on...bye Mike!" Betty hung up the phone. "He doesn't know where she is," she told Abram and Diane, "but he has her cell phone number, and he's going to call her and then call us back." Then Betty, Diane, and Abram all took a seat on a dated, plush couch and literally stared at Betty's phone in anticipation of Mr. Meier's deciding call.



Sunday - 9:44 pm - Rita's House

Rita's situation could not have been more different from that of the others. When she arrived in Erie that afternoon, she took her dad's car out of storage and headed for the grocery store, where she bought enough good food to last her her stay. Then she went home and made herself some nice steak and mashed potatoes. She then cleaned up after dinner and put all of the dishes in the dishwasher so that everything would be clean. At 9:44 pm, Rita was sitting peacefully on the leather couch of her family room reading "Burr" by Gore Vidal and sipping contentedly at her drink. Though it was her third, she was not drunk when the cell phone rang one second later.

"Hello?" she answered, being careful to set her drink on top of her book so she wouldn't scratch the expensive coffee table.

"Hi Rita, this is Mr. Meier, I have a question for you."

"Yes?"

"Where the hell *are* you?"

"I'm at my house, why?"

"OOooooohh!" said Mr. Meier on the other end before he started to laugh.

"Why?" Rita asked again.

"Because I just got off the phone with Mrs. Sorenson, and she's at the Clarion with Abram and Diane and none of them can get a room, and they wondered where you were staying at."

"Staying. Where I was staying." Rita, like Betty, could not stand when people used poor grammar.

"Right, right," Meier said. "So you're staying at your house?"

Rita looked around her wonderful room, at her wonderful book, at her wonderful drink and thought of her favorite teacher and two friends staying at the EconoLodge. She was willing to sacrafice her peace and quiet for three people having a comfortable stay. "Send 'em over, Meier," Rita said.

"What?" Mr. Meier was shocked at this answer.

"I have a big house; they can come stay with me."

"Really? What's the address?" Rita gave Mr. Meier her address and directions to the house, hung up the phone, and sat back in the couch prepared to fully enjoy the last peaceful five minutes of her vacation.


Five minutes later, the doorbell rang. 'Here they are!' thought Rita to herself. She set her book down on the coffee table, put her reading glasses on top of her head, and carried her drink with her into the windowed foyer. She opened the door with a smile, and four faces on the doorstep smiled back at her.

'Wow,' she thought. 'They really have changed.'


On the recieving end of this generous act of hospitality, Abram, Diane, and Betty were all thinking things themselves.

'Wow,' Betty thought. 'She looks exactly like... I did when I was her age. The glasses on top of her head and everything. I don't know about that drink though..."

'Wow,' Abram thought. 'Look at this house! It's a mansion! It looks so EXPENSIVE!'

'Wow,' Diane thought. 'I could really do with one of whatever kind of drink Rita has right about now.'


"Come on in, guys!" said Rita, opening wider the door. They all walked in and stomped the snow off of their shoes on the thousand dollar Oriental rug in the foyer.

"Mrs. Sorenson!" said Rita, as she hugged her teacher.

"Rita!" said Diane, coming over to hug Rita next.

"Abram!" Rita said, looking up at the six-foot Abram who was towering above her. "And - " She stopped as she looked at the fourth face who was on her doorstep. That of a young blond woman whom she didn't recognize. "And who are you?"

"This is -" started Abram.

"Stacy," said the girl.

Rita looked up at Abram, wearing a teachery expression that clearly said, 'explain yourself'.

"She couldn't get a room at the hotel either," started Abram.

"Well," said Rita, looking at Stacy. "Honey girl, this is a party for grownups only." Abram gave Rita a confused look. "I could be her mother," she explained to him. She turned back to Stacy and said, "I'm sorry, I only have four bedrooms in my mansion, and I'd hate for anyone to have to *share* a *room*." She shot an angry look at Abram and started steering Stacy over to the door with one hand. Luckily, the taxicab was still waiting in the driveway for Betty's ok for him to leave. "Now, have you been here before?" Rita asked Stacy.

"No, this is my first time," Stacy replied.

"Well you just tell that cab driver to take you to Summit. There's an EconoLodge and a Courtyard Marriot, and a few other two-star hotels that should suit you just fine." She pushed Stacy out in the snow and said in her practiced flight attendant voice, "Enjoy your stay!" before slamming the door.

She turned around to face Betty, Abram, and Diane who were all standing there with their mouths hanging open in shock.

"You really told her off!" said Diane.

"I'm so proud of you!" said Betty.

Abram started walking over to the door, ashamed. "Come back here Abram," Rita said. "I'll forgive you and let you sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom." Abram turned around and smiled. "Hi Rita," he said, like he'd just walked into the house.

"Come one, everyone! Let's bring your stuff upstairs and then I'll make you some food," said Rita, like the true Italian she was. Everyone followed her up the stairs and started talking at once. "Oh no thanks, I just ate," said Betty. "I'll have a little of whatever's in your hand," said Diane. "Food? What kind of food?" said Abram. They were all smiling, and for a moment they forgot the sad reason that they were all gathered together that night.