"You're the only one here."
Louis scratched at his head, eye goop making it hard to see. He realized that his snow cap had fallen off sometime during his nap.
Then the tired, congested voice drifted to him again. "Lou, why are you the only one here?"
He cracked his stiff neck and sat languidly up in the chair. Blinking some more and licking at his lips, he finally recognized the source of the talking.
"Mom!" Catapulting from the bed, he raced to her side and hunched down to inspect her.
There was something incredibly different about her, he observed. The creases in her face and the dazed aloofness that took hold of her eyes – that was all there still, but some sort of brightness had crept in to her features. It was like a gleam that the florescent lighting couldn't create, like a glow that makeup couldn't give her either. She looked so fresh and alive, like she had gone in for a tune-up and came out as a shiny new model.
"Lou, where is everyone?" Wendy said through chapped, flaking lips.
Louis ignored the familiar hurt that flared up in his stomach at the sound of his mother, once again, wanting someone other than him. "I don't know, Mom. But I'm here."
"I feel queasy," she whined. ". . . Where's Eddie?"
"Want something to drink?" he said immediately.
She pushed at her sheets. "I want to sit."
Louis hurriedly found the right controller and figured out the button to push so that the head of the bed creaked upward. "There," he told her. "Now, how are you?"
"Sick," she said dreadfully. But the light on her face even shone in the depressed expression she gave him. "I don't feel like I'm better or . . . or anything like that."
"You look good, Mom," he murmured honestly. "You may not feel good, but you look like a new you."
She coughed dustily and her breath smelled sour, but Louis didn't budge. "Oh, Lou . . . you always look like this when I see you . . . like you never clean yourself up."
He touched at the still-bald spot atop his head and fought the urge to frown at her bluntness. "I guess we all have our days. And I guess mine just comes fuckin' often," he gritted out.
"Louis." She cringed. "Don't use that type of language."
He wrinkled up his nose. "Right. Sorry."
"Always had such a potty-mouth."
Her eye lids flittered exhaustedly. "But I look okay?"
"You look very pretty, Mom," he whispered, patting the arm that she had strewn across her chest.
She managed a grim smile. "Hey . . .?"
"Wuh-wake me when your father and . . . and Marlin come back, will you?" She cleared her throat wearily. "I'm . . . sleepy."
His shoulders sagged. "Sure, I'll do that."
"I'm gonna . . ." Her head shifted down slowly. ". . . Take a . . . nap."
"Okay, Mom." He rubbed his hands together dejectedly and backed out of the room, each of his steps heavier than the previous one.
He'd known it all along, but still it hung over him like some type of bright idea would: He could love her unwaveringly, cater to her whenever she allowed him to, and pay for her to get a liver transplant . . . but she would never truly want him. She would never ask for someone to wake her up when he arrived by her side.
Macy sipped on her iced tea, tapping random rhythms against the stall door. She'd just finished eating with Louis's family in the hospital cafeteria and while they had all gone back to see if Wendy had woken up yet, Macy volunteered to stay behind and wait until Francesca was done vomiting.
"Franny, you sure you don't want me holding your hair back?" Macy asked gently. "I've got a hair clip in my back pocket . . ."
"No!" Francesca moaned between heaves.
"I swear I won't be disgusted," she protested, sliding her hand along the door and sounding a smidgen too desperate.
"But-" The toilet water slopped around. "-You will!"
Macy's shoulders slumped in defeat. "Jeez, Francesca, morning sickness is nothing to be ashamed of."
"This could . . ." Glop, glop. "Make you . . . not want . . . baby . . .!"
Macy pictured a little infant, head covered with curly blonde wisps. And her stomach felt tickly as she envisioned that baby growing up into a toddler who did a Louis-smirk whenever he or she was being sneaky. "Ah, I wouldn't worry about that," she replied. "My mind's pretty much made up."
"Well-" Francesca groaned in pained frustration. "-Why don't you . . . get on it . . . quick . . . too much . . . of a skinny ass . . .!"
"I only look skinny compared to you," Macy said with her eyes rolling. Realizing what she'd blurted out, she slapped a hand to her mouth. "Wait! I didn't mean it like that!"
Loud sobbing mixed in with the heaves and the sloshing toilet water. All of the noises began bouncing off the walls of the bathroom – and the inside of Macy's skull.
"Damn it, Francesca – don't cry. I swear, I wasn't calling you fat; I was just saying that I'm not skinny."
Francesca continued her throw-up-wailing.
Macy gave up exhaustedly. "I'll be right back," she said over the chaos originating from her pregnant sister-in-law. After edging her way out of the bathroom, she tossed her iced tea into the trash and leaned up against the nearest wall with her head tilted back.
"I hate this place."
Macy jumped a little and glanced over at her husband. He had his hands on his hips, with eye brows furrowed and lips smashed together in a deep frown.
Macy smiled sympathetically before wrapping her arms around his torso. "Hello cutie."
"Don't call me that," he growled. "I'm already pissed."
She tickled at his sides and he let out a squeak. "But you are cute," she murmured.
"Am not." He smashed his mouth against her forehead and then rested his chin atop her head.
"How's she doing?" Macy asked after a moment.
"Compared to what?" he grunted. "I mean, I guess she's healthy – and I guess it was just a liver transplant . . ."
Macy bit her lip. "You had high expectations, Lou."
She craned her neck and spotted his jaw with slow kisses. "You thought she'd wake up and be a completely different woman. But it's going to take time for her to change."
He hooked his hand around her head and lowered his lips to meet hers. "I don't want to be patient," he muttered.
"You've . . . got-gotta . . ." She felt her toes curl inside her shoes as he slowly edged his tongue into her mouth.
"She hates me," he managed out lowly.
Macy inched closer and wrapped both arms around his neck. She tore her mouth away and giggled as he kept pursuing the kiss. "No, Lou." She smiled. "Have you ever thought-"
"Ever thought, what?" He nipped at her bottom lip.
"Ever thought that maybe – ow –" She swatted at his chest as he continued to bite. "Knock it off."
He stepped back and squinted at her. "Ever thought . . .?"
"That maybe she just doesn't know you," Macy finished.
"That's the one," she affirmed. "I don't think she understands anything about you, doesn't know who you really are. And maybe that's what it takes. Maybe you need to get to know your mom again. Reintroduce yourself."
Louis opened his mouth, but paused contemplatively.
"Hey." She tweaked him in the nose, trying to get a response. "After I got to know you, I realized you're actually pretty cool."
"Pretty cool, huh?" He smirked.
"Mmm." She tilted her head to examine him. "Especially with the half bald square on your head, the razor knick on your chin and the mustard stain on your shirt collar."
"Wow," he mused.
"What?" she asked with a grin.
"Oh you, you're a lucky broad."
"I think you, Macy Flayson, may have scored the coolest man alive." He clucked his tongue. "I mean, my nickname is Shades after all. Can you get any more kick-ass than that?"
Macy blanched. ". . . You're serious, aren't you?"
Roy Yelma turned back over his shoulder to give Sherrie a reassuring wink. "This won't take too long."
"Oh, sugar, I don't mind at all." She squeezed his shoulder lingeringly. "This is such a sweet thing you're doing. Louis must really appreciate you."
Roy's face turned crimson as he thought about it. "Well, he just said he wanted me to stop by. And that I was good at talking to him; I was good at making him feel better."
"Awh, what a compliment!"
Roy nodded meekly. "My own son, Lance, won't even let me call him and say hello without sighing, groaning, and making a big fuss."
"Lance," Sherrie said, furrowing her brows. "He's the eldest, right?"
"Close, Sher. He's in the middle."
"Ah. After Doug?"
"Yeah. Yes. Doug's my boy who looked an awful lot like Eric when he was his age."
"Of course! I remember." Sherrie grinned proudly at him as he faced her briefly. "Well, I'm getting it all sorted out in my head and I'll have it right soon. I promise." She hesitated and said, "I'm trying."
Roy felt indescribably excited at that statement and found himself stopping in his tracks. When Sherrie halted right beside him and cocked her head curiously, he simply took her hand and intertwined their fingers.
"I love that you try," he told her. "I don't know many people who do that anymore."
Sherrie shrugged, grinning. "You're welcome."
"Hey, Mr. Yelma!" was shouted from a short distance away.
"Why it's my nephew-in-law." Sherrie pointed to the waiting room located further down the hall.
Roy refocused on the end of the corridor and immediately spotted the boy with the grungy clothes, tapered hat, and roguish smirk.
Sherrie and Roy made their way to Louis's spot and the two men shook hands before Sherrie enclosed Louis in a tight hug.
"Thanks for coming," Louis said, shifting away from the embrace.
"How is she?" Roy asked.
"Okay – I think." Louis scratched at his thigh and smiled uneasily.
"It takes time to recover, mentally and physically," Sherrie piped in with a few nods. Roy snuck a fond glance at her.
Louis sucked in his lips. "Yep, Mace basically said the same thing."
"Your mom's probably very thankful for your support," Roy contributed. He wished he could think of some advice-gems, but he didn't consider himself the best with words of wisdom – or even words for that matter.
Louis chuckled. "Huhn. Actually I think she's thankful I'm not anywhere near her. She's probably hoping I get hit by a Budweiser truck while crossing the street to get to my car." He throws up his hand. "That way my death will give her something to talk about . . . yeah, since my life sure as hell hasn't."
Suddenly a familiar woman with dark sleek hair appeared behind him and she smacked him in the back of the head. "Hey!"
"Hey!" he echoed. "That hurt!"
"Stop talking like that, you mope."
"I can't believe you just hit me!"
"Your mom does not think that. Stop trying to get everyone to come to your pity party!"
He scowled, but there was enjoyment pinching at his lips. "Oh, baby, I don't even like parties."
"Shush!" Macy stared at him mockingly. "And stop rubbing your head. It's not like I almost knocked you unconscious or something."
"Still," he whimpered. "You're a beast."
"Maybe I gave you a concussion," she teased, eyes twinkling. "We are in a hospital – so if you'd like to check yourself in . . ."
"I'm serious, Xena!"
"Don't call me Xena," she laughed, pinching him in the shoulder. "Or I'll start calling you Gabrielle."
Roy watched the interaction, amused. He'd seen their spark the moment he'd married them. Sure it had progressed. It had grown because they had grown. And he liked to believe that he'd seen them move forward, maybe helped the growth along too.
"Oh . . ." Macy was blushing and shuffling her feet. She'd obviously just recalled that Roy, himself, was standing there. "Hi, Mr. Yelma." She did an awkward little dance before hugging him. "It's so nice that you came by."
Sherrie yanked at Macy's t-shirt sleeve; Roy released her so she could be coddled by her aunt. As the two women were rocking each other, Louis gestured for Roy to follow him down the opposing hallway.
"I like your tie," Louis said casually as they started walking.
Mr. Yelma glanced down at blue and red stripes zigzagging along a white backdrop. "Oh. Thanks. I guess it's my patriotic one."
"Yeah, I'm not a tie man really. But, you - well - you pull it off."
"Louis." Roy stopped and took hold of Louis's shoulder. He knew the blond wasn't a fan of small-talk, so he didn't want to waste time beating around the bush. "How are you, son? Honestly?"
Louis was studying the aforementioned tie like there was a secret message sewed on it. "I'm actually doing pretty shitty--er, sorry . . ."
"It's okay to do shitty." Roy smiled reassuringly as Louis glanced up in surprise.
"See, I have to get to know my own mom again and hope that she'll like me this time around." He scoffed. "How ridiculous. I shouldn't have to jump through hoops just 'cause I'm an ass hole who people can't understand . . ."
Mr. Yelma cringed a little; Louis's judgment of himself was so straightforward and unflattering. "I'm sure you can do it; It seems you're pretty accepting of yourself, even though you-"
Louis squeezed at the back of his neck. ". . . Maybe you've got a point." He paused. "Do you think it's possible to get to know yourself through getting to know someone else?"
"Sorry, that's a stupid--I don't even know . . . See, I had to thank you today. I had to do it here, you know where death is everywhere and . . . it seemed like a good idea. "
"I don't know if I understand."
Louis suddenly stood up more stiffly. "Yeah, you probably don't."
"Oh?" Mr. Yelma wondered if he should be offended. He usually was quite well with understanding things.
"You've done so much for me."
Roy waved it off. "I know, you thanked me for the money and the apartment. Louis it was no problem at all but-"
"Ah," he sighed softly. "That's not it. See, my mom made me realize . . ." He was clenching and unclenching his fists tensely. "I had to do it today--now--and . . ."
"I just, um, I'm doing shitty, you know, and I'm feeling like a depressed outcast whose hair can't seem to grow fast enough, but . . . it's not my life. It's just my own shit pile that I gotta go through; it's not who I am." He raised his eye brows. "You get me, Roy?"
"Are you . . .?" Roy felt parts of his forehead overlap other parts. "What are you thanking me for?"
The beginnings of an excited smile began showing in his features; Roy observed Louis oddly as he took a step backward. The boy seemed suspiciously antsy. Maybe . . . giddy?
"Louis?" Roy pressed kindly.
"Uh . . ." His face brightened up like a city that just turned back on after a power surge. "Her." And he pointed with a straight, unwavering, arm toward the two women chatting a few feet away.
Mr. Yelma chuckled breathily. "I don't think I deserve credit for that, Lou. I'm not the reason you have Macy; you-"
"Mr. Yelma." Louis shook his head with a smile. "I just . . . I - thank you."
Roy opened his mouth to object again, but the concentrative gratitude that shone in Louis's eyes stopped him from saying anything.
"If there's anything I could ever give you - like a Chihuahua or something - let me know, okay?"
Roy smiled, remembering how many times he'd heard Louis upstairs or outside yelling at the poor dog and threatening to vacuum it up and never tell Macy.
Louis did a lopsided shrug. "I feel like I owe you."
"I appreciate that son, but it's not necessary."
"Yeah." He stared hard. "It is, though!"
"It's not, Louis." Roy shuffled his feet and decided to just spit it out: "You already paid me back."
"I did? But how could I have?" He rubbed at his chin. "Did I accidentally drop some cash around in the driveway? 'Cause it probably fell out of my pocket and . . . Mace hates when that happens."
"No, no." Roy felt himself wink at the younger man. "But you did. Trust me."
Louis seemed accept that. "Okay."
"Alright, ladies!" Macy hollered. "Twenty-nine-forty-seven, hike!" She let the ball fly backward and scrambled to get out of the way.
"Twenty-nine-forty-seven?" Louis leapt in front of her, legs spread and arms open. "You don't know what the hell you were talking about."
Macy quickly tried to lose him, jogging randomly around the field. "That's not true!"
He cocked his head and laughed. "Is so! Two plays ago, you shouted 'eenie-meenie-minie-moe', you little faker."
Macy snapped her fingers, foiled. She forgot about that one.
"I'm so all over you," he boasted.
She ignored him, watching as Rebecca made a pass to Nora. Nora, wandering, skipped a few steps. Rick came at her and she obviously panicked.
"I don't want this!" she shouted, hurling the football straight into the air. It shot up and then . . . Uh-oh. Macy cringed; Nora wasn't moving.
Louis began laughing once he'd seemingly realized what was bound to happen. And his laughter deepened when the inevitable occurred.
"Ahh!" Nora cried, flopping to the ground, holding her nose.
Louis grabbed Macy's waist shakily to help balance him. He was practically keeled over. Macy smacked him in the shoulder.
"Babe!" was screamed further down the field before Dane pushed his way past the other players, hurrying up beside Macy's injured friend to scoop her right up into his arms. "Nor, babe, you so asked for that one."
"It totally," Nora whimpered, "totally hurts!"
"Right, right -- totally," Dane said, locking eyes with Louis and shushing him.
Macy noticed that Rebecca was tapping one clean little sneaker and scrutinizing her nails while Dane carried Nora to a lawn chair off-field.
"Now I know why you're friends with her," Louis said, wiping his eyes with a satisfied smile.
"Why's that?" She sneered at him.
" 'Cause she makes you look like the smart one," he replied.
Macy shook her head, forcing her meanest glare to appear. "You're goin' down, Lou."
He cocked his head, apparently amused by her feistiness. "Darling, football's not your sport."
"Maybe you're right about that."
"See," he said.
"Football isn't my sport, but kicking your ass is."
He wiggled his brows. "Meow."
"Somebody tell Flayson to shut up and get over here!" demanded Kurt, coming onto the field from the sidelines. "We're getting into a huddle, damn it. Let's go."
Macy heard Louis growl in his throat and stalk over to where the rest of his team was gathering. She followed behind and passed the guys on her way to check on Nora.
"Buddy." Rick was chuckling and shouldering Kurt. "Don't forget your girlfriend's here, cheering you on." He pointed to Blake's older sister, who Macy still despised, as she bounced around in a mini-skirt, clapping her hands. "Being jealous over your ex is not going to win any points."
"Whatever," Kurt said.
Rick glanced to Macy and winked, to which she just rolled her eyes.
"Okay, men!" Ivan cried out, amidst the other men. "Let's go be burly! Grrr!"
They all clapped their hands once and got into positions. Macy and Nora laughed as they watched the males realize there were no longer any females on the field.
"We're taking a time out!" Nora's friend from work notified them, sipping from a tall thermos.
"We'll play ourselves," Rick suggested.
"Yeah, yeah . . ."
"I'm on Dane's team!" Louis called.
Dane pumped his fist. "That's right, boo!"
Macy smacked her forehead, still unsure if she should be jealous of their oddly intimate little friendship.
"I get Dane too!" That was Ivan.
Nora, sitting in a lounge chair, sighed loudly. The noise was wheezy because of her injured nose. "Popular guy, huh?"
Macy had her hands on her hips and she glanced down to her friend. "I suppose. Think you two might date for a while?"
"Who knows. He's kind of an asshole sometimes but-"
"That's just their exterior," Macy informed her with a small smile.
"You sure?" Nora said dryly, pointing to where Louis was prancing around in front of Kurt.
"You see that steal?" Louis taunted excitedly. "No, of course you didn't! I move too fast, buttercup! Man, I took that right from your little grasp! Hah!"
"I'm gonna hurt you," Kurt bit out stiffly.
"I am Ruler of Pigskin!" Louis exclaimed. "Bow to me!"
"You don't believe me?" Kurt took a menacing step toward him. "I'll do it, fuckface."
"No I do." Louis chuckled. "You've proved to me that your fists really like coming out to play."
"Only with you," Kurt snapped.
Whistling with two fingers, Macy attempted to get her husband's attention. "Louis, get over here!"
"But, Mace, I didn't start it!"
"Yes you did -- I was watching, you moron!"
"I didn't, honest!" He kicked at the grass huffily.
Kurt slapped a hand to his face before giving Macy a stern look of disbelief. With one hand he gestured to a sulking Louis. "Him," he said. "Seriously?"
Macy beckoned Louis with her finger. "Here. Now."
Louis wrinkled his nose and obliged. All the while, Dane made a whipping sound and Ivan sang out, 'ooh, trouble' while cackling.
"He may have a tendency to be an actual ass hole," Macy told Nora through the side of his mouth. "But I happen to-"
"I'm sick of playing," Louis told Macy, grabbing her and rubbing his hands up and down her shoulders. "Let's go."
She tapped her lips, pretending to contemplate that. "Try again."
She shook her head. "Eh, not yet. Jodie won't want dinner for another hour."
"Not back to the hospital," he begged. "The smell of antiseptic is still in my nose, and I know my mom doesn't-"
"What about that new hotdog place that opened on Garfield Street?" she suggested.
He smiled brightly and quickly took her hand in his. Their fingers automatically fit in together and the motion gave Macy a little jolt in her gut.
"I'm out, guys!" Louis yelled over his shoulder.
"C'mon, dude!" Dane called. "I'm not even tired yet."
"Ivy." Macy half-turned and pointed to her friend. "You take care of that."
"Aye, aye!" Ivan shouted.
Nora and Rebecca chorused their farewells, and Macy and Louis took off toward the parking lot.
"You doing okay?" she asked him.
"Yeah." He kissed her cheek quickly. "You don't always have to check up on me. I'm feeling better about my mom anyway."
"And I've been thinking about stuff lately."
He didn't say anything until they reached the car. "Mace, I think I wanna go to community college."
"Should I stress each syllable?"
"Oh just repeat it, jerk!"
"Okay." He sighed. "I think I wanna go to community college."
She beamed, wanting him to say it one more time. "Really?"
"Yep." Hesitantly, he took possession of her waist and backed her up against the side of the car. "Maybe take some art classes, but then . . . I'll also look into some other shit . . . you know?"
"That makes me really happy," she whispered.
He leaned in closer to her until there was nothing between their lips. "And I'm not just doing it for you," he murmured. "Isn't that weird?"
"Oh Louis!" Macy planted her elbows on the car and forced her way against him. She kissed him hard, giving him all she could muster, and even surprised herself with all of the energy she could put into it -- without using any hands.
He held onto her backside and she wrapped her legs around his waist. His fingers played with her belt loops. "Know what I wanna do right here?" he asked, forcing her head to lift as he licked at her neck.
"Yes," she managed out, "and you'd have to do it by yourself, because there's no way."
"Fine, baby, but I'm keeping Jodie in the closet tonight."
"That's a good plan," she said, running her foot up his leg. "But I always wonder about the noises we make . . . and what that does to him."
He pulled his mouth back with a little 'schmack' and began breathing through his nose. Macy brought her chin down so she could gaze at him eye-to-eye. And she read him instantly.
"I love you," he said, as solemn as ever. "Do you know what that means, Mace?"
She smiled knowingly. Every once and a while he would suddenly become so somber with her, so concerned that she wasn't sure about the way he felt -- but Macy always had to remind him that there was no need.
No one was going anywhere.
She put her weight on him and took one of his curls between her fingers. "I know, Lou. It means the hotdogs are on you."
Oh, yeah, that was corny - and I'm sorry. But oh well. Thank you guys! Wow! I can't believe I actually finished this! It's all because of you, really! I know this story has a billion and one mistakes in it, and that it's nowhere near the vicinity of perfection, but you all still stuck with it and still gave me incredible reviews. I am so appreciative!!
I hope the ending is acceptable and that you guys don't hate it. Maybe there are still some loose ends, but I'm content with where I left it. I'm really going to miss these characters!
Anyways, thank you to everyone who ever reviewed this. You not only helped me improve as a writer, but you helped me finish this - even though it's extremely difficult for me to end anything I write. I love all of you!