Freedom Lane: Decent Proposal
“Happy birthday Paulie!” Rose exclaimed as she came from the kitchen into the dining room of her home on Freedom Lane. She had straight red hair and wore an apron outside her colorful blouse. Paulie beamed. He had just came over for his usual Sunday night dinner with his sister, Helen, and her family.
“Thank you!” Paulie said. He wore a nice sweater and his black hair with white stripes on the side was combed perfectly. “I thought you forgot this year.”
“Madon,” the gray, curly-haired Helen groaned. “Birthdays are meaningless after you hit twelve.”
“No they aren’t!” Rose said, placing the cake on the table and pulling a lighter from her pocket. She lit the candles on top of the cake. “Birthdays are magical. Just because you don’t like yours doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t want to celebrate.”
“You’re just all hyperactive because your birthday is in two weeks,” Helen said. “You always make a huge deal about Paulie’s birthday to remind me how close your’s is.”
“Oh wow,” Rose said in an airy voice. “I had no idea we were coming up on my birthday in just two weeks.”
“Sure,” grumbled Helen.
“I got you a present, Unca Paulie,” Da’Quarius, the adopted son of Helen and Rose said, slipping an envelope over the table. “Happy sixty-fourth!”
“Sixty-four,” Paulie said, opening the envelope. “I still feel so young at heart too. What did you get me here? Is that a check?”
“No,” Da’Quarius said. “It’s a gift card. I got’chu a session with a psychic.”
“No dice, kid,” Paulie said, pushing the envelope back toward Da’Quarius. “I don’t mess with that mumbo-jumbo. You keep it.”
“Come on,” Da’Quarius said.
“He put a lot of thought into that present,” Rose said, pushing the envelope back toward Paulie. “The least you can do is go.”
“Fine,” Paulie said. “I don’t know what they can tell me that I don’t already know.”
“Blow the friggin’ candles out already,” Helen said. “The wax is getting all over the cake.”
“Fine,” Paulie said. “Here’s to sixty-four more.”
Season 8, Episode 1: Decent Proposal
Paulie walked into Lady Kali’s on Ferry Street. Her psychic reading office was located above an auto parts store that had already closed for the day. The glow of orange neon from the eye-shaped sign outside lit the darkened office.
“Good evening,” Lady Kali said, coming in from behind a curtain of beads. She had a haggard face and a head of black curls, wrapped in three different scarfs. She wore a blouse of dark blue. “What brings your path to my table?”
“I got a gift card for my birthday,” Paulie said, putting the envelope Da’Quarius had given him on the counter in front of her. “But you already should’ve known that, being psychic and all.”
“Ah yes,” Lady Kali said, letting her eyes linger over the paper. “I remember the boy I to whom I sold this. He was very eager for you to be illuminated.”
“Yeah,” Paulie said, looking around the odd items strewed about the place. “I’m sure he’s laughing his little ass off right now about my illumination.”
“You are a skeptic,” Lady Kali said. It wasn’t a question.
“Wow,” Paulie said sarcastically. “You are good.”
“Sit,” Lady Kali said, sitting down behind a small, round table with a crystal ball in the center. “He has already paid for your reading. The least you can do is humor him. I know you would hate for his money to go to waste.”
Paulie sighed. She was right, but he didn’t want to admit it. Besides, he knew it wasn’t just a lucky guess. He wouldn’t have been there otherwise. She was halfway decent at reading a situation anyway. “Alright, lady,” he said. “Tell me a story.”
Lady Kali shuffled a deck of old, frayed tarot cards. She put the deck in front of Paulie, and he separated them. She put the two parts together and started placing the cards in front of her. “Oh yes,” she said, looking at the cards. “I know you do not want to be here, but I am glad you came. You are not married.”
“Good guess,” Paulie said. “You noticed I’m not wearing a ring.”
“You are lonely,” Lady Kali said, “but you will not admit it.”
“I am not lonely,” Paulie said. “I have my family and Tony and my Pizzeria.”
“I told you you would not admit it,” Lady Kali said, smiling. She pulled another card, and her smile faded. “You need a wife.”
“Ha!” Paulie exclaimed. “That’s the last thing I need.”
Lady Kali waved her hand over the crystal ball on her table. “I see a ring,” she said. “You will meet a woman you imagine you can spend the rest of your life with. I see a number of courtships, but only one will pique your love.”
Paulie sighed. “Look, lady…”
“You believe you lost your true love when you were young,” Lady Kali said, staring into the ball. “I see a car accident claiming her life.”
“Madon,” Paulie said. “Did Da’Quarius tell you that. I’m going to wring his friggin’ neck.”
“He told me nothing,” Lady Kali said, her eyes not leaving the crystal ball. “I see something else. “I see another before her. One with hair of gold. She was also taken from you, but not by death. I see someone close to you taking her by the hand and dragging her away.”
Paulie’s blood ran cold. “Nobody knows about that,” he said. He remembered the girl he dated before his deceased fiancé, Shronda. He dated a girl named Brenda for six months. He had even thought she could be the one. It did not end well, though. She left him for one of his close friends who had to just about pry them apart. It now seemed like a minor bump in the road Paulie had travelled for most of his life, but it was devastating at the time.
“You think love has left you,” Lady Kali said, “so you never stay with anyone long enough to build a connection.”
“Shronda was the one,” Paulie said, unable to stop himself. “Without her, finding love is pointless.”
“But you will love again,” Lady Kali said. “You will find happiness in another. I even see a ring.”
“No way,” Paulie said. “I just turned sixty-four. I’m not getting married now.”
“But you must,” Lady Kali said. “Your fate has spoken.”
“Well my stomach is speaking now,” Paulie said, getting up. “I’m heading out to get home and seek happiness on a throne of porcelain.”
“Find love,” Lady Kali said as Paulie left. “You will know when it comes, and you will propose marriage. Oh yes. I see it clearly.”
“Nuts to you, ya old bat,” Paulie said, walking toward the door.
“I see darkness, pain, and suffering around you and the ones around you if you do not heed my words,” Lady Kali said. “These things can be avoided if you seek love.”
Paulie was somehow frightened at this last statement, and the hair on the back of his neck stood in end. “You can’t possibly know that,” he said.
“Heed my warning,” Lady Kali said. “Seek love, and pain can be avoided.”
Without another word, Paulie left into the warm New Haven night.
“Wha’chu gettin’ Rose for her birthday?” Da’Quarius asked Helen as Rose went upstairs to get ready for bed. “You gotta do sumtin’.”
“Every damn year,” Helen muttered.
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Dat’s when birthdays happen.”
“I never know what to get that woman,” Helen said. “Every year I get some shitty tchotchke, and she pretends to like it.”
“Is dat’cho problem?” Da’Quarius asked. “You just upset about birthdays cuz you cain’t get Rose a good enough gift?”
“Birthdays are friggin’ nonsense!” Helen snapped. She got up and left the den.
The door opened a moment later, and Paulie entered. “Hey Daq,” Paulie said. “Where’s Helen and Rose?”
“Helen just stormed off,” Da’Quarius said, “an’ Rose is cleanin’ up for bed. You here awfully late for a Monday.”
“I just came from the psychic your sent me to,” Paulie said.
“Oh yeah?” Da’Quarius said with a wide smile. “How did you like it?”
“I wanted to tell you first,” Paulie said. “I’m getting married.”
“What?!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “She was just s’posed to give you a card readin’ or sumptin’.”
“Paulie?” Rose said, coming downstairs in her nightgown. “What are you doing here?”
“He came to tell us he marryin’ da psychic,” Da’Quarius said. “She must’ve hypnotized him.”
“I didn’t say that!” Paulie snapped. “I talked to her, and I am destined to find the love of my life and get married. I’m going to start looking.”
“Oh, Paulie,” Rose said, sitting down. “You saw the sign that said it was for entertainment purposes only, right?”
Helen walked back into the room. “What’s going on in here?” she asked. “Why’s Paulie here?”
“I wanted to let you three know I’ll be looking for a wife,” Paulie said.
“Madon,” Helen sighed. “Who needs that anchor, dragging them down into the cold earth.”
“Helen!” Rose said, turning to her.
“Except for us, I mean,” Helen said.
“I think it’s sweet,” Rose said, smiling. “Paulie just wants someone to spend the rest of his life with.”
“He got people,” Da’Quarius said. “Tony an’ me.”
“You’ll understand when you’re older,” Rose said.
“I’m just’ kiddin’,” Da’Quarius said. “You know I’ll help. You like chubby black chicks, right?”
“Madon,” Helen said, rolling her eyes. “I’ll be upstairs. You two conspire to marry my little brother off without me. Good friggin’ luck.”
“So explain this to me again?” Paulie asked the following night as he walked into what was usually the bingo hall attached to his church on Orange Street.
“It’s great,” Tony said, standing between Paulie and Da’Quarius. Da’Quarius had enlisted Tony to help Paulie find a wife almost immediately, and he was more than eager to help, even though he decided to wear his normal wife-beater tank top and ripped jeans. “You sit at a table, you talk to some broad for five minutes, the timer dings, you scribble a couple of notes, and your move on. You decide at the end if there was a match, and you tell them which girls you like. If she likes you too, they’ll hook you up.”
“You never heard of speed datin’?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Sure I have,” Paulie said. “We did this back in my day, but it consisted of getting a girl in the back of your car and kicking her out as quickly as possible.”
A woman turned to look at Paulie, give him a dirty look, and walk away.
“Shit,” Tony said. “She had a number seven on her tag. Might as well skip that table.”
Paulie sat at table three, across from a plump white woman with long, blonde hair. She had a toothy smile. “You’re old,” she said.
“You’re fat,” Paulie replied, drumming his fingers on the table. “You want to keep spouting random observations, or do you want to have a conversation?”
Paulie sat down at table five. The woman was in her mid-forties and had curly, black hair. “Hi there,” Paulie said, sitting down.
“Let me get something out of the way,” the woman said as the timer started. “I have four kids and my ex is in prison. That a problem?”
“Oh,” Paulie said. “So you just want to sit there silently for another four minutes and fifty-five seconds then? Madon.”
Paulie looked across table seven at the woman staring daggers at him. “Sorry,” he said. “I forgot about earlier.”
Paulie sat down in the chair at table twelve. The woman with brown hair and glasses was flicking her finger against her phone screen. “Oh,” Paulie said. “Don’t let me interrupt you.”
“Sorry,” the woman said, not looking up from her phone. “A wild Pidgey appeared.”
“By all means then,” Paulie sighed. “Do what you gotta do, doll.”
“So what do you do for a living?” the woman at table seventeen asked. She was chubby and had short, brown hair.
“I run my own restaurant,” Paulie said, “a pizzeria. I serve authentic New Haven pizza.”
“Oh,” the woman said. “Like Pizza Hut?”
“Let’s go,” Paulie said, standing with Tony and Da’Quarius after his twelve five-minute conversations. “That was a waste of an hour. They don’t even let you meet everyone.”
“She’s huge, Tony,” Da’Quarius said, looking toward the woman with a number eleven pinned to her blouse.
“Yeah,” Tony said, “but you’ll get more, because the fat ones are more grateful. They’ll even buy you things.”
“Is that true, Unca Paulie?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Absolutely,” Paulie said, looking at his phone. They were set up to text if there were any matches, but his phone had been silent thus far.
Tony’s phone buzzed in his hand, and he looked up. Number eleven gave him a little wave. “Jackpot,” Tony said, smiling. “Don’t wait up. It’s going to take some time to mount this one.”
“It’s gonna take all night to climb to da peak,” Da’Quarius said. “Good luck.”
Paulie looked around at everyone hooking up. His phone was still silent. “You ready to go, kid?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said, walking toward the door with Paulie. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK,” Paulie said. “This whole thing was an exercise in uselessness anyway. Thanks for coming.”
“I hope your insurance is paid up,” Da’Quarius said.
“Why?” Paulie asked.
“Cuz Tony’s date is gonna fall right through da floor of his apartment, right into yo’ kitchen when he bangs her,” Da’Quarius said.
“How about a bouquet of flowers?” Helen asked, sitting on Da’Quarius’s bed as he clicked buttons on his computer. She was still trying to figure out what to buy Rose for her birthday with the week and a half she had left.
“I dunno,” Da’Quarius said. “Dey always die. ‘Sides, ain’t flowers fo’ Valentines Day an’ funerals?”
“Good point,” Helen said. “How about a doll? Like a really nice collectible?”
“I think Rose is scared of dolls,” Da’Quarius said. “She nearly had a panic attack over dat stuffed monkey.”
“You’re right,” Helen said. “See. She’s impossible to shop for!”
“You’ll figure it out,” Da’Quarius said, clicking his mouse.
“Hey,” Helen said, squinting at the screen over Da’Quarius’s shoulder. “Why do you have a picture of my brother on your computer?
“Dis is his datin’ profile,” Da’Quarius said. “He’s tryin’ online datin’ to find him a wife, and he’s havin’ me do it. You know he’s allergic to computers an’ shit.”
“Bah,” Helen said. “I’d never let a damn robot find my bitches.”
“Dis might actually speed things up,” Da’Quarius said. “I just need to find a cute black woman who likes his profile.”
“Why’s she have to be black?” Helen asked. “What’s wrong with the white women?”
“Paulie likes black women,” Da’Quarius said, turning from his computer screen. “When have you ever seen him in a serious relationship with a white woman?”
“I’m not trying to be racist,” Helen said, “but I think Paulie can be happy with a white woman.”
“I’m not sayin’ he won’t,” Da’Quarius said. “I’m just tellin’ you what he’s attracted to.”
“There’s nothing wrong with white women!” Helen snapped. “You just want a black aunt.”
Da’Quarius sighed. “Look,” he said. “Would it help if I told you I’m not personally attracted to black girls?”
“Yes,” Helen said with a smirk. “It actually does help.”
“Good,” Da’Quarius said, turning back to his computer, “but Paulie likes ’em dark an’ chubby.”
“Madon,” Helen said, getting off Da’Quarius’s bed with a grunt. “He won’t be happy until he’s actually married and miserable, will he?”
“I just hope he’s havin’ luck on his own,” Da’Quarius said.
“Don’t you have studying to do?” Helen asked.
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Would you rather me do that or help you find a present for Rose?”
“Depends,” Helen replied. “Got any other suggestions?”
“Good morning, sunshine,” Tony said as Paulie came into Paulie’s Pizza on State Street the following morning. “How was your night?”
“Terrible,” Paulie said, plopping down in one of the booths. “I went to singles night at a bar. I don’t known what I was thinking.”
“You went to a bar?” Tony asked, coming around and filling a cup with Coke from the fountain. He swallowed it in one long gulp. “You don’t drink publicly.”
“As the bartender pointed out,” Paulie said. “It was a two drink minimum, and water didn’t count.”
“So no luck on the wife hunt then?” Tony asked.
“No,” Paulie said. “Finding a quality woman is harder than it sounds.”
“Wait a second,” Tony said. “You have girlfriends all the time. You’re almost never single.”
“I’m looking for quality in a wife,” Paulie said, “not quantity.”
“It’s been less than a week,” Tony said. “It doesn’t have to be today. By the way, I have a new bed being delivered on Saturday, so I may have to duck out for a bit to let the delivery guys upstairs.”
“What happened to your old bed?” Paulie asked.
“Remember number eleven?” Tony asked. “I took her back to my apartment after the speed dating. We busted my bed pretty good.”
“Madon, Tony,” Paulie said. “You gotta -“
“Shit,” Tony said, glancing out the window. “Here she comes. Tell her I’m not here!”
“Who?!” Paulie said, looking through the window.
“Number eleven!” Tony said, running to the stairwell to his apartment above the pizzeria.
“At least tell me her name!” Paulie shouted.
Tony was gone the moment before the bells rang on the door. “Hi,” number eleven said, coming inside. “Is Tony here?”
“No,” Paulie said. “He’s out for the day.”
“Oh,” number eleven replied with a look of sadness on her face. “Can I just get a large pepperoni and sausage pizza then?”
“Sure,” Paulie said, getting up and going behind the counter. “It’s on the house.”
“Thank you,” number eleven said. “Can I get some breadsticks too then?”
Paulie went to the State Street Diner, just a few blocks from Paulie’s Pizza. He made number eleven her pizza, kept her company for a bit while Tony hid upstairs, and decided to go out for lunch rather than stay with Tony. He looked over the menu in a booth by himself as the waitress poured a cup of coffee for a lonely old man sitting on a barstool. Paulie thought that would be him someday, sitting by himself with a cup of coffee, stewing in silence.
“Hey!” the manager of the diner shouted, coming from the kitchen. He was a heavy, dark-skinned Greek with curly, gray and black hair on his head and sticking out of his shirt. He made his way to the old man. “No more coffee! You’ve had twelve cups already!”
The old man looked defeated, pushing the cup away.
“Oh!” Paulie said, putting his menu down. “Don’t talk to him like that! Who the snot taught you how to treat your customers?”
“Don’t come into my place and tell me how to talk!” the manager exclaimed. “This guy’s been doing nothing but drinking coffee and reading the paper for the past two hours!”
“Look,” Paulie said. “Your menu specifically says refills on coffee is free. There’s nothing that says how many refills you’re allowed or how long you have to drink said refills. Maybe you should put an asterisk in there in the future, but this man is doing nothing wrong in the present.”
“He’s right,” a woman said, sitting at another booth. “You can’t treat people like that.”
Paulie looked at the woman who spoke up in defense of the old man. She was young, a little chubby, and black. She had short, straight hair to her shoulders. Paulie couldn’t say anything as he looked at her. He felt as if he could hear angels singing.
“You get the fuck out!” the manager shouted, spit flying from his mouth. “Both of you!”
“Fine,” Paulie said, standing up and tossing his menu into the manger’s chest. “I’m not eating in this shit-hole anyway.”
“Me neither,” the woman said, getting up. “Cancel my order.”
“I’ll feed it to my fuckin’ dogs!” the manger shouted as Paulie and the woman left.
“Holy shit,” Paulie said, closing the door behind him. “Leave it to a Greek. Sorry about that. I own my own place, and I would never treat a customer like that.”
“It’s ok,” the woman said. “I’m glad you said it. I wouldn’t have spoken up if you hadn’t.”
“I’m Paulie,” Paulie said, extending his hand.
“Angie,” Angie said, shaking his head hand lightly.
“Sorry you missed your meal,” Paulie said. “Can I make it up to you?”
“Sure,” Angie said with a shrug. “You know a good diner.”
“There’s no good diners,” Paulie said, “but I know a nice Italian restaurant not too far from here. They aren’t open until after six, so I guess I’ll have to pick you up later. Seven OK?”
“Sure,” Angie said. “Can I meet you at this restaurant you own?”
“Sure,” Paulie said. “It’s easy to remember. It’s Paulie’s Pizza.”
“Oh,” Angie said. “You’re that Paulie. I know the place. I’ll meet you out front at seven, and you can take me to dinner.”
Paulie sat across from Angie at Canner’s Restaurant. She wore a dark green blouse, and the color brought out her eyes. Paulie wore a button down shirt and khakis. “I don’t normally go out with older guys,” Angie said.
“I’m not that old!” Paulie said. “I just turned sixty-four.”
“Sixty-four?!” Angie said. “I’m only thirty-five!”
“Oh,” Paulie said. “Is that a problem?”
“No,” Angie said. “You’re more mature. I like that. Most of the guys my age who are still single are single for a reason. They’re either way into video games, comic cooks, porn, or all of the above.”
Paulie laughed. “Well I’m not into any of that,” he said. “I’m just glad you’re not turned off to me.”
“Are you kidding?” Angie said, laughing. “I love older movies, and I want to be able to throw a tantrum on my husband’s grave while I’m still young.”
“Whoa,” Paulie said. “Husband’s grave? You have me married and dead, and this is our first date!”
“Well I have a good feeling,” Angie said, “a very good feeling.”
“Me too,” Paulie said. “Me too.”
“How about a snake?” Helen asked Da’Quarius at breakfast on Saturday morning. Rose had gotten up early to garden. “She loves animals.”
“Naw,” Da’Quarius said. “I don’t think snakes are included in da’ animals Rose loves.”
“What about a new mat for the front door?” Helen asked.
“Cuz nothin’ says ‘happy birthday’ like a welcome mat,” Da’Quarius replied.
“Shit,” Helen said, stirring her Metamucil with her spoon. “Maybe I’ll just drug her up and tell her I gave her something spectacular when she comes to in the morning.”
“You cain’t drug her again!” Da’Quarius said. “She’s going to catch onto dat one day.”
“Well what are you getting her?” Helen asked.
“No way,” Da’Quarius said. “You are not copying my idea!”
“Shit,” Helen said. “Then I’m stumped.”
“Hey,” Paulie said, coming in from the den. “I did it!”
“Did what?” Helen asked, tossing some pills in her mouth and chasing it with her Amber-colored Metamucil.
“I found her,” Paulie said, “the woman I want to marry.”
A cloud of water and Metamucil spewed from Helen’s mouth.
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “It’s been six days!”
“Well I met her yesterday,” Paulie said. “We stormed out of a diner together, had dinner together, spent the night at my place, and I just dropped her off. She’s smart, funny, and beautiful. This could be it. That friggin’ batty psychic broad was right!”
“She black too, right?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Yeah,” Paulie said. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Told you, Helen!” Da’Quarius said. “Paulie likes em’ black!”
“Bah!” Helen said. “Getting married at your age. There’s no point”
“Sure there is!” Paulie said. “I don’t want to die alone.”
“Then die on the bus,” Helen said, getting up. “I’ll shiv you both if you propose!” She walked to the den and turned the TV on, turning the volume up high so she couldn’t hear Paulie and Da’Quarius.
“Congrats,” Da’Quarius said.
“Thanks,” Paulie said, looking toward the door to the den. “She’ll come around.”
“Sure,” Da’Quarius said. “She always does.”
Another week passed, and Paulie spent as much time as possible with Angie. Things had gotten serious fast, and he decided to bring her to Helen and Rose’s house for his regular Sunday dinner. “Let me warn you one more time about my sister,” Paulie said, walking from his car to the front door.
“You’ve warned me enough,” Angie said, holding Paulie’s hand. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
“Madon,” Paulie sighed. “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea. I should build you up more.”
“It’s fine,” Angie said. “I love you, and she’ll see that.”
“I love you too, doll,” Paulie said, smiling. He opened the door and walked inside with Angie by his side.
“I’m not getting her a friggin cuckoo clock!” Helen snapped. “You want that thing going off at all hours of the day?!”
“I know she wants one,” Da’Quarius said. “Look, you only have a week left, and dat’s da’ only hint she dropped.”
“You get her the damn clock then!” Helen exclaimed, waving a hand. “Friggin’ birthdays are nonsense anyway.”
“Oh!” Paulie shouted. “Hello to you too!”
“Bah!” Helen said, waving her other hand at Paulie. “Quit showing off your grave-robbing girlfriend.”
“Stop it,” Rose said, rising in from the kitchen. “I’m so sorry. I’m Rose, and this is Helen and Da’Quarius.”
“Angie,” Angie said, shaking Rose’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Is it?” Helen asked.
“It was a second ago,” Angie said.
“Well,” Paulie said, “this is off to a good start. When do we eat?”
“You have a lovely home,” Angie said, breaking the silence at the dining room table.
“Thank you,” Rose said, smiling.
“Don’t steal anything,” Helen muttered.
“What was that?” Angie asked.
“She didn’t say anything,” Rose said. “Tell me about yourself. What do you do for work?”
“I work for Charming Limo Service,” Angie said. “We rent out those party buses for stags and bachelorette parties.”
“Nice,” Da’Quarius said. “I want one fo’ my next birthday!”
“No,” Helen said. “You can have your friends in the backyard like a normal kid.”
“Sorry,” Angie said, looking at Da’Quarius. “Twenty-one or older anyway.”
“Damn” Da’Quarius said. “Figured chicks would flash me if dey saw me ridin’ dirty in a party bus.”
“Da’Quarius!” Rose said. “We have a guest.”
“It’s alright,” Angie said, laughing. “You should see the pictures we get tagged in on social media. We’ve hosed those things down in bleach afterward.”
“I’m ready for bed,” Helen said, pushing her empty plate away.
“It’s only seven!” Paulie sad.
“I’m an old lady,” Helen said. “We go to bed early.”
“Not this early,” Rose said.
“Let me clean up, and I’ll put out dessert,” Rose said. “We don’t have cake. We may just be saving that for next week.”
“That woman,” Helen moaned once Rose was in the kitchen. “She can’t drop enough hints. Can’t she see she’s torturing me?”
“I told you to buy her da’ cuckoo clock,” Da’Quarius said.
“You buy the friggin clock!” Helen exclaimed.
“May I give you a suggestion?” Angie asked.
“Angie,” Paulie said, touching Angie’s arm. “It’s probably not a good idea to get involved.”
“Shut it,” Helen said. “Let her speak. I’m desperate.”
“I can get you a really good deal on a bus,” Angie said.
Helen huffed. “Thanks for nothing,” she said. “Rose doesn’t want to get drunk, driving seventy down the freeway, going nowhere, flashing her ta-tas from the sunroof.”
“No,” Angie said. “I have something else in mind.”
“You really are something else,” Paulie said as he drove Angie home from his sister’s house. “I didn’t think she’d take to you as well as she did.”
“What can I say?” Angie asked. “I’m a miracle worker.”
“You’re a miracle alright,” Paulie said, pulling up in front of Angie’s apartment building on Whitney AVE. “Well here we are.”
“Don’t tell me you’re not going to come up,” Angie said. “I know you’re old, but you should still have some energy.”
“A gentleman waits to he invited,” Paulie said.
“Well consider yourself invited,” Angie said.
“So you all set for Rose’s birthday today?” Da’Quarius asked. It was Saturday afternoon, and Rose’s party was scheduled for five.
“Oh yeah,” Helen replied. “Angie set the whole thing up. She’s such a nice girl.”
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “All it takes to get on yo’ good side is a bribe.”
“What did you buy?” Helen asked. “That annoying cuckoo clock.”
“You know I did, biddy,” Da’Quarius said. “Lil’ mo’ fucker gonna be chiming all day too!”
“I wish it was a real bird, so I could kill it,” Helen said. “I’d put it in an empty jelly jar and watch it suffocate.”
“Dat’s pretty dark,” Da’Quarius said, “even fo’ you.”
Helen shrugged. “I just hate birthdays,” she said.
Paulie and Angie came in a few minutes later. Angie gave Helen a wink, letting her know their secret plans were in full motion. Rose sat at the dining room table while Helen put our her birthday dinner: spaghetti and meatballs.
“You know I could’ve made you anything,” Helen said, putting a plate of spaghetti with two huge meatballs in front of Rose. “Every year it’s the same birthday dinner.”
“But it’s my birthday,” Rose said, beaming, “and I want my spaghetti and meatballs!”
“Alight, little girl,” Helen said, smiling. “Don’t tantrum, or I’ll give you your birthday spanking in front of everyone.”
“See,” Paulie whispered, elbowing Da’Quarius. “She doesn’t hate birthdays.”
“She hates everyone’s but Rose’s,” Da’Quarius said. “I bet she gets me a rock from da’ yard.”
“You wouldn’t stop yammering about presents,” Helen said. “Kid, give her your damn cuckoo clock.”
“Dammit, biddy!” Da’Quarius exclaimed, handing Rose the box. “You had to spoil da’ surprise right before she opened it? I hope dat cuckoo bird flies out an’ hits you in da’ eyeball.”
Rose unwrapped the gift and stared at the box with the picture of the wooden cuckoo clock. “It’s so pretty,” she said. “It’s just like the one my mom had. Thank you, Da’Quarius. I love it!”
“Come on,” Da’Quarius said, faking discomfort as Rose gave him a huge hug.
“This one is from us both,” Paulie said, handing Rose a long, rectangular box.
“From both you you?” Helen asked. “Sounds like the two of you are getting serious. I’ll turn the hose on you if you hump in my backyard.”
“That is her being nice,” Paulie said with a sigh.
Rose opened the box and pulled the sweater out. “Oh,” she said. “It’s so pretty. And it comes with pants!”
“I thought you’d like it,” Paulie said.
“Because I picked it out!” Angie nodded.
“Alright, Ozzy and Harriet,” Helen said, scowling. “That’s enough.”
“Wait,” Rose said, looking around. “You didn’t get me anything, Helen?”
“Well not something you’d open,” Helen said.
“What did you do?” Rose asked.
“Why don’t you take a walk outside with me,” Helen said, walking toward the front door. “Maybe you’re present is out there.”
Rose excitedly got up and walked outside as Helen held the door. Waiting in front of their house was a small Charming Limo party bus. “You got me a party bus?” She asked, sounding disappointed.
“No,” Helen said. “Am I a trashy teen from Jersey? Come inside and see what awaits you.”
The limo driver opened he door and let Rose inside. She looked around as Helen climbed in behind her. “Oh,” Rose said, looking around. The inside was decorated with red cloths, curtains, and hearts. There was a bottle of champagne on ice, and old romantic music played softly from the speakers.
“This is going to take us all around for the next couple of hours,” Helen said. “We’ll go down to Lighthouse Point, the beach, anywhere you want to go. Just you and me.”
“Oh my,” Rose said.
“Do you like it?” Helen asked.
“I love it!” Rose said, sitting on once of the plush seats. “Get in here. Let’s go down to Lighthouse. You remember what we used to do there, right?”
“How can I forget,” Helen said, sitting next to Rose.
“Holy crap,” Da’Quarius said, sticking his head in. “It looks like Cupid blew his load in here!”
Helen threw a heart-shaped cushion at him. “GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE, YOU LITTLE SHIT!”
Paulie sat with Angie on the front porch of Helen and Rose’s house, waiting for them to return. Angie sat on the swing with her feet on Paulie. He absently rubbed her leg as he stared off.
“What are you thinking?” Angie asked.
“About Helen and Rose,” he said. “Those two are so perfect for each other despite how different they are. My sister never doubted that Rose was the one. Even when they only communicated by mail when Helen was in prison, she knew Rose was the one she wanted to spend her life with.”
“That’s beautiful,” Angie said. “What did she go to prison for?”
“Sexual assault and battery,” Paulie said. “Those two got me thinking, though. It’d be nice to have that one person with you always, and I think that can be you, Angie.”
“I think that can be me too,” Angie said, reaching down to touch Paulie’s hand.
“Good,” Paulie said. “I known it’s technically Rose’s birthday, but I got you this anyway.” He reached into his shirt pocket and he pulled out a diamond ring.
“Paulie,” Angie said, her hand on her chest, “are you asking what I think you’re asking?”
“Depends,” Paulie replied. “What’s your answer?”
“Of course,” Angie said, taking the ring from Paulie. She leaned over and kissed him as soon as the ring was on her finger.
Tony walked into Lady Kali’s above the auto parts store, looking around at the decor. The beaded curtain jingled as Lady Kali walked in from the back room. “Welcome,” she said. “I sense you’ve come with queries.”
“Yeah,” Tony said, sitting down. “You helped my friend, and I was wondering if you’d help me.”
“Of course,” Lady Kali said, sitting down behind her crystal ball. “I am always willing to help those who seek it and have fifty dollars.”
Tony reached in his pocket and dropped a pile of ones and fives in front of Lady Kali. “There,” he said. “Get me a girl like you did for Paulie.”
“So he’s your friend,” Lady Kali said. “He’ll need you before it’s over.”
“Before what’s over?” Tony asked.
“You’ll see,” Lady Kali said, smiling. “His fate isn’t yet written, but yours is.”
“Tell me,” Tony said. “How can I get a young, plump black chick like Paulie?”
“That’s not how fate works,” Lady Kali said. “I can look into your soon-to-be future and see what’s in store for you.”
“Ok,” Tony said. “Let’s do this.”
Lady Kali shuffled her tarot cards, had Tony cut the deck, and dropped some cards on the table. She looked them over. “Oh my,” she said. She waved a hand over the crystal ball. “Why am I seeing the number eleven?”
“I don’t know,” Tony said, shrugging. “Must be my lucky number I guess.”
“Let’s see what’s in store for you,” Lady Kali said, staring into the ball again. She gasped. “Oh my God. Get out.”
“What?” Tony said. “What am I going to be up to?”
“I said get out,” Lady Kali said. “Don’t come back!”
“Can I at least get a refund?” Tony asked.
“I SAID GET OUT!” Lady Kali shouted, her finger pointed firmly toward the door.
“Alright, you nutty old bat,” Tony said, getting up. “Don’t know why you’re so steamed. I haven’t even done what offended you so badly yet.”
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