Title: Family Man Author: Sue E-Mail: email@example.com Category: Gunmen Vignette Rating: PG-13 (some language) Summary: With wife and child seemingly out of the picture, Ringo considers the next move. Archive: Anywhere, fine. Disclaimer: The Gunmen and The X-Files are the creative property of C. Carter, 1013 Productions and FOX. Spoilers: None.
The acrid smell of brunt toast assailed his nose. Langly jumped back in horror. The toaster was belching smoke, the real thick kind. Man, was even toast too hard to make for himself? Obviously, he thought, stabbing at the blackened slab of bread that was stark white a few moments ago. By the time he finished scraping off the burnt, the bread was whittled down to a big, fat zero left. "Crap," he muttered long after scraping was just plain stupid.
The phone rang as though right on cue. Langly glared at the other piece of ruined bread before answering the call. It was early, but not that early; even so, he didn't feel like cursing out another mentally-challenged telemarketer. He made sure the tape was on before picking up; all calls were religiously screened ever since they'd gotten one that was way too ominous for their liking. The caller, what little he'd spoken, had a distinctly foreign accent. Foreign accents were always under suspicion given the disturbing climate of the present state of their affairs...shaky.
"Turn the tape off, Ringo."
Langly's taut lips curved upward in keeping with the playful smirk that commmanded facial territory. He puffed resistance in the form of 'no' out of his mouth, liking how he really didn't mean it. "You're paranoid."
"Takes one to know one," the feminine voice teased.
"Where are you?" He thought about the last time he'd seen the slim gothic beauty, jet blackhaired, with streaks of golden blonde shot through it, decked out in duds that would have made her right at home at anyone's funeral. Her skin, the color of bleached porcelain, made Langly's look like he was tanned. She surely dressed the part, but within her beat the heart of a traditionalist with plenty of flexibility to spare, up to a point, though.
Before fessing up, she said, "I don't think Frohike would appreciate having his kitchen go up in smoke. What'd you burn this time?"
"Don't lie to me, Langly, it's all over your voice."
"What is?" he asked, sounding defiant.
"That, 'I've just charred something real bad' tone. When was the last time you ate?"
The mouth-watering thought of syrup-drenched, fluffy buttermilk pancakes, crispy bacon and perfect sunnyside up eggs for breakfast was enough to make a faraway look bloom in his eyes. "Late...last night some time. Some chips and a hot dog. You should know. You fixed 'em. It's not as bad as you think, Joli. Just some stale bread went up. I'm headin' out for Dunkin' anyways." In the background, he heard the determined whimpering of a child intermixed with the usual din of a bus station; the child was theirs. Langly closed his eyes, seeing the face of his wife of three weeks and that of his twenty-two-month old son as though they were right in front of him.
"No doughnuts--I mean it. Your blood is syrupy enough as it is."
"Maybe this weensy vacation from wedded bliss is a lousy idea," Langly admitted, realizing he sounded more whiney than even he meant to. Admitting when he was wrong wasn't his favorite thing. "I'm really missin' you and little sound byte."
"It wasn't my idea. It was yours," his wife insisted, but she said it with a lot of delicacy.
"Oh, yeah...right. You take the word of a sleep-deprived man raving at three a-m literally." Those words he'd badgered her with rang harsher in his ears at this saner hour. The strong urge to deck himself now for having said them then was strong. "I didn't mean what I said so early this morning, babe. Connie's cries knifing through me, and I went totally off. Things have gotten so crazy lately, and the guys've been great despite the whole gang of us bein' cramped for space, gettin' on each other's nerves. Connie screamin' his head off when everybody's trying to sleep... All-in-all, me bein' a dumb no-dough dad, just like my lame old man. Something I swore I'd never put my kid through if I ever had one..."
"Being doughless isn't forever, sweetface," Jolene said, pride backing up the statement. "Your game's going to score big. When it does, we'll be on easy street. You'll be able to get everything you're always saying we should have." His sniff was loud at the other end, and she imagined how pissed he looked. Sometimes it felt as if she'd been acquainted with his moodiness for ages instead of the relatively short time they'd known each other, shy of two and one-half years.
"It'll take big bucks to back my brain child before we get our hands on some serious sums. Who's gonna wanna take a chance on a rank newcomer like me? Would you?"
Jolene smiled, her reply straining to sail from her mouth. "Sure, if he was as brilliant as you. But what are the odds on that, huh? You're the smartest guy in the whole world!" Gushing further, she confirmed, "The universe even!"
The blond's pessimism developed a weakness even though he claimed, "The gaming world ain't exactly virgin territory anymore, ya know."
Patiently, his wife told him, "Hello...neither am I since knowing you, hotstuff, and see what wonders you worked with me...popping our bun in the oven in no time flat. You and your ubersperm, majorly potent stuff. Don't rule out multiple births, I haven't."
Though distance separated them, and intense intimacy bound them to one another, Langly blushed in spite of her sincerity. Hearing her coo to their son melted his heart further. "Labor of love, hon."
"Ditto, not to mention some ultra cool vibrations," Jolene insinuated unabashedly. She made her tickle laugh, the kind whenever Langly attacked her feet over her ineffectual protests that he stop 'killing her.' "Our bun's letting me know but good that he needs refueling. I'd better hang up."
"No!" Langly objected, sounding like a more seasoned version of his baby for another round.
"Dearest, Connie can't feed himself, and I need both hands to nurse. You're not much better, you know, and you know it," she liltingly cajoled.
"But I don't want you to go--not all the way to Pennsylvania, I mean. Don't go, babe. We'll work the housing situation out somehow. I'll camp out in the van so you and the baby can have the whole bed to yourselves."
"That's a short-term solution, and you won't be sleeping in that geriatric van. I'm staying with my folks till we figure out what to do." She was becoming better inured to his whining, so he opted for full-out, do-or-die pleading in a last ditch attempt to stop his little family from separating, even if it was for a little while.
"We oughta visit 'em together." Langly grimaced when he heard Connor holler good and screechy. "You turn up with a kid, no husband, they'll hate me without having ever met me. Jo--"
"Gotta go. I'll call back once I'm on the bus with him settled. Later. Love ya--'bye!"
"But--" Langly glared at the farthest wall as though it, and the other three, were closing in. Frustration seamlessly gave way to panic. What if she didn't call back...ever? Suppose she just stayed with her folks and he never heard from her again, just like that? He didn't even know where exactly they lived in Pennsylvania. Jolene had talked him into a civil marriage and if the mood hit them later on, they could have a more formal ceremony back home. Langly removed his glasses and massaged the sore bridge of his nose. One minute he had a sweet family with great potential. The next, 'poof,' he was right back where he started from, a lonely thirty-three-year old man-child who had blown it biggest time because the trouble was, this time it really mattered. He had some real growing up to do, and fast.
Real life was pounding on his door and ignoring it wasn't the answer.
Twenty-two Minutes Later...
Langly undid the varying assortment of locks, stepped back from the door, waited for whomever it was to open it and enter. Ordinarily, checking the monitors was involuntary, but he wasn't himself right now. It took discipline not to glance up at them as he hoped that this was Jolene and he yearned for the grand surprise. When Byers, then Frohike came in, he turned away to stalk back to the flat screen computer he was using. She hadn't called back and his sour mood was quickly sliding into rank. Just as he'd thought...she had removed herself from his life. Wise chick, Langly dismally considered.
"Save your enthusiasm, goldilocks," Frohike hawked, locking up behind them. "Do you know how many shops we had to hit before we found the special coaxial you had to have? Plenty, that's how many." Melvin sniffed the air and promptly wrinkled his nose. "What was it this time, dear boy?"
"Toast," Langly glumly said, not caring if he sounded civil or not. His propped up chin rested in the palm of his hand; his arm swayed from side to side on bony elbow.
"Trip-deds," Byers, sounding like a go-to guy, informed. "Fairly good deal, considering."
"What? You kiddin', blond boy? Farner's, even the rank underground, doesn't do discount. Ever. Hell, why should they? Like it's some kind of grail-trip with 'em. The Black Market beats a path to 'em in a pinch." Frohike looked magnificent when looking inexorably cynical. "Stay out of my kitchen or I'll be forced to boobytrap it." Cocking his head thoughtfully, he ventured, "Where's the kid who's wound a little too tight you bribed into marrying you?" Frohike looked suspicious, not missing a beat. "Hey, it's a little too quiet in here. Finally took my advice, eh? Went with a gag for junior."
Ringo shot honed dagger looks at Frohike but kept silent, somewhat fearful that if he opened his yap he'd go off as never before. The mention of his wife and baby made the sizable lump in his throat difficult to choke down. Langly swiped at a pesky dust devil, one that was bigger than usual, that clung to the computer screen. "Damn, damn," he muttered before thinking, when the bite of stingy, unshed tears ambushed his eyes. He stared at the screen, letting its soft glare mezmerize his sight.
Both Frohike and Byers who were casting inquisitive looks at each other ambled up to their closed mouth friend. "What's with you, laughing boy?" Frohike leveled accusingly.
"Langly, is there something wrong?" Byers asked gently, placing a light touch upon the youngest man's lean shoulder.
"Nothin'," he spat, trying to hide his lightly-tear streaked face from his cohorts.
"Ask us why we don't believe you." Frohike beamed a worried expression to Byers. Mellowing his tone a touch, he continued, "You lose to Brink?
"Finished that drecky amateur off yesterday. No challenge." Gloating made him feel better, momentarily. "I still rule. It's good to be king." Jolene loved the way he never resorted to the easy ploys to win at his favorite virtual game. His satisfied expression wilted, replaced by a woebegone facial expression when the memory of her smile touched his mind.
The exchange rate of puzzled looks passing between Frohike and Byers rose. "Then what?" Melvin pressed, irritation working him the way it usually did when he wasn't getting answers.
His front caving, Langly confessed, "Joli's gone. Flat-out left me. Took the kid and split for her parents' in P-A. The baby's bawling non-stop pushed me over the edge way early this morning--kept me up all night. Before I knew what I was really sayin' I kinda dumped on her. Told her maybe it'd be better if she and the baby live somewhere else for a while." Langly mauled his face with his charcoal-flecked palms. Peeking out between his long fingers he blurted, "All of us shoulda moved out together, but I'm a selfish prick only thinkin' what's easier on me. She's called already, had to go though 'cause the baby needed feeding. Said she'd call back, but she hasn't yet. She might never..."
"And this's why you're all shook up." Frohike's hand sat vigil on Langly's other shoulder. "Listen, man, don't sweat it. You called a time-out."
Byers, who was nodding, tended to agree. "Don't worry, Ringo, all's not lost. Melvin's right. I think we all needed a breather. The situation here was going critical. You need your own place, if truth be told."
"You haven't lost her. She said she'd call back, she will. Chica's crazy in love with you, man. Hell, she had your kid. If that ain't love is blind love, don't know what is." He patted Langly's broad, yet lean back. "Getting your own place for you and yours is wise. You crash at your own pad with the fam, you haul your ass here for work, like a true married with children working stiff."
"But what if she doesn't call me ever again?" Langly persisted, hanging on like a dog with a worn-out bone.
"Child's play. We'll follow the old plastic trail," Frohike proposed with the glint of the hunt gleaming in his eyes. "When the faithful debit card rides again, we'll be on it like wizened scouts."
"And even if she calls, what the hell difference does it make anyway?" Langly said, without a shred of spirit, as the present state of his financial situation clubbed him over the head. "Rent money isn't going to fall into my lap just wishing it would. Tellin' her about gettin' our own place is the only way she'd come back."
Before Langly could vent more negativity, Byers edged in, "Don't be so sure about funds not falling into your lap. Said funds are available, after all this time the figure should be tidy. I'm surprised over your being summarily unaware that they exist." Frohike and Langly targeted Byers with 'what gives?' expressions. "The relatively short-term annuity fund we set up with the winnings you split with Scully, Ringo, on that Las Vegas junket of several years ago. The money is there to be used without penalty. You have the means to provide for your family comfortably. Funny how you completely forgot about my suggestion that you tax shelter that money. Here's that rainy day I advised you to save it for."
It took a good five minutes or so for Langly to say anything. The dazed, semi-frozen look etched on his face said it all. His friends started to wonder if he had zoned-out for good. "I forgot all about that bread. No penalties for withdrawal, huh..."
Byers, said in an exceptionally staid voice, "None whatsoever. The time of maturity has come and gone. The cash is readily available for use." The bearded man looked to Frohike who was scowling, but nodding just the same.
"But..." Langly began, but was interuppted by the eldest of the trio.
"No buts, man. Use the loot. Bankroll your family's future with it. Little shavers go through cash like Grant tore through Richmond. Get yourselves that pad."
"We need some serious upgrades, though," Langly stated as he haphazardly cast his eyes about their high tech set-up.
"Genius," Frohike bit off, "they'll always be other upgrades. We're talking about laying a foundation for your family. That can't wait."
Sucking it in, Langly plucked a tissue from a battered box of Kleenex off to his right and blew his nose, strenuously. He was about to offer heartfelt thanks when their phone sounded off. Frohike went to answer it. "Lone Gunmen...oh, yeah...sure." He waved to Langly indicating that he should take it. In a low tone he said, "It's the Missus." He shot a knowing smile to the tall, insecure looking blond before moving off in Byers' direction.
"Hey, babe..." Langly waited for her to say 'hey' back. Gulping some air, he watched his friends retreat, heading for less conspicuous recesses of their fortified wonderland. "You okay?"
"I love you."
"That goes for me, you."
"I can't...I can't go. Not like this, the baby and I. You're right. We need to go as a united family, or not at all. I've been in the Ladies room all this time thinking, hoping it'll be all right. I want to come back..."
"Then what are you waitin' for? Get back here as fast as you can." Grinning as wide as he knew how, he added in a gust of breath, "I've got one, solid surprise for ya..."
Family Man - Part 2
Jolene, having just put the baby down, came away from the crib. A weary, yet contented smile coaxed the corners of her mouth upward. That look never failed to endear her to her husband even more; it was something he'd never tire seeing. He was extraordinarily chipper, and mellow, for it being such a wee hour.
"Sorry we woke you up, sweetie." The return trip from the bus station had taken what had felt like ages. Certainly a convention or anything involving throngs was involved in those huge traffic tie-ups. Considering such a busy day for such a little baby, junior had fallen right off.
Unsuccessful at stifling a yawn, Langly re-focused bleary eyes. "Richie's a handful, babe, but you work magic on him."
Jolene regarded the lanky blond sprawled on their platform bed, a weathered mattress that had endured many nights of sleep of varying descriptions supported him. As though this was their first time, she smiled almost shyly. Not speaking, she fitted herself into her husband's large arms that suggested she make herself right at home, a totally rent-free zone. At length, she said, "Takes a handful to know a handful." A lighthearted giggle wasted no time following.
Langly squeezed her tight. "And look what you've done with me." Kissing her right temple, he liked her soft hair tickling his lips. He added, "Your on-going project."
Giggling was her trademark whenever he dissed himself. "Tell me more about this ill-gotten gain that so conveniently slipped ye brain." Gambling wasn't something she subscribed to; 'Sin City' was one place she'd never have to visit.
Langly kissed the top of her soft head this time, pausing deliberately for the ultimate in dramatic effect. "The guys suggested I put money I'd won in Vegas into an annuity fund...a slow growth, but tax-sheltered fund. Not knowing what else to do with the loot, you know, so it could do me the most good, I listened."
"Insightful thing," Joli praised, meshing her fingers with his. "At least for once, something good came from winnings. It's wonderful."
"What's real wonderful is that I took Byers' advice and chose a five-year maturation period. Now I can get my hands on it and there's no penalty for withdrawing the funds. And they're gonna be withdrawn lickety-split as soon as I get in touch with the financial corp. I went with. Man, that's lame!" Mystification of the subtlest kind claimed his face.
"What?" his wife felt compelled to ask. Her man: dude of a thousand weird looks.
"He told me a little while ago..." Forgetfulness was an irritating thing. "Can't for the life of me remember the name of the company." He waxed poetic, misquoting to himself the shard of some verse he'd been forced to memorize back in high school.
Joli patted his left forearm, her fingers swirled in its fine hairs, its downy feel. "What financial institution?" she arched with just that hint of presupposing lilt.
"Like I said, he told me, but I forget..."
"Would it help if I did a sounds like?"
Tossing his head proudly, Langly challenged, "Does it ever? Picayune bores me." Following a short sigh and shifting her weight so he could wrap his legs around her inviting leanness he shrugged. "I'll just ask Byers again. He likes making with the specifics."
Close enough to an answer that would have to suffice for the time being, she added to her thoughts. What mattered was they'd be able to ditch this dinghy of a place. She wondered what her loveable geek hunk was worth in a purely fiduciary sense, not that conjecturing was something that would keep her up all night. Well, maybe it would for an hour, give or take. She wouldn't come right out and ask him. She was sure he'd have no hint.
"Got any ideas where we should move?"
Shrugging in his firm embrace, Joli confessed, "Well, now that you've asked..."
"Just as long as we don't go far."
"Oh, no, we wouldn't want that," she soft soaped. "You can take the boy out of the warehouse, but you can't take the hutch out of the boy. No doubt."
"Only place I was never evicted from. And yeah, flophouses do count."
The surprise in her voice could have passed for mild concern. "You've flopped?" She propped her chin up on his chest as he was about to reach for the light to dim it.
"On and off for nearly a year and a half. It's how I met 'Hike. We both got the old heave ho from that last one, after I was accused of trying to burn it down." He shook his head still convinced he'd been completely in the right.
Joli reached over him to turn the light back to full intensity. She wanted to see his face for the answer to her next question. "Did you?"
Langly tapped the tip of her nose with his index finger, liking the way it wriggled in response. "Did I what?"
She used her 'level with me, I won't judge' tone. "Try to burn the place down?"
"Regardless of what 'Hike would say if you asked him, I heat sank before anything else; I'd have to be brain dead not to. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it."
Joli went ahead and turned the 60-watt off. She laid her head down upon Langly's chest, listening to the strong, regular beat of her best friend's heart. "That was a long time ago, wasn't it?"
"Seems like a lifetime," he owned up, sounding as truthful as he could make it. This was what he loved about his young wife most; when she was on his side, and that was often, nothing, save the manic use of a crowbar, could pry her loose.
Frohike, Byers were the truest friends he'd ever known, would ever know, readily counted on when it came to getting behind him. Frohike was more like his father than his real one had ever been, what with the emotional trauma dear old dad had inflicted on him, early in life.
Somehow, in ways that were difficult to put into conscious thought, it was different with his Joli, impossible for him to put into words. She loved him, and she never let him forget that. The guys loved him too; it was 'bud-love,' great to have all these years, yet, inherently, he had always craved the comparable with a woman. Contrary to what even his friends might have suspected about him, he did, unwilling to surrender hope that one day it would happen for him.
And then along came Jolene... Whoever said finding true love in a Wal-Mart only happened in a movie was shopping in the wrong one. Lurking amid the video games was his mate to be, who loved as though his being was more than reason enough for loving him. Her love helped to ease much of the pain inflicted upon him by a father who saw things only one way...his. Pain from so much abuse still stubbornly clung to him, clung as though it were a legacy, one he could happily live without. The mother of his baby made life more bearable, day by day, and for that he would always feel indebted to her no matter what life tossed their way.
"Brain dead, you?" She snorted into the crease of his t-shirt that smelled of Downy fabric softener, one of her favorite fragances which is why she always used the brand. "That could never be your excuse." She yawned a bit, the sound of her yawn light and airy. "I'd like us to live near a park so Richie can grow up with touches of green and flowers in spring."
"Yeah, sounds cool." He stroked her delicate head, and wanting to make her happy, said, "We can check it out tomorrow, after latching onto the simoleons."
"Oh, Rings, that would be great!"
"We gotta decide if we wanna rent, or own. Byers said owning would be an investment. Better than renting, paying out, and out and out...when we could own and it'd be ours. Somethin' to show for top dollar."
Nodding against his chest, Joli was already sold on the idea. "You're right, of course...although, we'll most probably need to take out a mortgage." A tremor coursed through her hubby's body, absorbed by hers.
"Oh, God, why'd you haveta go and say the freakin' 'M' word, babe? You want me breakin' out in a cold sweat?" Langly began mumbling a hodgepodge of things which would only make sense to anyone who had not graduated from pampers to a potty.
His wife gauged several factors before responding, as was her norm, always thinking before saying something flip that could make him snarky. She decided against saying the first thought that had invaded her mind. Mortgages were facts of life in the realm of property ownership for the average holder; living with one happened to nearly everyone, except those independently wealthy, sooner or later. She doubted that his matured investment would make them such, so she opted for harmony instead of discord. Tomorrow was another day to make her case for real estate financing strategies. "Even though it's only early fall, there's a definite chill in the air. Much too much for you to be chilling me even more with your sweat."
"There wasn't any heat on the city bus."
He started rubbing her arm draped over him up and down with his warm hand. With his other, he arranged the covers around them more securely. "Can't have that, y'know." There was no way for him to feel how ice cold her feet were; he was wearing socks, his norm. After a few minutes of his efforts to chase the chill away, he asked, "Better?"
"Want me to turn up the heat?" Before she told him yes, or no, she halted his move away from her.
"It's okay, Rings, you know that if you do, it'll only cause dissension."
"Yeah, I know. 'Hike doesn't like it too hot, Byers not cold, not even cool, but likewise, not too hot either. I should've got another heater when that old one I had died." He yielded to her gentle coaxing to keep the warmth of his body right where it was. "How about a little one-on-one convective action?" he queried, a cross between sounding like a conspirator and one who definitely had something suggestive in a carnal sense in mind. "That is if you aren't way too tired, 'cos if you are, like it's cool. It's just I wanna show ya how glad I am you're here and not in Pennsylvania."
Energized by the moment, in whetted anticipation of what Langly was desirous of bringing on, Jolene began peeling off his t-shirt. In another swift move, she divested herself of her outsized turtleneck sweater, subbing as nightgown. "Show me," she tantalized in an overheated gust of breath as she tackled his torso and felt his hands began their slow, torturing assault of her full breasts, his fingers massaging her already taut nipples. Show... uhhh..." she struggled, blissfully succumbing to the fire of her husband's zeal when his mouth hungrily closed over hers.
The room, and specifically the niche of it they inhabited underneath the covers, became an inferno.
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