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What Friends Are For

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It’s far too late in the evening for this sort of foolishness. Shirley has been sitting in the living room, carefully and neatly arranged for her ‘date’ with Squiggy. She’s brushed her hair twenty times, fixed her lipstick, switched necklaces, and changed shoes. All of this in the twenty minutes it’s taken Laverne to get in the shower.

“LAVERNE! When are you gonna be ready? Lenny’s going to be by at any moment!”

“I’m trying to wax my knees!” she yells.

“Well, just shave ‘em!” Shirley yells. “I can’t tell the difference when you wax or when you shave!”

“Well, I can!” Laverne calls back. “And then you complain about me giving you beard burn!”

“Would you stop speaking of bedroom matters OUTSIDE of the bedroom?” Shirley yells back.

“Sure, as soon as you stop trying to rush me! It takes awhile to tame these brows into submission!”

“All right,” Shirley sighs. “I just think there’s no need for us to slalom down into smut canyon.”

“Y’didn’t say that last night!”

“YOU ARE HOPELESS!” Shirley cries. “I swear, Laverne, I’ve never met anyone more forward than you in my life!”

The door slams open. “Hello!”

She groans. “Hi, fellas.” A look over her shoulder confirms that both of the boys have gone full out for the evening; Squiggy has even polished his hair worm. “Laverne’ll be out when her brows are tamed.”

“Pft,” Squiggy snorts. “What’s she need, a weed wacker and a coupla barrels of wax!”

“Can it Squig, or’ll make you eat those words!”

“Yeah, you and what manicurist?” he asks.

Laverne takes ten minutes to emerge – or, by Shirley’s estimation – ten strokes with a razor. She looks presentable enough, though, and Lenny beams a he wraps her up in her winter jacket. “You guys have fun! I promise I’ll get Laverne back in one piece,” he says, winking outrageously.

“Spare me,” Laverne replies.

“Hey, if I spare ya we won’t have any fun!” There’s a grunt from Laverne as both of them leave for their date.

 

***

 

Once they’re a couple of blocks from the apartment, Laverne finally relaxes. Going out with Lenny has always been incredibly easy; he’s kind, properly respectful, and totally over the moon for her.

He’s also over the moon for Squiggy, which makes their weird nebulous relationship all the stranger. Strange - now there's a word that goes well with Lenny.

She finds herself sitting at her Pop’s restaurant, waiting for Lenny to bring over a pizza and a beer, and thinking to herself that it could go on like this forever - she and Lenny, being together, at least in public. Then her Pop rushes up to the table and shoves a couple of tokens into her hand.

“For the bowling alley. The mook you’re dating never has enough on him for it.”

“Thanks,” she smiles fondly, tucking the coins into her purse.

“He get any closer to proposing?”

“Pop,” she sighs. “You’re gonna scare him off.” Getting her dad to accept the idea of her dating Lenny had been a struggle, but it was better than letting him suspect the whole truth. “Besides, I thought you were all worried ‘cause he ain’t Italian.”

“Hah,” Frank snorts. “At this point I’ll settle for anything with pants. He treats you good and he could probably make a living. He might turn out to be successful some day.” He eyes Lenny as he comes out of the washroom. “If you teach him how to wash his hands before he gets out of the can.”

Frank gives them a little distance as Lenny bends close to her and pecks her cheek. “Is he on ya about the grandchild thing?” Lenny wonders.

Laverne shrugs. “He’s been on that since I turned nineteen. It’s okay,” she says. “Hey, wanna go bowl a round?”

“Sure, if you promise not to cheat this time!”

“Me?!” She belts down her beer and makes for the alley, “I’m not the one who tried to cut the bottom off my ball so it would go faster!”

“That was Squig’s idea! Mine was to pump air into it so it’d roll faster!”

 

**

 

Onscreen, Bette Davis is sobbing her way through another crises. Shirley dips her hand into the bowl of popcorn and offers it up to Squiggy. He seizes a sloppy handful, shoved it into his mouth, and then rests a hand on her knee.

“Andrew,” she says flatly, “we’ve spoken about this a million times. You keep your hand off my knee and I won’t break every finger you have.”

“Pfft,” Squiggy snorts. “Shows you, the little one’s already broke.”

She shakes her head. “You are simply amazing.” Nudging that debated hand away from her knee, she adds, “it was, however, quite charitable of you to agree to this date in light of the extenuating circumstances and all.”

“It’s no trouble, Shirl. I always thought you and me’d end up together anyway. After all, we’re both short, we both got dark hair, and we both have moles in unmentionable places.”

“…No, Andrew. You don’t seem to understand. You see, this date isn’t a ‘real’ date…and my mole is delicate and practically invisible,” she adds.

“Right, on a count of Carmine being with Lucille. You might want to make him jealous, but soon enough you’ll see: we are united at the soul.” He leers at her and flicks his tongue in her direction, causing Shirley to recoil.

“When everyone else on the planet drops dead! Carmine and I are no longer seeing each other. I have a new…friend.” She flushes and squirrel-nibbles some popcorn.

“Shirley Whilelmeenie Feeney! I never thought I’d see the day!” Squiggy whistles. “I could never get a hand down your blouse and neither could Carmine, and all of a sudden…”

“It’s not like that! And I couldn’t do that to Carmine,” Shirley points out. “We had an understanding, and he’s been so kind. Asking anything more of him would be taking advantage.” It's almost a lucky break that he’d gotten tangled up with Lucille. That he's still willing to help them out at the drop of a hat is good but being too demanding is being too demanding. “And he probably guessed about us before Laverne and I…”

“Oh…I…see…” he squints at her. “Do you have weird boobs or something?”

“ANDREW, YOU NUMBSKULL! IT’S LAVERNE! I’M IN LOVE WITH LAVERNE! WE’VE BEEN DATING FOR THE PAST YEAR!”

Her volume seems to get through to him, at last. “Oh! Ohhh…So. You and Laverne?”

“Yes, Andrew,” she hisses. “Me and Laverne are an item. We are in love. And if this dangerous, life-endangering information gets around I’ll tell everyone that your threw up during our Easter pageant in the fourth grade.”

She releases his sleeve and he considers her words carefully. “I got one question.”

“Yes?”

“Can I watch?”

“NO.”

 

***

 

Two pizzas and another beer later, and Laverne and Lenny are trucking back to the apartment. In the privacy of the truck, Laverne finally turns toward him and asks what she really wants to know. “So is Squig starting to soften up?”

Lenny laughs shortly. “Pft, I wish. The poor little guy’s totally obliteratious…”

“…Oblivious?”

“That too,” Lenny says. “I’d have to walk around naked to get his attention, and then he’d probably ask me if we were out of towels.”

“Well, you just gotta stay confident, Len. That’s the only way to get the worm.” Her lip curls in automatic disdain as she pictures Squiggy’s worm.

“Sure, it’s easy to say – ‘specially if it’s somebody like you or like Squig!” Lenny snorts. “You guy’s’ve got confidence coming out of your kiesters.” He leans in close to Laverne and stage-whispers as loudly as possible, “’’Sides, he doesn’t even know I’m alive.”

“You don’t know that, Len!” she says, rubbing her ear. “Y’re a natural pair. The key is not to give up. No matter what you do, Len – don’t give up!”

Lenny sighs. “I’ll try,” he says. It was all he could promise her, and she knows it.

***

“So then,” Laverne tells Shirley as they snuggle together in Laverne’s single bed, “he said he’d keep trying with Squig. I don’t know, tho – I worry about the big guy so much. He's all sensitive and stuff.”

“Leonard’s a nice boy. Unlike Squiggy,” Shirley shudders. “I suppose I’ll keep seeing him – just to keep up appearances.”

Laverne buries her face in her lover’s shoulder. “Shirl?”

“Mmm?”

“Did Terri make it out of the lock-up okay? She don’t blame me, does she? I know it was my fault we went to that bar and…”

Shirley smiles into her neck. “Ann Marie took her home. They’ll be fine.”

Every muscle in Laverne’s body relaxes as she rests again. Shirley doesn't have enough energy to rail against the unfairness of it all. One day it will be different, easier – one day they’ll be older. One day they will be able to hold hands in the street without worrying about who’s behind them. One day they’d be able to protest the cruelties done to them without worrying about the club and kick of an evil man leaning on their throats.

One day, Shirley thinks to herself with a sigh, and falls asleep in Laverne’s clinging arm.

 

****

 

“And then she tells me to come see her next Saturday!” Squiggy stretches against the stiff blanket lining his bunk. “I tells ya, Len – dames. There ain’t anything you can tell ‘em.”

“Don’t I know it,” Lenny chuckled. “You sleep well, Squig. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, you know what it’s like, what with the thing you’ve got going with Laverne.” He sighs again. “If you liked somebody the way I liked Shirl, tho, you’d know my pain.”

“Yeah,” Lenny sighs. He smiles to himself, in spite of himself, turning forward, his face resting against the pillow and closing his eyes, hope dancing around in his heart like that pinball from earlier in the evening. “If I liked somebody else…”