Ma looked surprisingly good for a woman who had lost her NYPD husband and had now come uncomfortably close to losing her only daughter. She had taken Dad’s death hard. She’d mourned deeply and had never truly been alive until … My marrying Gus had reignited her pilot light, but it wasn’t until Max’s birth that the flame truly breathed oxygen again and began to burn brightly—and thank God because she was going down that road of old Italian widows who dressed in nothing but black all of their remaining days. You know the ones I’m talking about, those women who looked like they were a hundred and twelve when in fact they were only fifty.
One of her friends had recently become a widow and was on one of those antidepressants. It wasn’t Paxil or Lexapro. It was one of the newer miracle drugs. I think it was called Darnitol or Screwitol or Hellwithitol, or something equally hopeless sounding.
Ma scrutinized my face carefully. “You look okay,” she said in a motherly, emotionally fortifying manner. “I told you that all you needed was a good night’s sleep. So, how do you feel?”
“Like I was hit by a semi that backed up and rolled over me again.”
“That sounds like an improvement,” she quipped.
I grinned awkwardly and opened my arms to pull her in. “Come here, you old pain in the butt.” I’m not sure which of us began to cry first, but I think I edged her out by a nose.
Ma gave us a moment to indulge in emotional catharsis before insisting, “That’s enough of that.” She wiped away her tears. “Are you a cop or a baby?”
She smiled sympathetically and sat down on the bed next to me. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You took one hell of a shot in the head. You scared the shit out of all of us.”
“I feel so hopeless. I can’t remember anything, not what happened to me or …”
“It’ll come back to you, sweetheart. The doctors said that it would take some time for your memory to return.”
“I don’t have time. Someone shot my partner. Do you understand how that feels?”
“Not entirely, but I have some idea. I know it must be eating at you, but at the moment … well, honey, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“I’ve got to pull myself together and figure out what happened. Some cop killer is walking around free as a bird.”
“I don’t think you can force yourself to remember, Stephanie. You’ve got to try to relax and give yourself time to heal. You’re no good to yourself or Yana while you’re lying here, and the doctors said you could be here at least another week. That’s my best advice,” she said with a weak smile. “Not that you listen to anything I say.”
My first thought was to check myself out of the hospital, but department protocol had to be followed and I knew that it would be quite some time before the department doc okayed my return to active duty. “This blows! It really does. Someone shot my partner and—”
“Yes, sweetheart, it blows, but you’re alive and well, with a handsome husband and an adorable little son. Things could be worse, a hell of a lot worse.” She patted me on the leg. “I made a delicious eggplant parmigiana. I’ll bring you some as soon as the doctor says that you can eat normally.”
“That sounds good. I hope you didn’t cheap out on the mozzarella.”
“Of course not. Why would you—”
“Did you use Polly-O?”
“Yes, Stephanie, I paid full price for Polly-O even though the store brand was on sale for half the price, just because I know you’re such a pain in the ass.”
“I’m not a pain in the ass. I have a discriminating palate.”
“Of course you do. Anything that makes you happy makes me happy.”
“Stop patronizing me.”
“The store brands aren’t as good as Polly-O.”
“Eaten fresh, yes, I agree, but melted and covered with my homemade sauce … I can’t taste the difference.”
“I guess your palate isn’t as refined as mine is,” I said snobbishly.
“Ha! My palate’s not refined says the girl who eats from street carts. You’ve got a lot of nerve.”
“What about the Romano cheese?”
“What about it?” she asked cynically.
“Did you buy that pre-grated sawdust the supermarket tries to pass off as a dairy product, or did you buy the imported stuff?”
“Honey, where is this coming from? When do I ever scrimp on my ingredients? I got a nice fresh chunk of Locatelli and I’ll grate it when I need it. My goodness, you’re certainly in a bitchy mood. Maybe the doctor should check to see if that head injury threw your hormones out of whack.”
“Gus won’t talk about the shooting,” I griped.
“Ah,” she emoted with revelation. “So that’s what this is all about.”
“Well, of course he won’t. The last time it was brought up you had to be sedated. Are you crazy, Stephanie? You were out cold for a week. Put your health at greater risk, why don’t you? I mean, my God, Stephanie, how stubborn can you be? The city is literally crawling with police officers looking for the shooter and the story is running on the news day and night. Let your colleagues do their jobs.”
‘“I’m impatient,”’ she parroted. “You know what? How about if I tell you a story.”
“You mean like when I was a little girl?” I grumbled in a childlike voice.
“Yes. Exactly like when you were a little girl, you ornery kid.”
“Will it help me get out of here faster?”
“Yeah, of course it will,” she replied with a healthy dose of sarcasm. “Dream on, princess.”
“Then I’d like a better offer.”
“I could sing you a lullaby.”
“On second thought … I’ll stick with the story.”
“It’s a true story. It’s why your father became a policeman.”
I searched my memory, the portion of it that I could access, anyway. My father had told me so many stories about his early days on the force and I knew how very strongly he believed in the criminal justice system, but the catalyst that had made him become a cop in the first place … “I’ve got to hear this.”
Ma helped me to prop myself up and fixed my pillow. “Comfy?”
“Uh-huh. Got any popcorn?”
“I think I have some Altoids.”
“Ha.” She smiled happily. “I’m glad that ka-nock on the head didn’t knock the pain-in-the-assness out of you.”
“You’ve always said that I’m hardheaded.”
“All right. Settle in. This may take a bit.”
“Ready, Mommy,” I said in a baby’s voice before suddenly barking a demand, “This better be good.”
“So your father and I had been married about three years and—”
“Ma, is this the adoption story? Because if it is, I’m not sure I want to hear it again?”
“But the story has such a wonderful ending.”
I had not learned until I was an adult that I was adopted, and when I was finally told … well, it wasn’t under the best circumstances. I love my parents dearly, but being reminded of the story, well … it’s just something I go out of my way to avoid. “I love you, Ma, and I understand that you and Dad waited a long time to adopt but …”
“I’m just trying to say that good things come to those who wait.” She hugged me. “Your father and I waited a long time, but we got the most precious little girl and …” Her tears wet the side of my face.
“Okay,” I began in a lighthearted tone. “This is no time for waterworks. I get the message—I can’t just sprint out of bed and pursue Yana’s shooter. I get it. I’ll have to wait.”
“Let your colleagues do the work this time, sweetheart. I know it’s not your style, but challenging yourself with a task that you’re not equipped to complete, well … it won’t help you heal any sooner. You’ve got to concentrate on getting better and being there for Gus and Max. Everything else is meaningless at this point.” She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “Look around and smell the roses, damn it. Do you know how lucky you are? How lucky we all are that you’re okay?”
Ma was still sobbing, so I waved the white flag and took her in my arms just to make her stop, but asking me to look the other way and forget about a felon who’d killed my partner just wasn’t going to happen. “I thought you were going to tell me about why Daddy decided to become a cop.”
“Oh that,” she said dismissively. “That’s a very long story.”
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