2007-02-10: Higher Meaning

Starring:

Ramon_icon.gif Desiree_icon.gif Elena_icon.gif

Guest Starring: the other Gomez kids

Summary: Ramon and Desiree meet after the Sunday service; he gives her some advice, then she officially meets Elena and the kids.

Date It Happened: February 10th, 2007

Higher Meaning


A Catholic Church, New York

Ahh Fellowship Hall. The after-mass (or after service) ritual that most churches have developed, where people go into some sort of common room with some kind of fairly inexpensive fold-out furniture to have cookies (usually somewhat dry) and coffee (usually borderline nasty) or juice (passable) or milk (too warm). This Sunday people are filtering in there as normal, chit chatting. Even though Ramon is not the world's most chatty person, he usually finds himself here. At least out of habit. His kids haven't made it out of their Sunday School classes yet anywhere. He sits off in a corner, on a chair that doesn't have a table to go with it, sort of leaning forward with his elbow over his knees and a cup of borderline-nasty in his hand. He stays pretty far away from the crowd: during the mass he'd sat off in the side pews that usually don't get much traffic. He looks a little pained at the moment. Today they bought fresh donuts, which means Fellowship Hall is way more crowded than usual.

One of the more quiet, shy churchgoers today was Desiree, who sat in the very back pew and looked quite vexed throughout the entire service. She's dressed for church in a black-and-white woollen hound's-tooth dress with long sleeves and a delicate gold cross around her neck. Not matching are the tan tensor bandage wrapped snugly around her left wrist and the hot pink paint on her nails. Now that the service has let out and people - all strangers to this out-of-place Southerner - have retired to questionable refreshments, she again sits slightly away from the others, in another corner. The normally chatty woman has perched on a folding chair in a corner, near a group of old ladies who occasionally include her in their chitchat; she just gives them thin smiles of encouragement, distracted. Eventually, she drains a Styrofoam cup of its orange juice and starts to make her way over for seconds. And maybe a cookie.

Ramon looks left. Looks right. Nnngh. Everyone's in their own little groups. Except him and Desiree. He'd be content to just sit there, but he can't leave someone lonely at church. Its not a good thing to do. Besides, she looks upset about something. Chilvalry and Christian duty prompt him to get up out of his seat and go to the coffee pot with her. "You okay? You look upset." No preamble, no greeting, his soft, even, naturally growly voice simply piercing the air.

The orange juice is popular. No wonder; Desiree tried the coffee earlier and had to surreptitiously pour it in the trash can when she thought no one was looking. That failed entirely, however, and well, let's just say she's now keenly avoiding the priest. While she waits for a group of talkative folks to move away from the refreshments table, she twirls a long finger around her dark curls, which are clipped off to one side today with a black barrette. When Ramon addresses her, the neurotic toying of curls stops - causing her to yank down on a few strands while she nearly jumps out of her skin. "Jesus Christ!" Well, not only was that not what she wanted to say, it was a few octaves too loud. The woman blanches, her eyes widening. "…is a real great guy, praise the Lord. Uuh— sorry, I must be standin' out like a lighthouse beacon or somethin', huh? Is it that bad? I just got a lot on my mind. Hi. My name's Desiree." And she's obviously not from around here.

There's this…flicker…over Ramon's face, during which for about five seconds it gets more open. It may be honest surprise. "Ramon Gomez," he says slowly. He has to put his hand to his head for a moment, as if he's getting a headache, as everyone turns and looks their way, and then he drops it when they go back to their conversation, letting out a slow breath. "Its not that bad. Mrs. Catterly and her crowd, they didn't even seem to notice."

"Yeah… well Ms. Catterly's pretty involved in talkin' about her flower garden in the middle of February." Desiree looks down, crushing her cup only to watch the Styrofoam sink in and expand again when she lets go. Squeeak, creeeeak. It makes annoying little sounds. She steps up to the table to pour herself some new orange juice. Her cup fills halfway before only droplets plop vainly out of the pitcher. "Anyway, nice to meet you Ramon Gomez," she says, flashing the man a friendly smile despite her slightly off, anxious demeanour, while she sets the empty pitcher down. "You don't look so bubbly yourself. So, that makes it my turn. Are you okay?"

"Its just really loud in here," Ramon mutters, waving a hand at all the people. "I've been thinking about going to wait for my kids in the library. If you want to talk, maybe we can go in there? I'm not much of a talker, but I'll listen." He grimaces, his eyes tightening. "I've never liked crowds much. Usually its not as bad in here."

"I bet it's 'cause they got donuts, look at everyone flockin' the sugar powdered ones," Desiree comments with a gesture of her cup. Tilting her head to the side, she takes up toying with the ends of curls again, this time with the bandaged hand. She regards Ramon, considering curiously over the rim of her cup as she sips at the juice. "That's awful nice of you to want take a stranger to a library just to talk." Or creepy, but there's nothing even remotely suggesting that in Dezi's tone. Coming from her, it's just a compliment. "What the heck," she decides with a shrug of one angular shoulder. "I was thinkin' of going to a library anyway."

He's got a sort of 'Everyone's Dad' air about him though, and when he gets to the library he sits well away from her, picking a chair rather than the couch. "Its church," he grunts. "People are supposed to be nice. If you can't find nice people at church there's something wrong." He also leaves the door to the library open unless Dezi wants to close it. Whatever he's doing, he's not hitting on her. And there's a wedding ring glittering on his left hand anyway.

Desiree downs the rest of her orange juice like taking a shot before following Ramon into the library, smiles brightly at him for a fleeting moment before she settles into a chair. "Amen," she agrees. The library is given a curious look around, her eyes seeking out the book titles, but - as could be expected - they all follow a similar theme, leaving her slightly disappointed. "So, how old are your kids?"

"Nineteen, sixteen, thirteen, and eight," Ramon rumbles. There's another slight lightening of his severe features when he talks about them, even just by naming their ages. Its not quite openness. Its certainly not a smile. Its just something relaxing in his face, in his shoulders. Something approaching tenderness that still doesn't detract from the stern quality of his mien. Still, its her he's worried about, not him, so he asks, "You homesick?" Well. He's a concerned Christian, not a trained counselor. Finesse isn't in him.

Desiree's head bobs with sincere interest over Ramon naming his kids' ages; there's a soft little smile given in return when she notices the faint change in his mien. "…Yeah… a little, I guess," she admits, but sounds unsure. he crosses her legs and peers at the ceiling as if it's somehow interesting - she's not avoidant, not at all, she's just naturally inquisitive. Okay, and a little restless. "I got kids too. Two of them, they're thirteen. They're real far away though. On one of them student exchange programs? So I'd be lonely even if I was home. That ain't it though. New York's just been real weird so far. I thought maybe comin' here today'd give me some answers, but…"

Ramon's eyes are steady on her, even while she's looking everywhere else. "Twins," he says. And then, "New York can seem a little weird to those who haven't lived here. Couple of million people all shoved into one small space. The eccentricities are more noticeable I guess. And I'm guessing you're from more habitually friendly places. As for answers…what's the question?"

"Yeah," Desiree tentatively agrees, though it sounds like it's a stretch to say so. "I guess. I'm not really sure what the question is. Probably why I don't know how to get an answer." She starts picking at the edge of the library's reading table. "Listen to me! Cryptic. /AGAIN/," she says in an over-inflated voice, laughing. "D'you ever like, think you're goin' crazy?"

Ramon gives this question the weight it deserves, thinking it through rather than answering it right away. He reaches up to slowly tug on his ear, an unconscious looking gesture. "Sometimes," he allows, and doesn't seem to feel any particular shame about it. "So that's what you're thinking, that you're going crazy?"

"Well I did think so… 'til… I found out maybe I ain't," Desiree says. Her eyes squint, a gesture directed inward in confusion at herself more than toward the concerned churchgoer. "It's all a mess. I prob'ly should't be tellin' you the why's and how's," she says self-deprecatingly. "Just makes me sound more crazy."

Ramon looks faintly bewildered for a moment. Then he says, "If you were one of my daughters," he says at last, "Here's what I'd tell you. That until you turn around and face your problem head on, in spite of what you fear about it, it will always own you. The man you run from is the man who controls where you go. Maybe I'm not the person you need to lay it all out to, because you barely know me. I don't mind hearing it, I'm not interested in judging you, but you do need to lay it out step by step to someone, and face what's bothering you, in spite of your fears. In your case you sound as bothered by the idea that you're /not/ crazy as by the idea you are, but you're never going to see what to do with it if you won't look at the whole problem honestly."

Desiree looks a bit surprised at first; maybe because she's far, far closer to Ramon's age than one of his daughters, but that doesn't stop her from listening very closely to his advice. When silence strikes, it stays for awhile as she stares at him with glinting eyes for several moments, thinking it through. "You ever think of becomin' one of them psycho-therapists?" The woman's face darkens; she looks to the side before settling her gaze on Ramon again. "I've been tryin'. I've been runnin' after the things I find 'cause of my case of maybe-not-crazies. And so far all I got's more questions. But I'm tryin'. I'm gonna figure it out. There has to be a point to it all, the things I see. The thing of it is," she gives a short, frustrated sigh. "If I /ain't/ crazy, I don't know /what/ I am. Stuff that's goin' on… ain't like the normal order of the universe."

Ramon doesn't even seem to register the surprsied look. He blinks at the suggestion he becomes a psychotherapist and almost smirks. "I'm a father. That's close enough to psychotherapist." And then he considers the rest. Again being silent while he turns it over in his mind. "Strange things happen," he says at last. "The world is strange. Strange things happening to you don't make you crazy. Trying to figure it out don't make you crazy." He pauses and says, "You don't seem to be ranting. I don't see any tinfoil. You don't look like you're out to hurt yourself or others. So…maybe what you need to do, Ms. Desiree, is open your mind, and accept things as they are, not as how you think you should be. Take some notes. Organize your thoughts about whatever it is." He waves a hand around as if to indicate church. "Maybe whatever's happening has a reason. Maybe it's something God wants you to do."

"I bet you're a real good father," Desiree states firmly, surely. She bobs her head in a nod to accentuate this opinion. Considering, she slowly nods more slowly at Ramon's words. "Yeah. I like that train of thought. Somethin' I'm /supposed/ to do… like fate? Yeah. I like that." Feeling slightly reassured, she smiles widely at the man. "I feel like… I feel like I gotta /do/ somethin'." She frets at a russet-painted lower lip with her front teeth. "Thanks Mister Gomez. I like your perspective."

"You're welcome," Ramon says gruffly. "And if you need someone to sit with and church my family and I are here every Sunday. I promise not to talk about flower gardens. At all. Ever." He's hoping his advice is as good as it was reassuring, anyway. But his gut says the woman's fine, and he tends to listen to it.

"That makes me wanna come more often," Desiree says with a smile, unfazed by Ramon's gruff way of speaking. She tends to understand people's meanings, no matter their outward demeanor. "I'm just visitin', but somethin' tells me maybe maybe I should stay in New York a little longer. My visit keeps wearin' on as it is. My friend and that overdue baby of hers…" she trails off without any serious animosity toward the aforementioned friend. "What time's Sunday School over? I'll keep you company, 'til your kids come out."

Ramon looks at his watch. "Not long. If you want to come over for an after-church lunch you're welcome to, unless you need to get back to your friend. Is it her first baby? Does she have a way to get ahold of you if she starts going into labor?"

"Yeah, it's her first. She's nervous," Desiree says with a reflective, fond smile. "That's where I come in, see. I'm her midwife. Oh, yeah, yeah, I got a pager. …which I left in my coat… in the coat room… uh… so I should probably get goin' pretty soon. Her due date's been pushed ahead though, so I think I'm safe. There ain't no changin' that baby's mind now."

"I didn't know there were still midwives," Ramon said, saying something that's Desiree has probably heard a hundred times before. "I thought you had to be a Doctor to deliver a baby." Then again, how much attention did he probably pay to the entire birth thing? Probably not much, save to give his wife whatever she wanted.

Desiree laughs, shaking her head in disbelief. "Psh. How come everyone in New York says that? Oh well. I was almost a doctor once," she reflects, a flicker of regret crossing her distinctive features before she smiles again, instead. "Anyway, I'm used to bein' the underdog."

A bus passes from across the street, and once it clears the corner, Ramon would be able to see a familiar, pretty teenager on the other side with three other younger kids in tow. It was a little cold, so Elena's got a worn, black coat with frayed cuffs, a pair of jeans, and boots. She's got little Juanita holding onto her hand. When the crosswalk sign says go, she crosses the street, the two boys Manny and Luis running ahead of her as all four make their way towards the church.

Ramon and Desiree are in the library of the church, which isn't his usual haunt; it might take them a bit to find him. As it is, he doesn't glance out the window yet. He holds up his hands. "I didn't mean to offend," he says carefully, arching a single eyebrow. "My daughter, she's studying premed. You'll like her, when you meet her."

"Oh, I didn't take no offense," Desiree says dismissively and leans an elbow on the nearby table and props her head up in her (uninjured) hand. "Oh, really? Premed? I take it you're talkin' 'bout the eighteen year old, otherwise, well, you got baby geniuses on your hands," she comments in good humour with a little grin.

It doesn't take long for the aforementioned 18 year old to find her own father - all she did is ask one of the little old ladies in the church where they last saw him and go from there. They've been going to this same parish for years, some people still remember her mother. So it is no surprising that the doors to the library swing open, and Juanita is bounding towards her dad, dressed in a pink and purple winter coat, with orange and green mittens. She promptly latches onto his leg, while the boys look impatient as they stroll in. Elena follows afterwards, her eyes sweeping over the library to look for Dad - though Juanita seems to find him first.

"Hey, carino!" Ramon says, standing to sweep Nita up into a hug. He swings her around, which he can still do. Manny just slouches against the wall. Luis is sort of standing there all awkwardly. Ramon kisses his daughter and says, "Elena, this is Ms. Desiree. She's new in town and a new member of our church. Ms. Desiree, this is my daughter Elena, my son Manny, my son Luis, and my daughter Nita."

The moment the kids burst into the library, Desiree's head lifts from its propped position on her hand and she breaks into a bright, friendly smile. "Well hey there!" The woman gives a wave at the lot of them, grinning a bit at the less-than-enthusiastic boys. "It's nice to meet y'all." Her gaze lingers on Elena for a moment longer than the others; her eyes squint just a tad, seeking out a vague familiarity. "Hey, weren't you at the accident yesterday? Yeah. Yeah, you called 911!"

"…you're Ms. Paramedic," Elena says, blinking. Wow. New York just got smaller. Even if she didn't recognize Desiree, she would recognize the accent anywhere. She walks over and stretches out a hand to shake, with a cheerful smile. "Elena. Nice to meet you, Ms. Desiree. Even if it wasn't the first time - it got pretty crazy that night, no?" A concerned look casts over her face. "Do you know if that cab driver made it?" She was pulled away by the EMTs and was sent home.

There it is again. That A-word. Ramon's left eye develops an unpleasant twitch as he sits there contemplating the bus accident that his daughter-was-anywhere-near. The near-smile on his face fades beneath the force of The Twitch, and the veins start sticking out on his neck, and this other one starts pulsing visibly on his right temple. He's got Nita on his right hip, one strong arm wound around her, but his left also twitches, like he'd like nothing more than to sweep Elena up and carry her around like she's still a little girl too. And wrap the both of them in bubble wrap.

"It's nice to meet you proper," 'Ms. Paramedic' says, reaching out with her right hand, as the left one is in a tensor bandage around the wrist, to warmly shake Elena's hand at super speeds (or very nearly - she just has a lot of energy!). Her bright expression fades quickly when the young woman mentions the taxi driver, however. "He was DOA," she says with heavy regret in her voice, frowning. "I heard they're gonna have a public service for him later this week." A glance over to Ramon prompts another frown this one creasing her brow a little. "Mister Gomez, you got a blood pressure problem…?"

Bubblewrap, unfortunately, was out of style in New York - but maybe it'll come back in this year's fashion week. Elena laughs when Desiree shakes her hand energetically, and tries to keep up with the woman….and failing miserably, but she tries. "Nice to meet you too," she says. But when Desiree mentions the cabbie, a sad expression falls over her face. "Oh….I was hoping…" she says. But in this case, there was no changing it. Thankfully the woman shifts focus on her dad, and a hand moves to patpat his arm. "I hope not. I think Papa just needs to rest after a long week of work though."

"Papa is fine," Ramon growls. "Papa didn't end up in anywhere near a bus with some crazy druggy driver falling over and crashing it. I don't want you taking the bus anymore, chiquita. At least you've met some nice people as a result." He nods at Desiree, and makes himself breathe. He puts Nita down. "I had invited Ms. Desiree to lunch," he says.

Desiree quirks a knowing half-smile at Ramon. "Your daughter was real helpful, first one to call for help far as I know," she says with a nod to Elena. "And outta harm's way." That part isn't entirely true - that bus was pretty out of control - but the girl isn't hurt, so it's all good, right? "I guess I could go for lunch, soon as I got that pager on me so I know for sure my friend's not gonna burst."

But she has to take the bus on occasion! Elena doesn't argue with her father though. Instead she smiles at Desiree. "Is there any kind of food you prefer eating today, Ms. Desiree?" she asks. But when she mentions the pager, she looks over at it. "Are you expecting someone today then?" she inquires inquisitively, opening the door for the rest of the party so they can all go and get something to eat.

Ramon leads them over to the coat room, remembering that's where Desiree said her pager was. He's still wearing his so he just sort of hangs out next to the door. His face takes on this really odd look as pride struggles with the continued desire to bust out the bubble wrap. He finally ends up making a gruff, noncommittal noise.

"I'll eat just about anythin'," Desiree says with a shrug. "Naw, but 'always be prepared', right? S'my friend - she's more pregnant than a mama cat, only with the one kid though," she says buoyantly as she follows Ramon to the coat room. She slips her jacket, which is far too casual for her dress, off the hanger and wriggles into it, flipping her loose ponytail over the fluffy collar. "Thanks for invitin' me over. I've met more friendly people in this city than the mean ones you hear about on the TV."

"There's this good chinese place just around the corner from here. Well…it's fusion, really, though it's mostly Chinese and Thai. I hope you like spicy food," Elena says with a grin, following the rest of them out of the church and trailing after Desiree and Dad. "And that's no problem - I like meeting new people. That's what New York is really. See that Starbucks? I work there part-time." She points to it across the street. "I meet all sorts there. Really nice people who're just visiting mostly, but we have a few regulars."

After church lunch is a regular ritual, and that Chinese spot is one of the six places they usually choose. Ramon nods his approval. He doesn't chime in about friendliness, he just guides the ladies towards the restaurant in question, watching the street like a hawk. Manny snorts at him and mutters something in Spanish, which has Ramon reaching out to kind of lightly thwap the back of his head and glower at him. "The secret about the city," he grunts, "is you don't make friends with everyone, cause most people are dangerous, but you can find a few connections. If you don't have some sort of support network, its going to eat you alive."

"I'll make sure to drop in some time," Desiree says of Starbucks, but ammends, "If I remember which one you're at. They all look the same, all million of them!" Being the type to make friends with everyone she can, she doesn't say anything to Ramon's statement. Maybe she doesn't know enough about New York yet. Still, something about his words make her think. She just keeps up with the family, smiling now and then at the younger kids' antics.

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