FOR WORSE OR FOR BETTER
"Ok," Dana muttered to herself under her breath. "He's definitely in the room somewhere. There is absolutely no way in the world he would leave this room."
In which case, the voice of doom inside her head argued, why can't you see him anywhere? Maybe the cooing great-aunts and the grubby-fingered little bridesmaids had finally become too much for him and he'd headed for the nearest door. Dana's stomach contracted violently at the thought.
"Don't panic," she urged herself. "He certainly wouldn't leave the building. If he's wandered off somebody will find him and bring him back."
Good God, what sort of a mother was she? In her defense, it was only too easy to lose one small boy in a room so heaving with people. But even so, she should have been more careful.
As it turned out, however, Dana needn't have worried. She breathed a sigh of relief when Kate emerged from the crowd, a beacon of salvation in the biggest and frilliest white dress known to man, holding Oscar in her irritatingly perfect tanned arms.
"There's Mummy, look," Kate's loud, high-pitched and clipped English accent cut through the chatter of the crowd. "I think maybe she ought to take you home, don't you?"
Oscar lifted his head from Kate's naked shoulder and blinked sleepily up at Dana. He then yawned widely, bunched a fist around a lock of his new stepmother's shiny blond hair to secure himself and dropped his head back onto her shoulder.
"Aww. You're tired, aren't you Darling," Kate crooned softly. "I think you should take him home, Dana. It's been a long day for him. I found him falling asleep under the buffet, poor lamb."
However Kate made no move to hand Oscar over to his mother, and he seemed quite content to use her as a pillow. He had started the week very suspicious of this energetic blonde he had been expected to socialize with (evidently not remembering her from their last meeting), but Kate's tremendous effort to get along well with her soon-to-be-stepson had really paid off. Of course in Oscar's estimation she would never quite match up to one Dr. Peter Venkman - although the three year old probably hadn't grasped the concept that the two were even slightly similar.
Dana glanced at her watch in order to decide whether it was a reasonable hour for her and her son to be leaving. It was only four o'clock. She pursed her lips, wondering if the little time Oscar had actually spent at his father's wedding was worth the sacrifice that Kate had made.
"Are you sure you don't mind?" Dana asked meekly. "It's just that he's hardly been here any time at all, especially as I had to take him out of the church when he was grizzling. I mean you came here all the way from England just so he could come to the wedding..." she tailed off.
"Which he did," Kate pointed out. "And I've told you a thousand times that I don't mind. It was either my family all coming over here or Andre's family all going over there. Now then, poppet." She looked down at Oscar. "Where's Daddy got to?"
"Yes, where has Daddy gotten to?" Dana muttered darkly, narrowing her eyes and scanning the room for her ex-husband.
Since his and Kate's arrival in California, Andre had seen little more of his son than he did when he was in Europe. This angered Dana a great deal, not least because Kate had made such an effort to involve herself in Oscar's life. On this her wedding day she had probably spent more time with him than she had with any other guest; but Andre had managed to keep his distance, probably to avoid having to talk to his ex-wife. At least that was what Dana suspected. It was no good reason for the man to shun his small son, but frankly it was the least unacceptable reason there was.
"Oh, you are so cute," Kate cooed softly to the top of Oscar's head. Then she handed him over to Dana and said smilingly, "You two go and get ready to leave. I'll find Andre and tell him you're off."
As she carried Oscar out to the hall where all the wedding guests' coats were hanging, Dana felt guilt-ridden for ever thinking that Kate was annoying. OK, so she was irritatingly pretty and very aware of it; and her voice did tend to cut right through your brain; and you could smell her dreadful expensive perfume whenever she came within a-hundred yards of you. But she was, Dana reflected, one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.
Something else angered Dana about her ex: Andre had sat back and allowed Kate to do all the legwork in reuniting him with his son. It had been Kate who had made the phone call to suggest to Dana that they marry close to Oscar's home. In fact marrying in LA had even been Kate's idea in the first place. What had Andre done? Dana thought back to the time she had married Andre Wallance and remembered that she'd found herself having to organize everything except the string quartet. There was a string quartet at this party too. Andre had almost certainly organized that. Everything else - that was surely all down to Kate.
Oscar was nearly asleep when Dana pulled him into his coat. She was trying to quell the anger that she had started to feel on her little boy's behalf, but it wasn't working and she soon found herself wondering how long she would have to wait for Andre to come and say goodbye to his son. He was off on his honeymoon in a few hours. There was no telling when he and Oscar would next see each other, but Andre was certainly not hurrying to see his only child while he still could.
It was so very sweet of Kate to make the effort with Oscar, Dana reflected. It helped, of course, that she seemed to take to him straightaway - although she was obviously not used to children. Neither was Peter when he met Oscar, Dana reminded herself; but he had fallen in love with her eight-month-old baby so effortlessly, and still continued to love him more every time he saw him.
Oscar in his turn had responded well to Kate, though it had taken some time, unlike with Peter. The attraction between those two had been mutual and instantaneous. Oscar had fallen for Peter a lot more quickly than Dana had.
Dana's eyes narrowed maliciously on the blurred scene behind the frosted glass of the double doors. Where the hell was he? Oscar was curled up like a cat on the cold floor of the hallway. She couldn't leave him like that for much longer.
While she waited, her thoughts continued to go places she didn't much like. An image pushed itself into her mind: a memory of Peter lying on his back on her sofa, a two-year-old Oscar sleeping contentedly on his chest. At the time he had been saying that he didn't want to go home and leave them again. Dana remembered thinking frantically: Then don't!
Over a year later and their relationship was still long-distance, which was incredibly frustrating to say the least. Dana remembered Peter's words to her all of three years ago: "You should have married me, you know." Basically she had told him that she gave up waiting for him to do something about it. So why was she still waiting now? Was it because of Oscar? He would be heartbroken if Peter went out of his life. Or was it because the last time she had married somebody who wasn't Peter, it had turned out to be a hideous mistake?
Well... not quite so hideous, she thought, smiling fondly down at her sleeping little boy. She could say one thing for Andre: he had given her the thing she loved most in the world. Even Peter had been able to admit that the stiff had managed to produce a very special little boy. When Dana had confided the thought to him some months ago, he had said with a look of terrible realization, "Hell, he's even given me the thing I love most in the world! Well, one of them," he had added smilingly.
If you love me so much, Dana now thought, why haven't you married me yet?
Still, she supposed it was her fault as much as it was Peter's. She didn't have to go to LA with Oscar in pursuit of her dream. It had been a mutual decision between Peter and herself, and Peter had undoubtedly put her happiness before his own. He'd said all the usual stuff: "You have to go, Dana. You may never get another opportunity like this..." - but he had not been able to disguise the fact that he very much wanted them both to stay.
"There you are," Dana muttered sourly as Andre strolled through the double doors. "Make it quick - I need to get him home."
She supposed that she needn't have been quite so rude, but just what was Andre playing at? At least the hug he gave the sleeping Oscar as he lifted him off the ground looked genuine enough. Dana even managed a small smile as Andre handed her their son and said, "Thank you for bringing him. I suppose it can't have been easy for you, coming to my wedding."
"It was easy enough, once I found the church," Dana shrugged nonchalantly. "It's nice to see you happy. The move to London was a good idea after all."
"That wasn't a dig," she interrupted, not wanting to hear another of Andre's it-wouldn't-have-worked speeches. "I mean it - I'm happy for you. And I really think Kate's terrific. She's making such an effort with Oscar."
"Yes, she is," Andre agreed expressionlessly. "Well... bye."
"Bye," Dana returned curtly, securing her hold on her son before turning to leave. "Enjoy your honeymoon"
"Come on honey, Mommy's got a lot to do today," Dana told her son curtly. "Where did we put your shoes?"
"Put that dinosaur down, sweetie - we have to get you to preschool."
Oscar was about to object, but he realized that he would have a few more minutes with Spiky the triceratops when the phone started to ring. Rolling her eyes and muttering a curse under her breath, Dana marched out into the hallway to answer it.
"Hello?" she said sharply.
"Hello Dana," a friendly and irritatingly high-pitched voice returned. "It's Kate."
I never would have guessed. "Hi Kate."
"Is it awfully early over there?" Kate asked anxiously. "I'm terribly sorry, but we're busy all day and I wanted to catch you before you left for school and things."
"Actually we were about to leave," replied Dana. She wasn't trying to make Kate feel bad; it was just the plain honest truth. "Is it quick?"
"Could be," answered Kate. "It's just that Andre and I are going to be in the States for a few days. Would it be all right if we came to see you both at the weekend?"
"Sure," shrugged Dana, wondering if perhaps she ought to try and be a little bit more polite. "When over the weekend?"
"Whenever you'll have us. Maybe if we dropped by on Saturday afternoon...?"
"So how's our boy?" Kate asked eagerly.
"Late for preschool," Dana smiled dryly.
"Right. Sorry. We'll see you on Saturday, then."
"Looking forward to it." Well that was a lie. "Bye."
I ought to write that down, thought Dana, slightly distracted by the unusually loud ticking on the wall clock telling her that she was getting later every second. Rummaging vaguely around for a scrap of paper on top of the fridge, Dana's fingers closed around a small sheet obviously torn from a memo pad that had come through her door some time ago.
"Dana," it read; "I'm sorry - I have to get away for a while. I'll get in touch as soon as I can. Don't let the little guy forget me. I love you both. Peter."
Scowling, Dana screwed up the tiny sheet and dumped it in the bin. She hadn't read the note for weeks; she'd given up on it some time last month, when he didn't show up for Christmas. She had been eagerly expecting Peter to arrive shortly after the demise of the Ghostbusters in November, and was somehow left unfeelingly cold when that flimsy note had come in his stead. That must be about two months ago now. Christ. Leave it much longer, Dana thought bitterly, and there won't be much I can do to stop Oscar forgetting you.
She wandered back into the sitting room. Oscar was still playing with that wretched dinosaur, but at least from this new angle Dana could see that his shoes were mysteriously hiding behind the sofa.
"Come on." Dana grabbed both the shoes in one hand and then snatched Spiky out of Oscar's chubby little fist. "Shoes on."
"Don't want to," pouted Oscar.
"Yes you do."
Dana picked her son up and carried him over to the sofa, seesawing him on her right arm so that he was hanging upside-down with his feet in the air. This action had the desired effect of bringing Oscar out of his difficult mood, and they both laughed as Dana slotted the miniature Nikes onto his feet.
"I've got good news, honey," Dana announced brightly, five minutes later, as she bundled Oscar into her car. "Daddy and Kate are coming to see us at the weekend."
"Oh," Oscar responded blandly, which was hardly a surprise. The names "Daddy and Kate" were thrown around a lot in his presence, but his mother very much doubted that he remembered to whom those names referred.
Thankfully Oscar went into preschool with almost the minimum of fuss. A slight snivel as Dana started to leave threatened a tantrum - but thank God for Jennie Beale's mother, who came along with her new retriever puppy and managed to distract every child out on the quad. The childminder knew she had to pick Oscar up that day. He was always fine with her, her other young charge and her own two children. All Dana had to worry about now was getting to rehearsals on time.
She was five minutes late. She was running late already, and knew it was a stupid thing to do, but on seeing that note she had been gripped with a sudden desire to try and call Peter. Again. A couple of months ago she'd been trying every day, and with absolutely no success. But then again she'd been calling the firehouse, where she knew Peter was not. Of course now she didn't have any more idea of where to try and reach him, but surely - SURELY - Egon would be answering the phone by now.
The recorded message clicked on: "You have reached Egon Spengler's residence..." Damn! Damn the thoughtless, insensitive bastard to Hell! She could kill Peter. If she could only get hold of him...!
Her cello playing wasn't perfect that morning. Peter had been missing for a long time now, but seeing that note again had made her worry. Maybe she shouldn't be planning how to kill him. Maybe she should be calling the police.
The lunch hour. At last. Dana ran to the shop over the road for something to eat. Then she sat down on a bench, whipped out her cell phone and wondered whether she should listen to that nagging voice in the back of her head. "Peter could be lying in a ditch somewhere... could have been for two months!" God, what a horrible thought!
No. Dana shook her head. The chances of that having happened were very slim indeed. There was no need to call the police just yet. She dialed a different number instead, knowing that she should exhaust all possibilities before turning this into a full-scale police investigation.
"Hello?" a wearied voice answered on the fourth ring.
"Janine, it's Dana. Listen, have you heard from Peter?"
"Peter?" mumbled Janine. "No. Should I have?"
"When was the last time you heard anything from him?"
"A couple of months ago." She suddenly sounded almost as worried as Dana felt. "He mumbled something about going to LA. To be perfectly honest with you, Dana, I would have thought he'd have gotten there by now."
"Yeah, me too," Dana returned dryly, not appreciating the attempt at humour. "Well - thanks Janine. Bye."
I never should have made that call, thought Dana as she hung up. Or at least she shouldn't have made it at that particular moment. Now her concentration would be even worse than it had been that morning. But there was no time to call Janine again, or to try getting hold of Peter... however she was supposed to do that. Regretfully, Dana made her way back to her fellows in the LA Symphony Orchestra.
Except Peter's, of course - wherever he'd got to. She had no way of knowing how to get hold of him. But why hadn't the damn man tried to call her? In TWO MONTHS??? The call to Janine had got her thinking about this more seriously than she had done for weeks. She checked her cell for messages every five minutes, even when it was switched on (that's what a love/anger combo can do to your logic). It was ridiculous, she knew. Two months he'd been gone and she was starting this obsessive behaviour now. Two months. The figure kept popping up in Dana's head. Two months! What a complete and total and utter bastard he was to do this to her and her son!
She wanted to kill him. Peter's life's work had virtually disappeared in a puff of smoke. However distraught this may have made him, contacting her should have been the first thing he did. Huh - well - in fairness he had contacted her. He'd sent her a note that said exactly nothing. It was a memo, for crying out loud! But then she supposed that was pretty much typical Peter Venkman behaviour. Doing anything stupid and irrational when it came to their relationship seemed to be typical Peter Venkman behaviour.
"Night-night Mommy," Oscar yawned sleepily, his eyes blinking shut as he balled two little fists and his arms curled around Barney the floppy grey dog.
Dana made her way to the phone and hit number one on the speed-dial. Egon still wasn't answering, which was very worrying. Two months... maybe she should get the police onto that as well. And it was just so frustrating! Egon was Peter's oldest friend. If anyone could get hold of Peter, it had to be him.
Why was everybody so determined to keep from her what was going on? What time was it in New York anyway? Dana knew she didn't have the energy to try and work it out, and a knock at the door gave her a good excuse not to. It was a funny sort of time for visitors, though. Had she asked somebody to baby-sit and since forgotten all about it? In which case, that must mean she was supposed to be somewhere. Yikes.
Dana pulled open the front door, locked eyes with her visitor and spent a good ten seconds just staring in surprise.
"Um... hi?" Peter ventured, his smile wavering as he realized that Dana wasn't quite as pleased to see him as he had hoped she would be.
"I've been trying to get hold of you all day, you selfish bastard!" she scowled. She only didn't yell for the sleeping Oscar's sake. "What the hell is going on? Where in God's name have you been? I was beginning to think you were DEAD, for fuck's sake! What are you doing here?" she squeaked desperately.
"I'm here to see you," Peter replied simply. "Gotta tell ya though, babe: surprising you wasn't as much fun as I thought it'd be. Can I come in?"
"I suppose so," Dana relented, her temper already beginning to subside a little as she took a step back from the doorway.
"Is Oscar still up?"
"Can I see him?"
"I don't think so, Peter. Imagine if you woke him," reasoned Dana. "We'd never get him back to sleep, and he and I both have to get up tomorrow. Oh, what's wrong with me? I'm talking to you like I saw you last week! Where the hell have you b- "
Peter's mouth pressing urgently onto hers quelled her speech - and despite herself, Dana even forgot her anger the burning questions she had been dying to ask him. As she felt his hands slipping around her waist, she surrendered to the heartfelt and long-awaited kiss. Oh yes. This was the good stuff - and just one of the things she'd missed about him.
"Why'd you stop?" she demanded indignantly, as Peter pulled away.
"I thought maybe you wanted me to," Peter defended himself. "You seemed kinda mad at me just now."
"Look," returned Dana. "If I want you to stop I'll tell you."
Smiling, he kissed her again.
Talk about a major disappointment. Peter had looked forward to waking up next to Dana for the first time in months. It was bad enough that she was already out of bed and fully dressed, but did she really have to poke him in the ribs like that?
"OK!" she said brusquely, marching purposefully away from the bed and towards her shoes. "Last night was good, but I never expected to wait two months for it. What's going on?"
"Whaaa...?" Peter mumbled into the pillow. This was too early for anyone to have a civilized conversation, let alone him.
"What are you doing here?" Dana asked patiently. "It was very nice and everything, you just turning up on my doorstep last night and seducing me - but now I'd like to know why."
"Ugh... it seemed like a good idea at the time," grumbled Peter. "Can I go back to sleep now please?"
"But why now? Tell me what you're doing here," ordered Dana. "Why did you disappear like that? Come on, make it quick - I've got things to do today."
"Have you?" Peter yawned sleepily, turning over onto his front.
"Yes," Dana answered curtly. "I have to work, and before that I have to take Oscar to preschool. And you needn't think you can pick him up this afternoon because he's busy too," she added tersely.
"Doing what?" asked Peter. He rolled over onto his back and managed to open his eyes. A discussion about his favourite three year old was one of the few things he deemed worth waking up for.
"Normally he's with his childminder, but today he's going home with one of the other moms," Dana replied. "One who doesn't have to work and who doesn't have to wait for her moronic boyfriend to answer simple questions. Why are you here, Peter?"
"It's a long story," Peter sighed wearily. "And in case you hadn't noticed, I didn't get much sleep last night. Can't I tell you about it later?"
"Hmm..." Dana considered. "I'm going to be wondering all day. Is it serious?"
"Very," answered Peter, running a hand agitatedly through his already tousled hair. As well as hoping not to be poked in the ribs, he had also been looking forward to a morning of not thinking about the last couple of months. But evidently both had been too much to hope for - and he wasn't even allowed to see Oscar yet.
"I don't know if I can stand the suspense," Dana persisted. "Is everything all right?"
Peter simply shook his head, offering no kind of explanation, and then asked desperately, "Can I please see Oscar before you leave?"
"Oh Peter, I'm sorry," Dana sighed regretfully. "I don't think it's a good idea. If he knew you were here he'd never leave."
"So let him stay," suggested Peter. "I'll take care of him - it'll cheer me up."
"Sorry," Dana said again. "No."
"Mean," Peter smiled slightly.
"What are you going to do all day?" asked Dana. "Lie in bed, I suppose. And maybe have a nose around the place if you can be bothered to get up in the afternoon."
"Not necessarily," yawned Peter, already preparing to go back to sleep. "LA... that's where Hollywood is..."
"No chance," Dana muttered audibly.
Peter opened one eye. "What d'you mean?" "Well Peter, you were once young and good looking enough to be Hollywood material, but unfortunately that was in the days when you had to be able to act as well," Dana teased good-naturedly. "And I'm afraid, Honey, that now you're no good for either."
"Not all Hollywood big shots are actors," argued Peter. "And anyway, why are you being so mean to me?"
"Wasn't I nice enough to you last night?"
"Yes, but that doesn't mean you have to stop now."
"I'll keep on until you tell me everything that's been happening with you." Dana told him sternly. "But anyway, if you do want to go out, there's a spare key hanging up by the door."
"Thanks for letting me stay," Peter mumbled into the pillow.
"Yeah well, I couldn't very well throw you out on the streets," shrugged Dana. "Anyway, gotta go. Bye."
She spared a kiss to his forehead, even though she got the impression that he was already asleep again. Typical man, she thought - and she deliberately didn't bother to close the bedroom door quietly on her way out.
First things first, though: breakfast. Peter threw two slices of bread into the toaster, drained the open carton of orange juice in the fridge, spread some butter over the toast as soon as it popped up and quickly ate it. He didn't want to waste too much time on a trivial thing like eating. He may not be allowed to see Oscar yet, but maybe he could compensate by having a little look around the boy's bedroom. This was Oscar's home. He'd be there later that very day. Peter just needed reminding of the fact.
A few of Oscar's dark hairs were scattered on his pillow, to which still clung his sweet small-child smell. Hugging the pillow to his chest and breathing it in, Peter felt like some kind of stalker. Maybe the recent drastic change in his life really had driven him mad. He imagined himself in a disturbing psychological horror movie: a child has died and his distraught, crazed father goes around the house smelling things.
Peter looked at everything and, in true stalker fashion, he ran his hands over most of it: Spiky, Barney, the toy car collection, all of Oscar's storybooks... It felt good. He could be very happy here with the two people he loved most in the world. And maybe somebody else would come along before too much longer... like for instance in about nine months' time. Well - maybe a bit longer, depending on how much persuasion Dana was going to need. And before Peter could even start trying, there were a couple of other things he was going to have to do.
"Can I help you?" a young brunette behind the counter asked politely.
"Do I look as lost as I feel?" Peter asked dryly.
"No more than most men," the girl smiled sympathetically. "Don't worry; I'm here to help. Can you give me an idea of the sort of thing she might like?"
Peter looked blank. "Um... something round with a rock in it? They all look the same to me."
The girl rolled her eyes. "Typical man. A lot of guys bring their fiance'es in here with them because they're so scared of choosing the wrong thing. I'd rather be surprised myself. Is this going to be a down-on-one-knee sort of affair?"
"That's the plan."
"How lovely," the girl smiled wistfully. "We'd better find you something good, then. What colour are her eyes?"
She looked expectantly at Peter and he opened his mouth - but no sound came out. Oh God! This was awful! He planned to propose to Dana and he couldn't even remember the colour of her eyes!
"Brown," he said at last.
"Sure about that?" the girl laughed slightly.
"At least you remembered. You'd be surprised how many guys don't know. What sort of price range are we looking at?"
"Money is no object," Peter proclaimed generously. OK, so he was out of a job, but he was supposed to be making a fresh start here. Why not blow his life savings on the woman he loved? It was symbolic really: buying an engagement ring with the money he had made from the Ghostbusters was like exchanging his old life for a new one. It was just a shame that he couldn't have them both.
"Do you have an appointment?"
"How did I know you were going to ask me that?" Peter said suavely.
"Well do you?" the girl asked irritably.
"Not as such, no. But I'm sure he'll see me," Peter told her confidently. "I'm an old friend." Well, arguably it wasn't quite a lie.
"You'd be surprised how often I hear that," the girl told him, obviously not believing him. "But if you tell me your name I'll see if I can contact him."
"How do you spell that?"
"In a week's time you'll wonder how you could ever have asked that," Peter proclaimed dramatically. "Soon there won't be a single person in Hollywood who doesn't know the name Peter Venkman."
"Yuh-huh," the girl returned, yawning ostentatiously. "So how do you spell it?"
As luck would have it, Rick Rosen agreed to meet Peter for a late lunch. Of course he remembered the inspiration for two of his most successful movies, and wouldn't dream of shunning him. And besides, he was curious about the demise of the Ghostbusters - and had been for the last two months.
"The dog had its day, that's all," shrugged Peter, glossing over the more unpleasant details. He was also doing a good job of not staring too hard at the beach full of bikinis, which was visible from the small table outside Rick Rosen's recommended classy little cafe'. "No more ghosts, no more Ghostbusters - it's as simple as that."
"Ah-ha," Rosen returned dryly. "Doesn't sound like much of a movie, Peter."
"Aw, hey, just hear me out," Peter persisted. He had wasted no time in suggesting that it might be a good idea to start scripting "Ghostbusters III". "Ok, so the company disbanded, but what about the three years in between? So much has happened."
"Oh yeah?" challenged Rosen. "What about the main love interest: you and Dana Barrett? The audience went to see the sequel only to find that she'd dumped you, married the Stiff, had his baby and since divorced him. They'll go mad if we make another movie and pack her and Oscar off to LA."
"So let's shift the focus a little," shrugged Peter. "You have no idea how much your movies glossed over the Egon and Janine situation."
"There is no Egon and Janine situation now," Rosen reminded him. "Last thing the audience heard it was Janine and Louis."
"Yes, well, the least said about that the better," Peter intoned darkly. "Egon and Janine got together since then."
"Really?" At last a slight spark of interest seemed to have been ignited. "How are they now?"
"Um... I'm not sure. Egon and I haven't... spoken... for a while," faltered Peter.
"Interesting twist," Rosen remarked nonchalantly. "But last thing you heard...?"
"Janine got hit by a car!" Peter blurted out. "She almost died! Couldn't we make a movie about that?"
"We already have two great movies, Peter," Rosen reminded him. "What if we try to make another and it's a huge letdown? But look... I'll think about it, OK?"
"Well that's something," Peter shrugged resignedly.
"What were you planning to do in the meantime?" asked Rosen.
"Um... well... marry Dana," mused Peter, reflexively cupping a hand around the ring box in his pocket. "Teach Oscar to surf when he's a little older. And get some kind of job, I suppose." He looked over to the beach, a mass of colour swimming in front of his eyes as the bikini-clad beach bunnies all paraded in front of the cafe's and restaurants where they knew the big Hollywood producers would be. Jokingly Peter added, "Since my movie pitch has hit a temporary setback, I don't suppose you have an opening for a talent scout?"
"Talent scout?" echoed Rosen. "Every one of those wannabes is as pretty as the next. How are you supposed to tell which ones would make good actresses?"
"Poor kids," Peter sympathized. "Most of them come here imagining big movies and stardom. How many go away disappointed?"
"They're almost always disappointed, but very few of them actually go away," Rosen answered dryly. "The thing about this business is that it's not what you know, it's who you know. Lucky you know me, Peter. I just rejected your ideas, but that doesn't mean I can't use you. Can you give me a number?"
"I'm staying with Dana," replied Peter, accepting Rosen's proffered ballpoint pen. "I shouldn't think she'd mind, but I suppose if you call during the day she'll never even have to know." He scribbled out the number on a napkin and handed it to Rosen.
"I'm sorry about the split," Rosen sympathized. "And I want you to know that that's why I'm doing this: out of pity."
"Well it's very kind of you," Peter smiled serenely. "I really appreciate it, Rick."
"Pizza," replied Oscar.
"Sweetheart, we don't have any pizza."
"What's that got to do with anything?" a familiar voice asked, and Peter appeared in the kitchen doorway. "You asked him what he wanted for dinner and he told you."
Oscar was stunned for all of half a second. Then his eyes widened in amazement; he let out a loud squeal of delight and threw himself at Peter. Crouching down and opening his arms wide, Peter caught the boy in a tight embrace. Dana couldn't help but smile as they squeezed each other mercilessly, Peter showering Oscar's face with kisses as he declared, almost tearfully, "Ooh, I've missed you!"
It was a struggle for Peter to walk into the kitchen with Oscar's fat little arms wrapped around his thighs, but he somehow managed to make his way back to his small collection of brown grocery bags. Reaching into one, he asked jovially, "Did somebody order a pizza?" He pulled the square cardboard box out of one of the bags, and Oscar's eyes lit up in delight and amazement. How could he possibly know??
"Aw... Peter..." mumbled Dana.
"Can you afford...?"
"Pizza?" Peter suggested helpfully. "I think I can stretch to it just this once. I bought some oven-ready lasagna too. Apparently all you have to do is stick it in the oven, leave it there for a bit and then take it out. I think even I can manage that," he smiled comically, smacking Dana on the lips as he passed her on the way to the oven. "And anyway, I can practice with the pizza. Hey Oscar!" he suddenly exclaimed, in a corny exaggerated Italian accent. "I buy all the Italiano food today, huh? I sorry I did no think to look for a fake mustachio!"
Oscar started to laugh hysterically. Dana rolled her eyes, wondering if she should object to Peter inciting her young son to racist stereotyping.
"Is cheese and tomato pizza with the - how you say? - ham," Peter went on as he took the Clingfilm off the pizza, continuing to use the accent for as long as it made Oscar laugh. "You like, yes?"
"Yes," giggled Oscar.
As he kicked the oven door shut on the pizza, Peter reverted to an equally ridiculous French accent: "And for desserrrt I sought sirrr would like to trrry ze gateaux chocolat - oui?"
"Oui!" exclaimed Oscar, his eyes shining at the mere thought.
"Avec la glace?" enquired Peter.
"La what?" Oscar asked confusedly.
"Ice-cream, honey," Dana cut in. "Just don't get used to this, OK? Tomorrow you're switching back to fish sticks and frozen yogurt."
Peter's first culinary attempt of the evening was every bit as successful as he had hoped it would be. Admittedly Oscar looked a little like he might throw up straight afterwards, but fortunately the nausea passed without incident and he was as perky as ever for his bath.
Dana was amazed. Persuading Oscar into a bath was normally such a mission. But one word from Peter and he just jumped straight in, all ready to show off his newest bath toys. Feeling slightly resentful of the fact that her son never behaved so well for her, Dana lathered shampoo into Oscar's dark hair while Peter carefully maneuvered Sammy the Submarine around the bubbles, making unlikely but very realistic foghorn noises.
"Can you read to me?" Oscar asked from underneath a light-blue towel, as his mother vigorously rubbed his hair dry.
"You bet I can," enthused Peter, who was currently selecting a pair of pyjamas from Oscar's dresser. "What do you want me to read?"
"One about monsters," Oscar decided.
"Monsters?" echoed Peter. "Are you sure you won't get nightmares?"
"No." As Oscar spoke, Dana pulled away the towel to reveal an indignantly frowning face. "I don't get scared of stories."
"'Course you don't," smiled Peter. Crouching down, he took Oscar's chubby little face in his hands and kissed him on the mouth. "Only wimps get scared. You're a tough guy, aren't ya."
"Yes," grinned Oscar.
"PJs on," ordered Peter, holding out a pair of elasticized train-patterned trousers for Oscar to climb into. "Then we can read a story."
"You did most of it," Dana pointed out dryly. "And it's not usually that easy."
"It was so great seeing him again. Isn't he terrific?"
"Of course he is."
"Better put the lasagna in," asserted Peter, switching on the oven and pulling open the door. "While we're eating... I'll tell you," he finished, after a slight hesitation.
"Tell me what?" asked Dana.
"Anything you want to know."
"Ooh... that's a challenge."
At that moment the phone started to ring, dragging Dana out to the hall.
"Hello Darling; it's me."
"Mom!" exclaimed Dana, the knowledge that Peter was in her kitchen making her feel strangely flustered. "Hi! How are you?"
"Fine," Valerie Barrett returned curtly. "How are you?"
"Fine. Um... did you want something, or are you just calling to talk?"
"I'm calling to inquire about my grandson whom I haven't seen in weeks," Val returned curtly. "Why - are you busy?"
"Um... Peter's... in the kitchen... cooking," faltered Dana.
"Peter? Venkman? Oh my Dear..." Val murmured wearily. "Well, at least he's in the same state as you are for once. What's he doing there, darling?"
"I told you," Dana retorted flippantly. "Cooking. Did you hear his news?"
"The Ghostbusters have dissolved themselves."
"Right. I think he wants to tell me about it."
"And then...?" Val asked guardedly.
"What do you mean?" Dana sighed impatiently.
"Just be careful, Dana," Val advised. "You remember what happened the last time."
"Yes. I let him go and ended up married to an idiot," snapped Dana.
"How can you call Andre an idiot?" reasoned her mother. "You and he used to be such good friends."
"You're right, you're right," Dana relented. "I just shouldn't have married him. It ruined everything we had - especially when he started to treat our son the way he does. But Peter's a good guy, Mom. And Oscar loves him."
"I see," Val returned dryly. "And I suppose now you're going to tell me that you love him too?"
"Well I won't if you don't want me to."
"I'm sorry Dana, but your love for that man seems very... what's the word? Sporadic. You know: inclined to come and go."
"I know what sporadic means," snapped Dana. "And you're wrong."
"Whatever you say, darling," Val sighed resignedly. "Just be careful, all right?"
"I will," Dana returned irritably.
"And make sure he treats you better this time."
"Just don't rush into anything, darling."
"I won't! Um... Mom, I have to go. Peter's waiting for me."
"Well all right." Val was obviously doing her level best to sound hurt. "I'll call you tomorrow, then."
"Ok," agreed Dana. "Love to Dad. Bye."
"Your mother," Peter smiled dryly, as Dana made her way back into the kitchen and flopped onto a seat at the table. "I'd forgotten about her."
"How can you?" Dana asked incredulously. "Nobody forgets my mother."
"Selective memory," Peter returned breezily. "It's basic psychology."
"How's the lasagna doing?"
"I was so sure you would have made a Garfield joke by now."
"Oh." Dana looked surprised. "Well, if you insist. Um... jeez Peter, why don't you just go the whole hog and paint yourself with tiger stripes? There - will that do?"
"I find that very offensive," Peter told her tartly.
"So how's the lasagna doing?" Dana asked again.
"I don't know," shrugged Peter. "I'm just going to take it out of the oven when the timer goes off and see what happens."
Dana suddenly changed the subject: "Can you tell me what's been happening now, or do I have to wait until we start eating?"
"I'd rather wait," replied Peter. "I'll be glad of something to do with my hands."
"Argh!" growled Dana. "The suspense has been killing me! Is it really that bad?"
"I've just lost my life's work and the best friends I ever had," Peter told her gravely. "You were there after Janine's accident. After you left it was downhill all the way."
"You make it sound like my fault."
"Sorry. I don't mean to. It wasn't your fault."
"So whose fault was it?" asked Dana.
Peter's expression darkened as he told her vehemently, "Egon's."
As they sat down to dinner, Dana felt a wave of relief when Peter started pouring his soul all over the kitchen table. She finally knew what was going on, and at first she listened with a sympathetic ear. The demise of the Ghostbusters had hurt like hell; Peter felt that Egon had betrayed him, and himself as well. It was terrible. He'd felt that bad exactly one other time in his life: when Dana broke up with him.
"I'm sorry," Peter went on, using one hand to poke at his food with his fork and the other to run his fingers agitatedly through his hair. "I should have come to see you straightaway. If you and Oscar had been with me I could have gotten over it so much sooner."
Oh yes. Now she remembered. Dana was seriously pissed at this man. He'd said he was going to come and see her and then promptly disappeared for two months. He'd had the sense to send her a note, but frankly it wasn't good enough.
"Why didn't you come then?" Dana demanded sharply.
"I was a wreck," Peter explained, gazing at her with eyes just full of remorse. "I didn't know what to do. I know it was crazy and I should have come to you - heck, I even wanted to - but I couldn't stand the thought of you seeing me like that. And Oscar wouldn't have known what to make of it. I would have only been a burden anyway. Uncle Alf took two months pulling me together."
"You went to your uncle's farm?"
"How is he?"
"Pissed at me. He gave me a bucket of pigswill every morning and said if I didn't hurry up and get my ass over to LA my life would never get any better." Peter took a deep breath and then went on, "It's one of those things... you know... where the longer you leave it the worse it gets. With every passing day I thought: aw, she'll never take me back now."
"Why aren't you still there?" asked Dana. "Two months, Peter. That was risky."
"Worth a shot," reasoned Peter. "I woke up one morning and realized that if you turned me down - and believe me, honey, I wouldn't blame you - the pigs'd still be there. I figured I had one more shot at happiness so I might as well go all out to get it. I am so, so sorry Dana. You know when you do something stupid and you just think: nah, that wasn't me?"
"I think you're talking about my marriage," returned Dana, with a humourless smile.
"And my temporary madness on Uncle Alf's farm," Peter added dryly. "Please can we just forget I did that and start again?"
Dana said nothing. They both looked down and jabbed at their plates with forks. Uh-oh. No more lasagna. Silence. Awkwardness. They looked up, just blinking at each other across the table.
"Well?" Peter spoke at last.
"What do you think?"
"I think..." Dana began slowly, "...that you're being very hard on poor Egon. Call and make up with him."
"Because this is all his fault."
"That's very immature," retorted Dana. "He's your oldest friend, for goodness' sake! You've been through so much together!"
"Right," Peter returned simply. "And he flushed it all down the pan."
"You are so childish."
"Aw, don't start a fight. What's been happening... it's made me realize something."
Peter's heart rate then increased to a frantic hammering with unnatural suddenness. This was it. He was actually going to have to do it. Dana hadn't said anything in response to what he'd said about being with her - but if he didn't do it now, he probably never would. Hell, he'd spent nearly two grand on the ring. He couldn't just chicken out. And it was perfectly true: the pigs would still be there. Twitching, dry throat, perspiration... it was probably only a matter of time before he started to hyperventilate. He hadn't expected this at all.
"What's that?" Dana asked guardedly. She felt very wary of what might be coming next... and not at all because of anything her mother had said. Honest!
"I love you," Peter blurted out. "I never should have let you go. It was the worst mistake I ever made."
"You'll make a much worse one if you really don't intend to make it up with Egon," Dana told him dryly.
"Sorry. Go on."
"Right... well." This was hopeless. Dana's interruption had made him totally lose his momentum. "As I was saying: I love you and I love Oscar. He kinda makes me think that everything happens for a reason. You should have married me, but I can't imagine life without him. Or you. And that's why I wanted to ask you..."
Oh God. Oh Christ. Oh shit. What was she going to say? It should have been a straightforward yes, but she was wavering. Something wasn't right here.
"Will you marry me?"