Loungin with Louie!
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NEW! Oppertunity Knocks - 6


A few days before his scheduled trip to the west coast, Freddie had his first brush with the unseen threat that had loomed over him for months. He was on his way home from the last gig he would do in NYC and decided to walk home so he could smoke a joint. While he was passing a small park, two large white men approached him from either side. He was buzzed enough by this time to be a bit confused by what was transpiring. "Whaaa...the hell d’you two wan’?" he asked in rather slurred words.

"Are you Freddie Prinze?" said the one on his right, while he grabbed Freddie’s right arm by the elbow.

"Yeah, who wan’s t’know? Y’some big time producers?" Freddie wasn’t sure who these guys were. Being that they were white in an ethnic neighborhood this late at night was a puzzle to him. It wasn’t till the other guy grabbed his left arm in the same fashion and started to lead him into the park proper that he finally began to sense danger.

"Yeah," said the first guy. "And do we have a production for you!" They hustled him to a deserted park bench in the darkest part of the park. "We need some information from you. And if you know what’s good for you, you will be very cooperative. Or you will be doing your next stand up act lying down, IN A HOSPITAL BED!"

Freddie looked from one face to the other. The second guy was big, built like a building. He didn’t say anything, but Freddie could read his face well enough that the guy didn’t need to say anything. Freddie got his message loud and clear. The other guy, who was shorter, seemed to be the spokesperson. Freddie addressed his next remark to the short one. "Yeah, sounds like y’re trying to muscle your way into my act. Tha’ joke was lame. ‘Sides, I work alone." Freddie wasn’t sure where his smug humor was coming from, in the face of obvious danger. He guessed that the pot was dulling his sense of self- preservation. He swore under his breath that it was time to give that shit up.

"Hey, Vinnie, this guy doesn’t think I’m funny." The short guy addressed his silent friend. All the larger man did was nod. "Maybe you could show him some of your humor." Freddie could guess with dead accuracy what that meant. He figured it was time to appease these two goons. "Hey, man, chill. I was only tryin’ t’break the ice. I’ll cooperate. Whatcha wanna know?"

The first guy loosened his grip on Freddie’s right arm a little. Vinnie kept his grip firm. "I need to know where I can find a little lady by the name of Anna d’Angelo. Word has it that you and she have been seeing quite a bit of each other."

Freddie sized up the situation as fast as his impaired brain would let him. He chose his answer carefully. "I’m more than willin’ t’let y’know what I know, but would be nice f’I knew who was askin’."

Vinnie found his voice. "Hey, Rico, you want I should just waste this punk?"

Rico let go of Freddie’s arm and put a hand to his chin, making Freddie look him in the eyes. "A tempting thought, Vinnie, but I think the boss needs us to try to get some info outta this punk first."

Vinnie frowned, and as Freddie jerked his head away from Rico’s beefy hand in time to notice, he realized that these guys’ only joy in life must be to inflict pain. For Vinnie had quickly grabbed Freddie’s loose right arm and brought both back behind him in a locked position. The pain helped to clear Freddie’s head.

"Look, man. I’ll cooperate," he whined, looking from one to the other, "I don’t want no trouble from you. I don’t know who you are, but whaddaya want from this poor Puerto Rican kid?"

Rico leaned closer again and growled at Freddie, "Tell me the truth and Vinnie will let you keep your arms. Where is Anna d’Angelo?"

Freddie knew that it would be no good denying that he even knew Anna. He surmised that these guys were part of the d’Angelo Mafia family and probably knew something of the relationship between them already. He only hoped for her sake they didn’t know too much. Freddie took the opportunity to find out how much they did know.

Vinnie appeared to be a dumb thug, but Rico seemed to have some brains, so he addressed Rico, "Look man, if I knew I would tell you. I wish I knew. She was my manager and then did the splits on me. Left me high and dry with no explanation. Last time I trust a woman agent..." Freddie chuckled, shook his head and tried his best to look pissed at Anna. Rico must have bought part of the little speech, because he silently indicated to Vinnie to loosen his grip. It was more comfortable, but not by much. "Yeah, well that was the word we got too, that she was your manager. We thought she was still working for you."

Freddie was beginning to realize that they didn’t have much more on him. So-- risking a broken arm--he went on a fishing expedition of his own. "Yeah, well I guess she dumped me for someone else. I haven’t seen her in months." It backfired. Rico grew angry and Vinnie tightened his grip again. "Whaddaya mean by that? IF YOU TOUCHED HER...."

Freddie gulped. These guys weren’t only dangerous, they were crazy. "No, no, I meant, dumped me to manage someone else. Hell, I’m a kid. What do I want with an old broad like that? I mean...." Freddie wasn’t sure if he was digging himself out of a bad situation or making the hole deeper.

Rico looked straight into Freddie’s eyes again. "Anna is spoken for, by the son of my boss. If anyone messes with that, they are history. Antonio could care less what she did for a living, but no one was to mess with his property. Capeesh?"

"Loud and clear!" Freddie swallowed hard.

Rico started to pace in front of Freddie--he was still being held in an arm lock Vinnie. "See, the thing of it is, we have word that someone has been messin’ with her. But we also know that she had been managing you. We thought you might want to cooperate with us to find the bitch and see she got what was comin’ to her, seein’ how she left you high and dry." Hearing this, Freddie got a little brave again, in an effort to convince these guys he was on their side. "Yeah, well this position doesn’t seem to convey a lot of trust in my willingness to cooperate." Rico thought about it a minute and then said to Freddie, "Yeah, well you can’t be too careful these days. Does this mean you’ll help us?"

"Sure, whatever."

Rico silently signaled to Vinnie to let go of Freddie. Freddie rubbed his arms and wrists and said, "I did tell you the truth. I haven’t a clue where she is." Rico replied, "Yeah, I am thinking you are being on the up and up with us about that. You know anything about the bastard that was screwing with her?"

Freddie grew silent for a minute. He hoped the men would think he was contemplating their question, but he was really trying to think of a clever deception. Finally he answered, "Well we were only together in the clubs and such. All business, that was Ms. d’Angelo." Freddie slowly shook his head, "No, if she had someone like a boyfriend or something, she never let on to me."

"There were men’s clothes in her apartment," said Vinnie. Rico looked hard at his partner, like he had tipped their hand. Freddie now suspected that these two brainiacs were behind the apartment break-in.

"Well I don’t know anything about her place. I live on another side of town. Didn’t she have a brother that lived with her? She mentioned something about that, but my mind is a bit fuzzy." Freddie knew he was taking a lot of chances now.

"Yeah," answered Rico. "He did live with her, but he was eighty-sixed. I suppose it could have been his stuff we saw laying around....Hey, wait a minute! How much do you know about her?" Vinnie grabbed for Freddie again but he managed to duck.

"Look man, I don’t know anything." Freddie said as he tried to escape. He knew he had revealed too much, because Rico silently signaled to Vinnie again. Freddie tried to fend him off, but all the karate lessons he had taken were of no use against such a brute. He found himself being wailed upon by these two guys; they beat him up all over the abdomen and face. Freddie tried to defend himself as best as he could, but they had caught him off guard and his reflexes were not responding the way he wanted. He silently cursed the pot again. The whole time Rico kept up a barrage of threats on his life.

When the two of them had finished having their fun abusing Freddie, they left him bloodied on the cement walk and started to walk off. Rico called over his shoulder, "Just remember, we were easy on you tonight. If we find out you know more than you are telling us, punk, there won’t be anything left of you to bury." The two men then left Freddie in a pool of his own blood.

Freddie somehow had managed to crawl home that night. His parents were appalled by his condition and took him to a local hospital. He discovered he had suffered many contusions to the stomach and a couple of broken ribs, but worried most about his face, since he was due to perform in a week. The intern assured him that none of the cuts were deep and that he seemed to have been spared any obvious bruising around his eyes.

On the way home, Freddie kept telling his parents he was just mugged, but somehow he didn’t think his mother bought that explanation. She kept asking why Freddie hadn’t taken a taxi, as was his custom. He made the mistake of telling his mother he needed time to walk and think. She didn’t press him to explain, but made him feel guilty with her silent stares just the same.

Finally, the day before he was to leave, he broke down and told his parents some of the story. He told them that Anna’s husband was jealous of her--and even though he was in jail, his family was out to find Anna and hurt her. He told his parents how they had probably broken into her apartment and found out that Freddie knew her. The beating, he admitted, had been because they thought he knew where she was--but he told his mom he didn’t. Still, Freddie cautioned his parents, they should be careful when he went out west, since he wasn’t sure if Anna’s husband knew where he lived. Lastly, he told his mother that Nat should escort her to work and back.

(Freddie had already told Nat all about the events of the night he was assaulted. He felt he could go to California resting a little easier, knowing that Nat and the gang was keeping an eye on his folks for him.)

He needed to do one more thing before he left for LA. He dialed the phone number Eddie the cop had left him. It was answered by a receptionist at the police station. "Sgt. Eddie Holtz, por favor," Freddie asked her.

"One moment while I connect you to his desk," the receptionist answered.

Freddie waited as the phone rang, thinking how he would never have bothered with the police otherwise. But since Eddie was a friend of Anna’s and she was in danger, Freddie knew he needed to keep him informed.

Finally after three rings, Eddie answered. "Sgt. Eddie Holtz speaking. How can I help you?"

Freddie took a deep breath and said, "Hey Eddie, it’s me, Freddie Prinze."

"Hi, Freddie, what’s up?" Eddie answered him cheerfully.

Freddie cringed, thinking how Eddie’s demeanor contrasted with the news Freddie had to share with him. "Well, nothing good, I’m afraid. You see, I was attacked by a couple of thugs sent by Antonio’s family."

"You ok?" Eddie’s tone shifted to one of professional concern.

"Yeah, just a couple of cracked ribs, and bruises. The doctor says I’ll live. But I am concerned for Anna and my parents."

"Who were they and what did they want with you?"

Freddie could hear Eddie had shifted into full cop mode, pictured him taking down everything. After another deep breath, he replied, "Well I didn’t get last names, but one of them was named Rico--he was the spokesman--and the other was a trained gorilla by the name of Vinnie."

"I know those two bullies. They are hired strong arms for the d’Angelo family. Cousins of Antonio’s I think."

Freddie had figured out that much himself, but didn’t say this to Eddie. "They were looking for Anna, and maybe figured that I knew where she was, ‘cause she was managing me. But they didn’t seem to have figured out that I had been living with her. She had been ‘messed with’ as they put it, and they were also looking for the guy who did that. If only they knew!" Freddie choked up for a moment, then continued, "Since I didn’t know what they wanted, they just wailed on me and left. I, of course, didn’t tell them I was the one who had ‘messed’ with Anna. My ma didn’t raise no dummy!"

Eddie chuckled. "No, I suppose it would have been fatal to reveal that. They didn’t seem to think you knew any more?"

"Well, I am not sure, but they seemed satisfied for the moment. The thing is, I am getting ready to leave for LA, and I don’t want these goons to get to my parents. They didn’t let on that they knew where I lived, but the park where I was attacked was about ten blocks from my house. I have my best friend Nat and the gang watching out for them, but I would like it if the cops could kinda keep an eye out too. And naturally, I am also concerned for Anna--these guys mean business."

"We’ll keep an eye on your place, and I will contact Anna. It might be time to move her to a safer location."

Freddie thought a moment. "Since these guys seem to be local, would Anna be safer with me in LA?"

"Well you might be safer in LA since these guys don’t seem to want you for anything other than information. But Anna they would pursue at any expense, putting you both in danger and out of my reach, I’m afraid. So no…I think I know where I can hide Anna for a while." Eddie’s tone softened as he concluded, "Don’t worry. Just leave me a number where you can be reached in LA, and I will contact you if I hear anything."

"OK, I’ll call you from my friend’s apartment where I am staying and give you the number. BTW, if you see Anna, please tell her I love her and I will be doing something special on Carson just for her. Tell her to look out for it when she watches me."

Eddie answered, "I will. You are going to be on the Tonight show?"

Freddie beamed, "Yup, Monday night. Watch for me." He toned down his enthusiasm as he thought out loud, "I only wish Anna would be with me. It is only because of her help that I am going to be on there at all."

Eddie answered reassuringly, "Well if I know Anna, she will be with you in spirit. Lift her spirits and knock ‘em dead!"

"I will…and thanks for watching out for my folks. I would never forgive myself if anything happened to them."

"I will, don’t worry about them or Anna. We will get these goons. Have a good trip and good luck with the show."

"Thanks, bye."

"Good-bye." And Eddie hung up.

Freddie returned the receiver to the cradle and went back to his room to finish packing. He was so excited about the trip that he danced down the hallway. He was going out with Nat and the gang for one last night on the town, then tomorrow night Nat would drive him and his parents to the airport. He knew saying goodbye to his mom would be an emotional thing, but he thought ahead to the time he would be making a lot of money and he would buy them a house out in LA so they would be near him again.

Tonight was the night Freddie had been waiting for all his life. He was in the green room pacing back and forth, smoking one cigarette after another in an effort to calm himself down. The food on the table in this waiting area didn’t appeal to him--in fact, looking at it made him a little sick on his stomach. He wished Anna, his mom and Nat were here to help him relax. The cigarettes weren’t doing the job, and he didn’t want to light up a joint. He had gotten rid of the ones he had, after the attack, swearing he wouldn’t get high again. It was hard for him to give up pot, though--the thought of the euphoria was very appealing to him right now, agitated as he was by reliving that beating even as he waited to go onstage. Freddie knew he had been attacked so brutally mainly because he was not in complete control of his faculties that night. Still, he couldn’t ignore the big thing he had already discovered about LA--it was the land of the perpetual high. Drugs seemed to be everywhere, especially in the entertainment industry. It was as if they were legal, the way they were ever present. He knew that if he really wanted one, someone around the studio could get him a joint, but fought the temptation.

Finally the stage manager came for Freddie and led him out. He took a deep breath as he stood behind the multicolored curtain waiting for Johnny Carson to introduce him. "This is for you, Anna," he said to himself. Then he said a quiet little prayer to God that he would be great tonight.

Freddie bounded forward onto the stage as his name was called. He went into his routine, honed on many comedy club stages before this night. Though he didn’t look directly into them, he sensed the cameras trained on him, and noticed that the studio lights were brighter than in the clubs. He was grateful for that one experience on TV back in New York—because of it, the cameras and audience didn’t seem totally strange to him. The audience laughed at all of his jokes, and when he glanced over at the dais where Johnny Carson was sitting, Freddie saw the great man laughing too. This helped him to relax more—he felt himself really getting into the groove.

Finally, at the end of the set, Freddie said, "Thank you, you have been a great audience. To my family and friends at home, gracias for believing in me. And to one special person, te amo, mi amor." Freddie blew a kiss to the camera. He was about to exit the stage when he was surprised by Johnny. Instead of exiting through the curtain like they had asked him to in rehearsal, Johnny asked him to take a seat next to him on the dais. Freddie was shocked. He had never known a first time performer to be asked to sit on the dais. He swallowed hard, slowly made his way over and sat in the chair next to Johnny’s desk. It was a dream come true for the young comedian.

The appearance on the Carson show was to open doors for Freddie sooner than he expected. When he had first arrived in LA, he had contacted the agent recommended to him by Anna. Charlie Lind turned out to be a great guy, and was really impressed with Freddie’s performance on the Tonight Show. A few days after the appearance, he called Freddie at Alan’s apartment and told him that the producer for a new situation comedy had seen his performance and was interested in having him test for a part on the new show. Freddie was beside himself with excitement. As he left the apartment to meet with the producer and his agent at the TV studio, Alan told Freddie he planned on taking him out for his 18th birthday that evening, and hoped to make it a victory celebration as well. When he arrived back at the apartment several hours later, Alan was waiting anxiously for him. But in his hand was a letter from Nat, so Freddie was immediately distracted and said nothing about the meeting. (He had called his mother and father the morning after the Carson show, but other than that he had not heard anything from home until now.)

The envelope, by its shape and size, looked like it could be a birthday card. Freddie forgot all about the audition as he tore into the envelope. Alan sat on the couch and bided his time, smiling vaguely--he knew Freddie would share any career news with him when he got this excitement of out of his system.

Freddie opened the card and found a newspaper clipping along with the birthday greeting. He ignored that and read what Nat had written:

Well, bro, it looks like good things come to those who wait. Happy Birthday. Let me know how it all works out. You slayed them on TV the other night, you know. My man is now big time!

I’m taking great care of the folks for you, but I guess we don’t have to worry anymore. Hope I can see you real soon.



Freddie stared at the cryptic note and wondered what Nat meant by not having to worry anymore. It then dawned on him that the newspaper clipping might hold the answer. Nervously he opened the paper and read the article Nat had circled for him. It was taken from the front page of the Newsday, dated a few days earlier:

Local Mafia Boss’ Son dies in Prison Uprising

Antonio d’ Angelo, son of reputed small time mob boss, Giacomo d’Angelo, died today of knife wounds inflicted by a fellow inmate during a small uprising at Attaca State Penitentiary. Officials at the prison are still unsure what cause the riot in the cell block where d’ Angelo was housed. No one else was hurt and the prison has been on lock down pending an investigation. D’ Angelo was serving a life sentence for the shooting death of his brother in law, Arthur Harris, about a year ago. Services will be announced at a later date.

Freddie walked over to the couch and collapsed in shock. Alan took the clipping from Freddie’s open hand and read the article to himself. "Freddie, isn’t this the husband of your former agent?"

"Yeah," Freddie said in a far away tone. Then snapping back to reality, he jumped up. "Oh my God, Anna! I have to call someone…be right back." Freddie bolted into the bedroom and picked up the phone from the nightstand. He took out his wallet and removed the card Eddie had given him with his work number. His hand shaking, Freddie dialed the long distance number and waited for the receptionist at the precinct to answer. He breathlessly asked for Eddie.

"Sgt. Eddie Holtz speaking. How can I help you?", finally came the familiar line.

"Eddie, it’s Freddie Prinze. I’m sorry I didn’t call you before this. It’s been a zoo out here and I haven’t had a moment to myself."

"FREDDIE!" Eddie shouted into the mouthpiece so loud that Freddie had to move the receiver away from his ear. "Man I have been trying to reach you for two days!"

"I bet. Nat just sent me the clipping from the newspaper. What happened?" Freddie was anxious to hear all the details.

"Well, I don’t know much more than the papers have reported. I guess you got the first accounts. All they have been able to determine was that the death was an inside job---some around the precinct are speculating it was a hit. It is officially listed as an unsolved homicide."

Freddie thought back to Nat and his connections. The way he wrote "Happy Birthday" (which was already printed on the card) in his note--as well as "good things come to those who wait" (when Freddie really hadn’t waited all that long for his break in show business)--made him wonder if Nat hadn’t arranged this. Freddie hoped not. He didn’t want his friend to be in trouble on his account. But the way Eddie made it sound, if it was an arranged hit, no one is in a big hurry to find out who did it and why. I guess the death of a two-bit mobster isn’t a real priority with the cops, thought Freddie.

His thoughts shifted to his main reason for calling Eddie--Anna. "Have you been in contact with Anna?" Freddie asked anxiously.

"Yeah, the day it happened. She wondered if she should come out of hiding for the funeral, but I advised against it. Her condition was sure to cause a riot with the family. I told her it was best to just forget the d’Angelo’s and move on with her life, because now they won’t bother pursuing her. I suggested she make arrangements to come out to see you. She told me she had hoped I would tell her that!" Eddie laughed, then went on, "I gave her my blessing and she is on her way out there now. The thing of it is, we weren’t sure where you were, because you hadn’t contacted me. Anna told me she would call her agent friend when she got out there and he would help her find you. She should be arriving this evening at LAX."

Freddie sat down on the edge of the bed in shock. Alan had come in to check up on his friend when he hadn’t heard anything for a few minutes. Eddie was getting concerned on the other end of the phone as well. "You still there, Freddie?"

Freddie snapped out of it. "Yeah, I’m here. Thanks, Eddie, for everything."

"No problem. Glad to do it. By the way, I caught your act on the television the other night. You’re good, my friend. You have real talent. I bet you will be a star really soon. Good luck…and tell Anna to keep in touch with the old gang every once in a while. Treat her right, my friend. She deserves it after all she has been through."

"Yes, she does…I will. You take care--and thanks again. Bye."

"Good-bye, Freddie."

Freddie hung up the phone. "What’s up, Freddie?," asked Alan.

"That was the cop friend I was telling you about. He told me Anna is on a plane right now on her way out here to see me."

"Great! I guess from this article, the heat is off."

"Looks that way. I can’t believe it! Anna will be here soon, and she doesn’t know where I am staying. Eddie--that’s the cop--told me she would call Charlie when she got out here. He said that she was flying into LAX. I gotta call Charlie and let him know."

Freddie picked up the receiver and dialed his agent’s number. "Charles Lind Talent Agency," said the secretary.

"This is Freddie Prinze. Is Charlie in? It’s important."

"He is in his office, Mr. Prinze. I will connect you."

"Thanks, mami." Freddie waited impatiently for Charlie to answer his phone."Hi, Freddie, what’s up?"

"I need your help. I just found out that Anna is on her way out here to see me, but doesn’t know where I am. She will be calling you." Freddie took a second to catch a breath.

"Whoa, hold on a minute. Slow down. Who told you this?"

Freddie tried to calm his mind so he would make sense. Still, his words came tumbling out, "I got home just now and got a card from a friend from my old neighborhood. In it was a newspaper clipping with an article telling of the death of Anna’s husband in prison. I called the cop who has been working on the case and he told me Anna would be arriving at LAX this evening. I hadn’t gotten a chance to call the cop with my phone number out here, so he told me that Anna would call you and have you help her find me. When she calls, call me. I want to go with you to the airport."

"Sure, sure. No problem, Freddie. Calm down, though. It sounds like you are going to bust a gut."

"Sorry, but you don’t know the whole story. I don’t think I can go into it now, it is a long one. I promise to fill you in later, though. Right now I want to keep your line open for her call." Freddie was out of breath.

"OK, OK. I’ll call you the minute I hear from her. Take it easy, I don’t want my new star keeling over on me."

Freddie laughed as he willed himself to get a grip. "Ok, I promise. Talk to you soon, bye."

"Bye yourself." And Charlie hung up.

"So?" Alan asked in anticipation.

Freddie took a really deep breath and walked quickly out of the bedroom to the kitchen for a glass of water, talking over his shoulder, "He is going to call as soon as Anna calls him. I guess I will have to take a rain check from you on the party."

"HELL NO!", shouted Alan, catching up and slapping Freddie on the back. "We have even more to celebrate now! Your woman is coming to join you and it’s your birthday. What more reason to celebrate?"

"Yeah, you’re right." As Freddie took a swallow of water, he remembered the interview of a few hours ago. Sputtering, he exclaimed, "Wow, man, I completely forgot! I’m gonna star in a TV show! The producer liked what he saw and wants to cast me--I can’t wait to tell Anna!"

"Alllrriiight!" Alan exclaimed and patted Freddie on the back again. "My friend, the TV star…looks like you will be able to afford the rent now!"

Freddie laughed with his friend. "I dunno. I think if all goes the way I hope, Anna and I will be setting up residence, permanently."

Alan looked at Freddie seriously for a minute. "You think that is wise? Freddie, you are only 18. Why do you want to tie yourself down with a woman just as your career is taking off?"

"You don’t understand, man. Anna is more than just a woman. Not many people know this, but she is going to be the mother of my baby."

"Oh," answered Alan. "I guess that changes things a bit. Sorry."

"Don’t be. I love the lady, and things will work out, you’ll see."

"I just hope you know what you are doing, Freddie," said Alan cautiously. You’re young and this is a crazy town. But you know I have your back."

"Thanks, man, I appreciate that," said Freddie gratefully.

Several hours later, Freddie, Alan and Charlie were by gate 6, waiting for Anna’s flight to get in. When the plane landed and the passengers started to disembark, Freddie broke through the crowd and headed up the ramp looking for Anna. When he spotted her, he raced against the stream of people, grabbed her and hugged her, lifting her up off her feet. Kissing her with much passion, he put her down and said, "Mami, you are a sight for these sore eyes. How are you? Are you feeling ok? How’s the baby? Did you have a good flight? I missed you so much, bebe."

Anna smiled at his impetuous greeting. "Slow down, Freddie. I’m fine, the baby’s fine, and I missed you too, bebe."

The crowd started to dissipate as Freddie and Anna walked hand in hand down the walkway to the waiting Charlie and Alan. Freddie introduced her to his two friends, and the foursome headed for the baggage claim to get Anna’s bags. Freddie asked her a thousand questions, until Anna finally told him she was too tired to talk about her ordeal anymore. "Past is past. I think it is best to bury my dead and move on. After all, we both have a lot of future ahead of us. So tell me…how are things out here for you?"

"Always my agent, I see," grinned Freddie. "Did you see the show?"

"You think I would miss it?" Anna kidded, "You were dynamite, but I knew you would be. I was in shock, though, when Carson called you over to the chair. You realize that never happens on a first appearance?"

"I know. I was sooooo nervous."

"Well you didn’t look it, Freddie. You looked so natural sitting there talking to Mr. Carson. You did great. I bet you will be getting lots of phone calls now."

The group had arrived at the limo Charlie had rented for the occasion. Anna was impressed. As they got in and settled, Freddie pulled Anna close to him on the seat and kissed her. "I will be able to afford this all the time for you, bebe. You are right about the phone calls. Charlie got one from a TV producer yesterday. Today I went in for a tryout. You are looking at one of the stars of a new sitcom this fall." Freddie smiled, busting with pride.

"Oh, Freddie, that’s wonderful. I knew you would be a hit out here."

"We are a hit, mami. You are going to be by my side from now on. Let’s fly up to Reno this weekend and get hitched."

Anna got serious for a minute. "Freddie, wait. Look, I want to be by your side as much as you want me to be there. And I know this baby is part of the reason you want to get married so soon. But you know, you are just 18 today. You have so much of your life ahead of you. I’m going to have this baby and keep it. I want you to be a part of his life too. Maybe we should even get a place together…" She paused and sighed heavily, "But let’s wait for a little bit before we make it official. I just found out I am a widow, and even though I have no love lost for Antonio, I think it would be good to get used to being Anna Harris again, before I become Anna Prinze." She pulled a small box out of her purse. "Remember this?"

Freddie took the box from her hands. He knew it contained the ruby friendship ring he had given her for Valentine’s day. He opened the box and took the ring from its velvet bed.

"You gave me that ring and I have kept it, waiting for the day I could wear it. Now I can. Put it on my finger and let’s say it is a pledge of our love--that could lead to marriage when the time is right and we are both ready, OK?"

Freddie wanted Anna so badly at that moment, but in a way he knew she was right. At least she still wanted him to be a part of her life and the life of their child. And maybe she was right about taking things a bit slower. Patience wasn’t something Freddie practiced very well. But so much was happening to him right now, he figured waiting a bit before they got married wouldn’t be such a bad thing. "OK, Anna." He placed the ring on her left ring finger. "Anna Harris, will you be my wife, when the time is right?"

"Yes, my Prinze Charming. And I promise it won’t be too long. Somehow I know things will work out. Now I think we should go someplace and celebrate with your friends. After all, you’re the birthday boy!"

"That’s right! Today I am a MAN! Whooppeeee!" As the limo sped through the traffic of LA on its way to Freddie’s birthday celebration, he snuggled next to Anna, not caring that Charlie and Alan were there to see his affection for the woman he loved. "God," Freddie said in the silence of his heart, "Thank you, man. For everything. Help me to make the most of all the opportunities you have put before me." And he settled back to think about where his life would lead him now.