Loungin with Louie!
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Salvation - By Luckymama

This is a story. It is not intended to point a finger of guilt at anyone involved in the life and death of Freddie Prinze Sr. As the note he left the night he died states, he alone was responsible for the decisions he made. The authors only intent is to tell a story of how it might have been. The characters in the story are based on real people only as it relates to Freddie. The rest are fictional. Those of us who admire the talent of this extraordinary young man were touched and saddened at his death. This is one fans fantasy of how it might have been if he had been helped in time. It is dedicated to the memory of Freddie Prinze, all his legion of loyal fans, and one special fan who has helped me tell this story. Thanks!


by Luckymama

This story is copyrighted by the author. Do not use, reprint, or copy without the author's permission.

Rita Morelli shifted the weight of one of the two bags of groceries she was struggling with so she could push the button of the elevator. As she entered, a tall, thin young man hurried in behind her.

"What floor?", she addressed the man, without much regard for him.

"Seven" , he replied with the same inattention to her.

"That's my floor", Rita thought. "Funny, I never saw him before. Maybe he's just visiting a neighbor." To be perfectly honest, she did not know many of her neighbors. She had only moved to California from New York about two months ago. It hadn't seemed that long ago to Rita. Time had a habit of standing still for her these days. She found her gaze lingering on the young man to get a better look. His eyes were intently focused on the numbers changing as the elevator rose, so he didn't seem to notice her studying his features, assessing them. She figured he was probably Hispanic, at least in part. His dark hair and caramel colored complexion gave that much away. He sported a well trimmed, distinguished looking mustache. His eyes were dark, and she thought she could see dimples on his cheeks as he seemed to be smiling to himself about something with his full rosy lips. He was very handsome, but a paleness in his face seemed to rob him of his true beauty. And he was very thin, too thin to be fashionable, even for Los Angeles. This paleness and thinness seem to jog her thoughts back to memories of a person she was trying very hard to forget. Lucy.

Lucy and Rita met in Kindergarten and had been best friends through high school. They did everything together. When it came time to go to college, both had decided to go to NYU and major in education. They had plans to try and get teaching jobs in the same school after graduation. But that all changed when Brad came into Lucy's life their sophomore year. He was handsome and charming and both girls had liked him immediately. He seemed to gravitate toward Lucy, and that's when she started to change. Rita began to distrust Brad, and later had good reason to feel that way. Lucy thought Rita was just jealous and the best friends drifted apart. Then Lucy really changed. She lost a lot of weight and started skipping classes. Rita found out later that Brad had introduced Lucy to drugs, first marijuana and then cocaine. A year after they met, Brad broke it off. Lucy came back to Rita looking for help. Rita didn't know what to do. She tried to get her into a rehab hospital, but every time Lucy would be released, Brad would be waiting to take her back and get her hooked again. Finally, a month before graduation, Lucy came to Rita's dorm room sick. Really sick this time. Lucy had OD'd on a mixture of cocaine and barbiturates. She died in Rita's arms before Rita had time to get her friend help. Rita could not stand the thought of living in New York after that. When graduation was over, she boarded the first plane that would take her far away from the pain. She had avoided thinking about Lucy for weeks, but that curious young man had caused her to remember. Rita tried to brush back a tear, but was unsuccessful with her arms full of groceries.

She was so lost in thought, she didn't see the elevator floor indicator light stop at her floor or the doors open. She was shaken from her thoughts by the young man.

"Isn't this your floor, miss?"

"Oh, yes it is. How did you know?" Rita was puzzled.

"You only pushed seven when we got in, so I figured we were going the same way." His voice had a hint of a Spanish accent to it, confirming Rita's assessment of his nationality. Rita blushed, wondering if he had caught her staring at him. She thanked him for allowing her to pass by him and exit the elevator first.

Rita walked down the hall, shifting her bags so she could reach her keys. When she arrived at her door, she was still fumbling with the bags. She tried to unlock the door, but one of the bags began to slip from her arms. Before she could react, the man was beside her to catch the falling bag and take the other one from her as well.

"Thank you," Rita said as she opened her door. The young man hesitated as Rita and he stood in her doorway, not sure if he should give her the bags back or take them in for her. She sensed the awkwardness of the moment and realized he was waiting for her to give him direction.

"Would you please take them to the kitchen and put them on the counter?" Rita wasn't sure why she was inviting him in. She guessed it was that he looked so lost just standing there in the doorway. There was something about him that was helping her to let her guard down about him. Being raised in New York City had made her very cautious about strangers, but this man intrigued her.

"You're new to this building, aren't you?" he asked her as he put the bags on the counter.

"Two months," Rita responded.

"I'm only here three months myself. I live down the hall." He turned and started for the door.

"Thanks again for the help...er..."

"My name is Freddie."

"Thank you Freddie. I'm Rita." Freddie turned back around and leaned on the door post.

"That's a nice name. Where are you from? No, let me guess. New York."

"How can you tell?", Rita responded in surprise.

"I can detect a New York accent a mile away. I'm originally from New York myself. Washington Heights. You're from the city area too, but not Manhattan. No, maybe Queens."

"Gee, you're good. As a matter of fact, I'm from Rosedale."

"Nice neighborhood. A little rich for my blood."

"We actually lived on the middle class side of Rosedale. But I went to school with some of the kids from the rich part of town. They usually didn't want to have anything to do with the 'po folk'." Freddie laughed aloud at her small joke. This made her relax all the more in his presence. She wasn't sure why she was sharing all this information with a guy she just met. There was something about his easy going attitude that drew her to him. She was beginning to feel glad she had run into him.

"What brings you to sunny California, if I'm not being too nosy?" Freddie's Spanish accent was very pronounced on the word 'California'. His voice was so soothing and sexy to listen to. It made Rita wish she had taken Spanish instead of French in school. Then she could converse with him in Spanish and listen to him speak to her with those sexy Spanish tones.

Rita was beginning to feel awkward about Freddie standing in her doorway. She thought she should at least invite him in for a soda or something. "After all, he was nice enough to get my bags," she thought to herself, knowing this wasn't the real reason she wanted to invite him in. Aloud she addressed Freddie. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"Sure, what do you have?"

"Come on in and I'll see." Freddie closed the door and followed Rita into the kitchen.

"It looks like I have bottled water, soda, milk, and orange juice."

Freddie made a face. "You don't have anything stronger, do you?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. You mean alcoholic, don't you," Rita was taken aback for a moment. She swore off alcohol after Lucy's death. "No, I don't drink. Is that a problem?" A cloud of sadness came over her face she hoped Freddie wouldn't noticed.

"No, not at all. I did not mean to impose. Water will be fine."

"No imposition." She took a bottle out of the refrigerator and handed it to Freddie. He went into her living room and sat down on her sofa. Rita followed him and dropped down into the big overstuffed rocker.

"You never answered my question." Freddie remarked.

"Which question was that?" Rita answered.

"What brings you to California?"

"I'm a teacher. I have a job at the local elementary school."

"You're a brave lady!" A large smile broke out on Freddie's face. The dimples she thought she saw in the elevator earlier were now very pronounced on his cheeks. His dark eyes seemed to sparkle and dance. "He's really good looking when he smiles," Rita thought. "You don't have to be brave to teach," she answered with a puzzled look on her face.

"Around here you do. There are some tough kids in LA."

"No tougher than in New York City."

"True, you got me there," Freddie laughed. Rita was beginning to be taken in by this charming man. She decided to find out more about him.

"What made you decide to leave New York?"

"Acting, I'm an actor," said Freddie in a matter of fact tone. His face clouded over as he said it. Rita noticed this but did not know why he would look unhappy about his profession. Rita knew that LA was the land of stars, but she never figured she might be entertaining one in her living room.

"I'm not sure I'm familiar with your work," Rita said hesitantly. She did not want to insult him. He didn't look familiar and she only knew his first name.

"I'm in TV," Freddie said. Rita thought he was trying not look too disappointed that she didn't know who he was.

"That explains it then. I haven't owned a TV in four years. I don't have much time to watch it." Rita shifted nervously. She was afraid he would think she was nuts not to own a TV. She never had much time or money for one. She wondered would he be hurt because she didn't know who he was. She was sure big stars liked to be recognized. She decided to ask the obvious question. "What show are you in?"

"It's a sitcom called 'Chico and the Man'."

"I guess you play Chico, am I right?" Rita smiled as she tried to break the tension with a silly question. Freddie got the joke and laughed. It wasn't a polite chuckle but a full resounding laugh that gave Rita the impression that Freddie enjoyed laughter. The twinkle in his eyes seemed to shine brighter than ever. It seemed to her that he was feeling more at ease with her as well.

"You got it," Freddie answered in one of his trademark sayings. Rita smiled, but did not get the reference.

Rita began to study his features again. The laugh had triggered something deep in the recesses of her memory. She was beginning to think that maybe she had seen Freddie before, years ago. He was not as thin then, younger looking as well. The intonations of his Hispanic accent sounded familiar too.

"How long have you been here in LA?", she asked him trying to place where she might know him from.

"About three years." Freddie shifted uncomfortably on the sofa as her eyes scrutinized his face.

"Did you do any acting in New York before you came here?"

"Not professionally, just in school. I did work in comedy clubs at night though."

Rita paused for a long time, thinking hard. Recognition finally set in. "Freddie Pruetzel," she thought. "That's got to be who he is." To Freddie she said, "Is your last name Pruetzel?"


"My friend and I caught your act at the Improv. We went right after we graduated high school. You're a very funny man."

Freddie smiled and relaxed. "Thank you, " he answered. "But my last name is no longer Pruetzel. It's Prinze now. I wanted a stage name." Freddie leaned back and caught a glimpse of the clock on Rita's wall. "Oh my God. I had no idea it was this late. You must excuse me lovely lady, I have an appointment in an hour and I must be going." He rose from the couch and Rita escorted him to the door. At the door, Freddie took Rita's right hand in his and raised it to his full lips. With the gentleness of a butterfly, he kissed the back of her hand. "Hasta luego!, my sweetness."

Rita could not say anything. She had learned that Spanish term from her mentor teacher at school. She knew it meant "Until later." All she could think was would there be a later? She opened the door and looked down the hall. A woman was impatiently knocking on a door several doors down on the other side of the hall. As Freddie moved passed Rita, he saw the woman. "Damn, I 'm late."

"You know her?" Rita asked as she saw the look of recognition come over his face.

"Yea, she's my personal assistant. She's here to pick me up."

"Well, you'd better be going. She looks like she needs you NOW!"

"Adios", said Freddie over his shoulders as he sprinted down the hall toward the waiting figure at his door. Rita admired his lean, muscular form as he ran. She watched him, eyes glued to his body, until he reached his door. Then, reluctantly, she began to retreat inside her apartment.

Rita left her door open slightly to hear Freddie's assistant chide him for being late and ask him where he had been. As she closed the door she felt sorry for stars for the first time in her life. "I guess it's not all the glamour its made out to be," she thought. She also dwelt on the kiss that still lingered on her hand. "He sure was a romantic soul, calling me his sweetness and kissing my hand like those Latin lovers in the movies." Rita had never allowed herself to get close to any man, but she wonder if she could make an exception in Freddie's case. She knew this was probably crazy talk, she hardly knew him. But there was definitely something about him that made her wish she would have the opportunity to get to know him better. "Hasta luego!, Freddie," she whispered to herself.


Rita had a restless night's sleep that night. She dreamed that she was skinny dipping in a mountain pool under a giant waterfall. All of a sudden an equally naked Freddie came up behind her and started kissing her on the back of the neck. As they swam around the pool their passions got the better of them. They made love on a ledge under a small stream coming off the falls. Freddie's gentle caresses touched a part of Rita that she never experience before. They kissed and kissed, their lips and hands covering many parts of their wet bodies, until they quivered with the ultimate expression of their experience. If Rita could see herself as she slept, she would have seen the biggest smile on her face.

After this moment passed, Rita dreamed that Freddie started to climb to the top of the falls. Her dream alter ego begged him not to try diving into the pool. "It is too shallow," she cried as he climbed higher and higher. She swam to the edge of the pool, pleading for Freddie not to jump. Just as he leapt into the air, the water in the pool disappeared exposing the bare jagged rocks below. Rita's dream self screamed. She woke up with a start, drenched in sweat.


The day seemed to crawl by for Rita. She was having a hard time concentrating on the fractions she was trying to teach her fifth grade class to add. All she could think about was the dream. Tired and distracted, she kept making silly errors in calculating. The students, sensing her inattentiveness, began to talk among themselves. Rita didn't even seem to care that her class was getting loud. Rosa Diaz, her mentor who taught in the next room, heard the commotion and opened Rita's classroom door to see what was going on.

"Is everything ok in here?" Rosa asked.

"I'm sorry for the noise," Rita answered. "We're having a little difficulty with these fractions. We'll be fine."

"If everything's ok, I'll talk to you later." Rosa left the room. Rita realized she had better snap out of it. She got the class under control and managed to finish the day without thinking of the disturbing dream again.

Later on when the students were making their way home, Rosa stopped in to see Rita.

"Are you ok today?" Rosa asked Rita.

"Sure, why?"

"You have seemed very distracted all day."

"I didn't have a very good night's sleep last night, that's all." Rita was very uncomfortable sharing the dream with Rosa. They had become fast friends in the two months since Rita started teaching at Oakdale Elementary. Rosa was a huge help and treated her as an equal, not a first year novice. Rita admired her mentor, not just for her teaching ability, but for her caring nature. Rosa was easy to talk to, but Rita wasn't sure she would understand this.

"Something bothering you?" Rosa asked in her sweet, mothering tone. Rita always found this tone hard to resist. She missed her own mother, to whom she could talk about anything, and Rosa reminded her of her mother. She thought maybe she could share some of the dream. She was dying to share with someone.

"Do you believe in premonitions?" Rita ventured to ask.

"Sure, I've had some myself," Rosa shared. " I've had dreams that close relatives have died before they actually did. I bet you think I'm crazy."

" I might have yesterday, but after last night..."

"Please tell me what happened. Maybe I can help," Rosa pleaded gently.

"Ok, only if you don't think I'M crazy." Rita pondered what parts to tell Rosa. She knew she couldn't share the love making part, and she thought she'd better not reveal the true identity of the young man in the dream.

"I'd better start by telling you about this person I met yesterday. He's a guy that lives on my floor in my apartment building. He's the reason for the dream, I think." Rita proceeded to tell Rosa of her encounter with Freddie, making sure to disguise his identity. She did, however, allow herself to give Rosa a detailed description of his handsome, sensual features and beautiful Spanish accent.

"He sounds dreamy. Is he single?"

Rita was taken aback by this question. "I don't know. I think he is. I never thought to ask. He was so friendly, I just assumed he wasn't married."

"Well you never know around LA. Married men try to pick up single women all the time," Rosa observed. "Question is, how does he relate to your premonition? You didn't have a dream about him, did you?" asked Rosa, anticipating Rita's next statement.

"Yes, and it has me spooked."

"The way you described him to me I would have thought it would have been a pleasant dream. You make it sound like a nightmare."

"Well.... parts of the dream were pleasant....." Rita trailed off, momentarily allowing herself to recall the first part of the dream with relish. Snapping back to reality, she continued. "It's the ending that was the nightmare. We were both swimming in a pool of water under a waterfall when all of a sudden, he climbed to the top. I begged him not to jump, but he leapt off. While he descended toward the pool, the water disappeared, leaving jagged rocks. I screamed and woke up. Now I can't get this dream out of my head. What could it mean?"

"Well I'm no expert on dream interpretation," replied Rosa. "I have done some reading on the topic, though. I was intrigued by dreams and their meanings ever since I started having mine."

"Any help you could give me would be appreciated. Maybe it will at least give me some peace of mind so I can function normally again."

A look of deep concentration came over Rosa's face as she tried to recall what she had read. "I think the pool of water and the waterfall could symbolize life. The fact that you and he were swimming there together may mean your lives are joined somehow. His climbing to the top of the waterfall might be a need on his part to be noticed or cry for help if he is in trouble. The fact that the water disappears could mean that he is unaware that his current behavior could lead to his destruction. If he thought that the water would break his fall, he may not realize he is in real danger."

"Might, could, maybe, don't you know anything for sure," Rita snapped, not realizing her frustration was taking on an ugly tone.

"Hey, I told you I'm no expert. I can only venture a guess," Rosa snapped back. "Why are you so uptight?"

"I'm sorry," said Rita in a gentle, penitent tone. "I couldn't go back to sleep after the dream and I guess I'm tired as well puzzled. What you are speculating makes some sense."

"Yea, but it could just be a nightmare with no hidden meaning. Did you consider that?"

"Yes, but it bugged me. I guess that is why I'm trying to find more meaning behind it then is probably there."

"Look, Rita, I have always found that if there is a purpose to a dream or premonition, it will continue to reoccur. It's like God is trying to tell you something. Why don't you wait and see. Try to put it out of your head and give it time."

"You're right. I guess I shouldn't make too much of this. Thanks for listening and trying to help."

"Anytime. That's what I'm here for."

Rosa got up and wished Rita a "Buenos tardes" and departed. Rita packed her things and left for home. It had been a long day and she was beat. She planned a short supper followed by a long, hot bath. She hoped this would put this silly dream business out of her head.


A week went by and Rita had all but forgotten the dream. She did not, however, forget about Freddie. She hadn't seen him since that first encounter, but she had hoped she would run into him again. She kicked herself for not having the opportunity to give him her phone number. She hadn't even gotten to tell him her last name. She tried to call on him, she even went up to his door on several occasions, but could not bring herself to knock. "What if he was just being polite, and had no intention of seeing me again," she thought. "Then I will really look foolish chasing after him." So she went about her life, continuing to hope for another chance meeting.

Rita had gone out and purchased a small TV from the local appliance store the day after she told Rosa about the dream. She had been curious to watch Freddie's show. A few days after she met Freddie, the episode where he meets an old high school crush came on. Rita sat transfixed as she watched Freddie perform. "He's a great actor," she though. "Very funny and sensitive." When she saw Freddie kissing the actress playing the girlfriend, her body became all tingly inside. She could see herself in that actress' place, with Freddie's warm, full, wet, inviting lips next to hers. "What a great kisser he must be," she thought. She had a hard time sleeping that night, but not because the dream reoccurred. She was trying to think of ways she could run into Freddie again.


On a Friday afternoon, a few days later, Rita was in her kitchen debating what she wanted to fix for herself for dinner. She was so lost in thought about this, that she was startled by her telephone ringing. She picked up the receiver and said, "Hello, Morrelli residence."

"So that's how you pronounce your last name," she heard a male, Hispanic voice on the other end reply.

"Is this Freddie," Rita answered, almost in a gasp. His voice on the other end of the phone line was the last voice she expected to hear.

"You got it"

"Hi, long time, no see." It was a phrase Rita was used to using without thinking about it. Now she wished she had thought about it before she blurted it out. How would Freddie take it?

"Yes I know, my sweetness, but I have been unavoidably busy lately. That's not to say I haven't been thinking about you."

Rita melted at the sound of his words. It was like he was making love to her right over the phone. She recovered and replied, "I've thought of you, too. How have you been?"

"I would love to tell you, but not over the phone. I called to see if you have plans for this evening. I know it's Friday so you don't have school in the morning." As he laughed at his joke Rita could almost picture that sweet smile of his.

"As a mater of fact, all I was planning to do was fix myself a little dinner and curl up with a good book. Why?"

"That sounds boring. I have a better offer. How about dinner and dancing?"

Rita's mouth almost dropped to the floor. "He's asking me out on a date!," she thought. She quickly pulled herself together and tried to answer as calmly as possible. "Sounds fun. What time?"

"How long will it take you to get pretty?," he asked with a purr in his voice.

"How's 45 minutes." Rita tried not to sound too anxious, but she was afraid she wasn't succeeding.

"That's fine with me, if that gives you enough time."

"Just enough. I'll be ready."

"45 minutes it is then. Adios."

"Good bye." Rita hung up the phone. "What am I going to wear?," she asked herself as she frantically headed for her bedroom.

Chapter 2

Promptly 45 minutes later, Freddie was knocking on Rita's door. She opened it and Freddie entered. He took one look at her in her short, lavender evening dress, her henna colored hair done up in a French twist, and a light coating of makeup on her pronounced Italian features and exclaimed, "Loooking gooood!"

"Thank you," Rita responded with a blush. "You look very handsome yourself." She was admiring the way his red sweater and tight gray dress pants fit that lean muscular body. In fact, she couldn't help notice that the pants fit so tight, they left very little to her already fertile imagination. She was smiling at this thought when Freddie caught her off guard.

"What are you grinning at?"

This inquiry startled her so much that she really blushed.

"Nothing. Are we ready to go?"

"Absolutely. My chariot awaits, my dear." Freddie had switched into a proper English accent as he waved her out her door.

"Ooh, how charming," she teased as she strolled by him.

Freddie escorted Rita to a fancy French restaurant out in Pasadena. She had been a little apprehensive about the drive to the restaurant. Freddie drove fast, much faster than she would have liked, but she bit her lip and held on to the door handle, hoping he wouldn't notice how nervous she was. They seemed to get there in one piece, though. When they had been seated, Rita began to relax a little. She wanted to savor each moment of tonight's events. She knew this was to be a memorable night, but she would never realized how memorable till much later.

Freddie ordered a glass of wine and she ordered a glass of water with a twist of lemon. " I'm sorry, I forgot you said you don't drink."

"Don't be sorry, and don't deny yourself a drink on my account." Rita looked around her. "This is an elegant place. Have you been here before?"

"Once. I took my mother here for her birthday."

"That's sweet. Does she live here in LA?"

"Just outside of it, actually. I was able to purchase a house for my parents here so I could be closer to them. New York is so far away."

"You're a good son." Rita smiled at him and then it was his turn to blush.

With all this talk about his family, Rita suddenly remembered the question Rosa had posed to her the day she told her about meeting Freddie. Was Freddie married? She would have a hard time enjoying herself tonight if she knew this was never going to lead anywhere. She was a bit of an old fashioned girl. That was her Italian Catholic upbringing. Rita tried to maneuver herself so she could get a closer look at Freddie's ring finger. Not that it was solid evidence of marriage. Many married men never wore rings and Rita suspected that if they did wear one, it would be easily removed while they were out on the prowl. Still she found herself making maneuvers and excuses to examine his left hand. As they ordered dinner and conversed, Freddie finally caught on to what she was trying to do.

"Checking for a ring, I see," he said, coolly.

"I'm sorry. I guess I'm being much too forward."

"Not at all. It's a legitimate enquiry. The answer is yes and no," Freddie said sadly. He gave his left hand to her to examine. His fingers were long and thin, like a concert pianists. Rita realized her own smaller hand would be swallowed up in his larger, more powerful digits. There was a faded indentation where a band once had been. She continued to hold his hand after she had finished. He did not seem to mind.

"I'm not sure what you mean, yes and no."

"It's not a topic I wanted to be thinking of while I was out with you tonight, but I'm in the process of getting a divorce. It wasn't my idea, but that's the breaks." Freddie let his voice trail off. Rita could sense a deep sadness in Freddie. She greatly regretted bringing up such a sore subject on her wonderful evening. Now a cloud hung over it.

"I'm so stupid. I'm too curious for my own good, " Rita chided herself aloud to Freddie.

"No, you have every right to find out if the man you are out with has honorable intentions. Forget it. Let's go back to having fun." Freddie put on a brave smile and kissed the hand that still had a hold of his.

The dinner they had ordered arrived. All through dinner she was very taken in by his charm and wit. She enjoyed listening to him make jokes and then laugh them. He asked about her family and she encouraged him to talk about his parents. He was lively and animated as he spoke of when he was growing up in Washington Heights.

"Washington Heights was like a ghetto suburb, slums with trees. Even the birds were junkies. There were dope addict sparrows that didn't know how to fly, just fall out of trees and bother people saying, 'Tweet, tweet, sucka, give me a quarta'."

He told some very funny stories about the people he grew up with.

"My best friend was this black dude named Nat who played trumpet in the band I was in while we were in high school. Nat was about 6'8", five inches was his hair and three inches was platform shoes. Actually, he was about six foot, six foot one. We would mess with the teachers in our school. A teacher would go, 'Nat, could you spell murder for me.' Nat's response would be, 'No, but I can demonstrate it.' "

Rita found Freddie very entertaining. She could go on listening to him for hours. Only two things seem to distract her attention from his charm. Rita noticed that Freddie didn't eat much. He spent most of his time talking and picking at the food on his plate. She hardly saw a few bites enter his lips. "No wonder he is so thin," she thought to herself. "I wonder if he eats like this all the time." She was a little surprised that she would be so concerned with the man's eating habits. Freddie also seem to drink a lot of wine. She tried not to think about the food and wine as he spoke, concentrating on his witty conversation and sexy good looks.

As they were finishing their meal, Freddie excused himself from the table.

When he returned, a transformation had taken place that Rita noticed immediately. Where he seemed alive and animated before, he became more mellow and subdued. She wondered what could have happened to make such a dramatic transformation in his personality. She started to have an inkling of an idea, but immediately put it out of her head. She did not want to entertain that possibility. He just couldn't be like Lucy.

At that moment the band start to play and Freddie asked Rita to dance. Rita agreed and he swept her out onto the dance floor. Rita was surprised how light he was on his feet. She had not danced with many men before. Her dad had been a great dancer and had taught Rita everything she knew. Freddie was a strong but gentle lead. Rita had no problem following him. They danced to several up tempo numbers when the band broke into 'Unchained Melody'. Freddie, without skipping a beat, drew Rita close to himself. She could feel his well-built frame through his sweater as he tried to draw her closer and closer. He was almost taking the breath from her, trying to get as close as he could to her. She could feel his warm breath on the top of her head, gently wafting her hair. She listened to the steady rhythm of his heart as her head rested on his muscular chest. He lowered his head and placed his full lips next to her ear. He whispered something in Spanish into her ear. She didn't know what he said, but did not want to spoil the moment by asking. Freddie was a good deal taller than Rita, so she really had to reach to put her arms around his neck. This caused him to pull even closer than before. She slowly removed her head from its resting place on his chest and gazed up into his eyes. He, in return, looked down into her contented face. Just as she thought he was going to make a move to kiss her, the song came to an end. Instead of a kiss, Freddie slowly released her from the dancer's embrace. "Damn, so close," she thought to her self.

They danced several more dances, but never got as close as that moment. After a while, Freddie paid the check and the couple exited the restaurant hand in hand. When the valet brought the car around, Freddie handed Rita the keys.

"Do you mind driving, love. I think I've probably had too much to drink." Rita was actually relieved. She hated men who acted all macho and insisted on driving drunk, risking everyone's lives on the road.

"Sure, I'll drive." They got into the car and drove for home. In the car, Rita got up the nerve to ask Freddie what he whispered to her in Spanish when they were dancing.

"I was just admiring your perfume. I said, 'Hueles tan buena!', which means, 'You smell so good!' What is that scent you are wearing?"

"It's called 'An Evening in Paradise'. Do you really like it?" Rita beamed.

"Yes, I love it. It is very appropriately named." Freddie flashed one of his sexiest smiles back at her. Rita was momentarily distracted from her driving and had to swerve to avoid hitting an on coming car.

"Sorry. I guess I'd better keep my eyes on the road!" Rita realized that she should not ask Freddie any more distracting questions. She concentrated on the highway ahead of her and the pair remained silent for the remainder of the trip.

Freddie and Rita entered the building. Only the security guard was around. He acknowledged their presence and bid them a good night. "I hope so," thought Rita. They rang for the elevator and stepped in when the doors opened. All the while they silently held hands. Once in the elevator car, Rita pushed the button for seven. She was lingering on every moment of tonight's festivities, wishing they were not nearing the end. The elevator car started its ascent. Then there was a shaking and a rumbling sound. Rita was nearly knocked off her feet. She fell against Freddie as the car stopped its climb and continued to sway. Rita let out a small shriek. "What's happening?" she cried in fright.

"It feels like an earthquake tremor," Freddie shouted, his voice loud enough to be heard over the din of the rumbling.

"Earthquake!" Rita screamed in fright. She had never experienced an earthquake before. She knew she was in the heart of earthquake country and had even practiced earthquake drills with her students. When she found herself actually in the middle of one, she reacted like a typical east-coaster. She screamed and panicked.

Freddie took her into his arms to steady her. She allowed him to hold her, knowing he was trying to get her to calm down. The lights suddenly went out in the elevator. Then the shaking stopped. A amber emergency light came on, but the car did not move. Rita slowly realized they were stuck. She tried to relax and release herself from Freddie's strong embrace, but as she gazed into his large dark eyes lit by the glow of the amber emergency light, Freddie strengthened his embrace and brought his lips to hers. The kiss started very gently and then grew into an impassioned press of lips and tongues. Rita was swept away. Never in her life had she been kissed with such force and passion. If he had asked her to do anything at that moment, she would have complied, good Italian Catholic upbringing be damned.

Rita noticed that Freddie's hand had found its way to the zipper in the back of her short cocktail dress. He slowly started to run the zipper down, not missing a beat in the passionate kissing. When the zipper was halfway down her back, he gently but firmly disengaged himself from her and turned around, shaking his head.

"I can't do it," he said in almost a whisper.

"Yes you can, yes you can, yes you can," Rita's mind screamed. To Freddie, she asked, "What's wrong?"

"I must be perfectly honest with you. I took you out tonight under false pretenses. I only meant this to be a one night thing, but I can't go through with it." Freddie's voice, still slightly above a whisper, broke with emotion. "You're a sweet lady, so understanding and fun to be with. I've really enjoyed our night together. I just can't bring myself to take advantage of you, even though it would be very easy right now, looking the way you do, all soft, warm, and inviting."

"Take advantage, I'm willing," her brain shouted again. Rita sat down on the padded bench that lined the rear of the elevator car. She could see that he was pouring his heart out to her, so she thought better of pressing him on his offer. The screaming in her head started to subside as her feelings for him took a new direction, as a friend reaching out to another friend in need.

"Why were you needing someone to be with tonight?"

"Do you remember when you were trying to find out if I was married earlier?," Freddie began. Rita cringed on the inside. She wished Rosa had never put that train of though into her head. It was coming back to haunt her and ruin this wonderful evening.

"Yes," Rita choked out.

Freddie took a seat beside her on the bench. Facing her, but looking down at his feet, he continued. "Well, when I told you I was divorced, I wasn't telling you the whole story. You see, my wife had just served me with the divorce papers two days ago. I have spent the last two nights alone, crying my eyes out. I still love her and my baby son. I just woke up this morning deciding I didn't want to spend another night alone, dwelling on my heartache, so I thought of you and figured you would be a lot of fun to be with. I hoped being with you would help me to escape from my misery. I had no intentions of starting a relationship with you, though. I don't think I'm ready for that. Being with you this evening, the way you listened to me, laughed at my jokes, danced with me, even let me start something with you right now, convinced me that you were too special to treat like a whore."

Rita was too taken aback to know what to say. She only hoped her face didn't show the shock that was registering in her head over what he just shared. "A wife and a baby that he obviously cares for," was all she could dwell on. It did make her feel a little cheap to think she was coming on to him. Then she got a grip on her emotions and realized she had done nothing wrong. She started to feel resentful toward the whore remark. "He did start this, after all," she thought. Her gaze rested on his trouble face, his eyes still showing traces of the crying he talked about. "Funny, I never noticed that before now," she mused. Her heart melted toward Freddie once again.

Freddie's hands rested in his lap. Rita took a hold of the long tapered fingers of his right hand and entwined them in her own short, slender ones. She gently lifted his chin with her free hand, feeling the short stubble that was starting to form on his smooth, soft skin. She looked deeply into those dark, expressive eyes of his. "I'm here, if you just want to talk," she said with voice meant to caress his heart.

The elevator car started with a jerk. Rita nearly fell off the bench. Freddie still had a hold of her hand and the muscles in his hand tensed as he steadied her. The car slowly rose and the lights blinked a few times and stayed on. Rita winced in the glare of the bright lights.

"Well they must have gotten it working again," said Freddie. Rita was relieved, but secretly wished they were still stuck. The elevator stopped at the seventh floor and the doors opened with a swoosh. Freddie escorted Rita through the opening and down the hall to her door. At her door, Rita inserted her key in the lock, but before she turned it, she turned to Freddie.

"Would you mind coming in and helping me check out the damage?" Rita had enough recollection of the earthquake to be afraid of what she might be facing.

"Sure, if you would like me to."

Rita realized too late that her request might have sounded like an invitation for something entirely different. She unlocked the door and opened it for Freddie to enter first, hoping he would realize she was sincere with her request for help.

The apartment was cluttered with items scattered all over her floor. The carpeting helped to break the fall of many of her belongings, so very little was actually broken. Freddie started to pick up the things he found scattered at his feet, replacing them where he thought they belonged. "This isn't too bad," he said as he lifted a rather large sculpture of a giraffe and placed it back on the coffee table. "I've been in one tremor that caused more damage than this."

"You've experienced other earthquakes before?", asked Rita. "How do you get used to it? You seem so calm about it."

"It's all a part of living in California, my sweetness," said Freddie, his voice taking on the Spanish accent that had been absent in the elevator conversation.

Rita stopped, holding the lamp she had just picked up. Every time Freddie called her 'his sweetness' it took her breath away. She had to consciously will herself to breathe again. She thought it was so sexy the way he used those lilting Spanish inflections on his term of endearment to her.

They made short work of straightening up the place. When they had finished, Freddie awkwardly turned to the door. "I guess I ought to be going. It's getting late and the excitement of your first earthquake must be exhausting. I'll just say buenos noches."

Rita's heart pounded. She wanted to ask him to stay, to find out more about him, and, dare she admit it, to make love to that fine form that stood before her. But Freddie had been right. The earthquake had frazzled her nerves and she did find herself exhausted by the experience, not only by the quake but the scene on the elevator as well.

"You've got a point. Hasta luego?" Rita couldn't believe she heard herself ask that question.

"Hasta luego! My sweetness," Freddie answered as he headed for the door. As he opened the door, he turned to face Rita, who had followed at his heals. "I do want to see you again. You are easy to talk to. I will call you when I get the first chance. Good night." He reached down and lightly placed his lips on hers. The kiss was gentle and all too brief. He swung around and headed down the hall. With one of those butterfly kisses still lingering on her lips, Rita reluctantly watched him saunter down the hall to his door. Once there, he turned and caught her staring at his gorgeous body. He blew her another kiss and entered his own apartment. She slowly closed her door and went in to get herself ready for bed, again wishing it was not alone.

Chapter 3

The dream Rita had all but forgotten about came back to her that night. This time the first part was much more intense. When Freddie kissed her it was with the passion she had experienced in the elevator earlier that evening. She reveled in the way he touched her neck and hair with those long, graceful fingers. When his hands moved down her torso, stopping at her breasts and belly, she thought he played her just like a fine Spanish guitar. She quivered in her sleep, savoring the moment her dream brought to her that real life denied. She found her hands reaching for his firm, round buttocks and pulling him closer to herself. Again, as in the first dream, they continued this activity to its ultimate, intimate conclusion. On her bed, Rita had her pillow in a strangle hold.

The dream turned to a nightmare as the second scene from the first dream also replayed itself. Rita found herself unable to scream or speak this time. She opened her mouth only to be struck dumb. As Freddie jumped from the top of the waterfall, he fell in slow motion, deepening and prolonging the agony of the moment. As on the first night, Rita woke up screaming, and shaking profusely. She sat bolt upright and forced herself back to reality. Her room was still dark. She looked over at the alarm clock beside her bed. The liquid red digits read 3:30. "It's too early to get up," she thought. "I can't afford to stay awake the rest of the night. Maybe some herbal tea will soothe my nerves and help me go back to sleep." Even as she told herself this, she really didn't believe it. The images of her dream were still to vivid in her brain to allow for any sleep at this point.

Rita got out of her bed and put her robe and slippers on. She went into the bathroom first and then proceeded to her kitchen to put a kettle of water on. The brightness of the kitchen light blinded her momentarily as she switched it on. Filling the kettle, she placed it on the burner and went into the living room to sit and think. She sat down on the couch almost in the exact same spot Freddie had sat the first afternoon he had been there. She knew it was impossible, but she thought she could detect a slight whiff of the cologne he had been wearing last night. "Oh, Freddie," Rita whispered out loud. "Why are you haunting me so?" She was startled out of her reverie by the blast of the whistle from the kettle. She arose and went back into the kitchen. With mechanical movements, she took a mug down from the shelf over her stove and put a chamomile tea bag into it. Carefully, she filled the mug with water and replaced the kettle to its burner. The whistle began to blow again, only fainter and fainter as the burner slowly cooled down. Rita took no notice of these things as she made her way over to her table, with the steaming mug cradled in her hands. She sat and sipped her tea, trying to allow drowsiness to overtake her. She soon realized she was trying too hard. "Sleep doesn't come to those who work at it," she heard herself say as she got up from the table. She decided to try a different approach. If she could only get her mind off of Freddie and that nightmare, maybe she would feel tired enough to fall back to sleep. Curling up on the couch with a blanket, pillow and the book she was currently reading, she settled down and lost herself in the story. It took almost an hour, but at last Rita was able to nod off.

Nine o'clock the next morning, Rita was startled out of her dreamless sleep by a knocking at her door. She drew her robe tightly around her and went to the door. She saw the face of her friend, Rosa, as she gazed through the peephole. Opening the door, she greeted Rosa with a yawn.

"What happened to you. You look terrible," Rosa began as she entered the apartment.

"Thanks a lot," Rita retorted. "I didn't sleep too well last night. What brings you here this morning?"

"I tried calling you several times last night but got no answer. Then the earthquake hit and the phone lines were knocked out. Mine hasn't been fixed yet. I was worried about you, knowing this was your first quake experience. I decided to come over and see how you faired. Ay Dios mio, it seems to have affected you worse than I thought. Are you all right?"

"The quake was quite an experience, let me tell you," replied Rita. "I only wish that was my only trouble last night."

"What happened", inquired Rosa, then getting a good look at the expression on Rita's face she added, "You had another one of those dreams, didn't you?"

"If you mean nightmares, yes, I did."

"Was it exactly the same?"

"Almost, but worse this time."

"Feel like talking about it?", Rosa asked in a soothing but inquisitive tone.

"I guess so," replied Rita, not sounding too convincing. Rosa took a seat on Rita's couch. Rita offered her friend a cup of coffee, and Rosa accepted her offer, but insisted on helping Rita make it.

"You look beat. Let me do it. Relax." Rosa got back up from the sofa and headed for the kitchen. Rita was too tired to fight her friend.

"Let me know if you have trouble finding something," was all she could say as she flopped back down on the couch she had spent the latter part of the evening in. Rosa rejoined her when she had gotten the coffee started.

"You haven't had that dream for two weeks," Rosa remarked. "What do you think triggered the reoccurrence?"

"I've been thinking about that." Rita knew she had to level with Rosa about Freddie. She just didn't know how she would do it. How do you explain falling head over heels with someone you only met two weeks ago and have only seen twice? She couldn't explain it to herself. Would Rosa believe her? "I think it might have to do with the fact that I went out with the guy in the dream last night." Rita tried to say it in a matter of fact tone, but it did not have the desired effect. Rosa caught the importance of this statement and her eyes grew large.

"You had a date with him and you didn't tell me?"

"It was a spur of the moment thing. He just called me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to have dinner and go dancing with him. I wasn't doing anything, so I said yes."

"It must have been some date if it brought about another nightmare."

"No, it wasn't like that," said Rita defensively. "We had a great time. He really is a sweet guy. A real gentleman." Rita recalled how he backed off when they were in the elevator. "He's going through a rough time right now and wanted to go out and try to forget it for a while."

"What kind of rough time. It might have something to do with the meaning behind the dream." Rosa didn't wait for an answer before posing her next question. "Who is this guy anyway?"

Rita knew it was time to spill it. She was almost glad for Rosa's prying questions. She was dying to tell someone about Freddie. "You promise you will believe me?"

"Sure, why, is he that unbelievable?"

"No I guess not. Are you familiar with a TV show called 'Chico and the Man'?"

"Si, I've watched before, why?"

"Do you know one of the stars named Freddie Prinze?" Rita ventured cautiously.

"The Puerto Rican comic. 'Chico'. You mean... Noooo! It's not Freddie Prinze, is it? I thought he was married?" Rosa answered, shocked at what her friend just revealed to her.

"He's married, but maybe not for long. His wife just served him with divorce papers three days ago. That's why he asked me to go out with him. He wanted to put the pain he is feeling behind him for one night." Rita observed the look of disapproval starting to come over Rosa's face. "I didn't know that when he asked me, though. I only found out the reason when we were stuck in the elevator during the earthquake."

Rosa's mouth fell open. "You were stuck in an elevator with him! You didn't do....er.. something.... foolish, did you?" Rita looked down at her feet, too afraid to face Rosa with the truth of her feelings about that.

"No, nothing happened like that, if that's what I think you mean. He did kiss me, though. He's a good kisser," she admitted shyly.

"Ooh, no wonder you had a dream about him. But what I don't understand is why it was a nightmare. Is he in any danger that you know of?"

"Not that I am aware of. And the dream wasn't all a nightmare, for your information. It had some good parts in the beginning."

"Yes, like what?"

Rita finally felt that her friend was getting too inquisitive. She tried to steer around that question with one of her own.

"Are you going to help me figure out this dream?" After all this is why she took a chance telling Rosa about Freddie in the first place.

"I'll try, amiga, but I can't guarantee that I'll have all the answers." Rosa got up to check on the coffee. She came back a few moments later with two cups and handed one to Rita. She sipped her own and continued. "The way I see it, Freddie must be in trouble about something. The divorce might be part of it, but I think that the dream is intense enough that there's more to it than that. People get divorced all the time."

"They have a baby son. I think Freddie loves his son very much and still loves his wife. She is the one who kicked him out, I think. She's the one who served him the divorce papers, at any rate. I get the impression it wasn't Freddie's idea."

"Why did she want to divorce him?"

"I don't know. I never got to ask him. There was a lot I wanted to ask him but then the elevator started working again. Freddie took me back here and helped me straighten up the damage the quake had caused and left as soon as everything was put right. We didn't have much of an opportunity to talk after that. He did say he wanted to see me again. Maybe I'll get a chance to ask him. I hate to pry, though. I felt really guilty trying to find out if he was married like you suggested." Rita remembered how her friend's, and her own, inquisitiveness almost ruined the evening.

Rosa looked at her watch. "I'm glad you are all right, except for this dream problem, that is. Why don't we get together later. I have a doctor's appointment right now." Rosa got up and placed her cup in the sink. She turned to Rita and gave her a big hug. "It will work out just fine. The dream might mean nothing. Freddie sounds like a wonderful guy. Just be careful not to get too involved. A guy going through a divorce can be very unstable. Take care of yourself. You don't want to get in the middle of something ugly between him and his ex."

"You're right as usual. I'll try to stay out of trouble. If you have anymore ideas about my dream, will you call me?"

"Absolutely." Rosa walked to the door and opened it. "Don't worry so much. No guy is worth that much energy worrying about him. Take a nap and I'll call you later."

"Ok, thanks." Rita watched her friend walk down the hall and get into the elevator. As she closed the door, her mind went back over the events of last night. "That's where you are wrong, Rosa," thought Rita. Freddie was worth worrying over.

Another uneventful week went by. Rita was looking forward to the Thanksgiving break, starting the middle of next week. On Friday, all she could do was count the days until school would let out. The students were getting really squirrelly and on her nerves all week. Rosa reassured her that this was normal, getting close to the holidays. Yet, she would be glad for the break. She had her plane tickets for her flight home for weeks now. Her parent's had called last night and told her how much everyone missed her and how they were looking with anticipation to her visit. She had purposely not mentioned Freddie and the dream to them. It had not reoccurred after the second time, and Rita was beginning to believe that Rosa might be right to think it meant nothing. But Rita hadn't seen or heard from Freddie in a week, either. She knew he was busy with the show and his stand-up appearances. She was beginning to think that he was probably working out things with his wife and would forget all about Rita. It made her glad nothing had really happened between them.

Still, she had a hard time getting him out of her mind. He was the finest looking man she had ever seen and she thought a great deal about what it would be like to make love to him. Rita had her key in the lock when she heard her phone start ringing. She quickly got the door opened and dropped her school bag, laden with papers to grade, on the kitchen counter. She breathlessly grabbed the receiver and said, "Morrelli residence."

"Rita, is that you?", came a muddled response in a Hispanic male voice. Rita knew it must be Freddie, but he sounded terrible.

"Freddie, is that you? What's wrong?" Rita thought he sounded like he'd been crying.

"Can I come over, I need to talk to you, now." The petition was more of a command than a request. Rita was a little taken aback by this tone, but she sensed that he was distraught about something and maybe wasn't thinking too straight.

"Sure, I can fix us both some dinner. Have you eaten?" She felt a little uneasy inviting him for dinner when he was obviously upset about something. It was more of a reflexive request than a true invitation.

"Whatever you want. I'm not that hungry, though, so don't go to any trouble."

"Come right over, then. I'll be here."

"Gracias. I'll be right over." A click resounded in Rita's ear. She stared at the receiver in disbelief. He was entering her life once again, in the impulsive way he had the last two times. But Rita figured things were going to be different this time. Freddie definitely did not sound like himself. She replaced the phone on it's hook and went to the door in anticipation of Freddie's knock.

True to his word, he was there right away, with a bottle of wine in his hand. "May I come in," he asked as he stumbled in her door. Rita closed the door and looked at Freddie, wondering if this was the same man who kissed her so passionately just last week. He looked as bad as he sounded over the phone. His eyes were red from the crying he had obviously been doing. His words came out in a slur, not at all like the sultry tones she had been used to hearing from those sexy lips. She tried to take the bottle from him, but he resisted her. "I know you don't drink," he said. "I hoped you wouldn't mind if I brought it for me."

"I guess not. Please sit down." Rita ushered him to her sofa, hoping he wouldn't fall down before he reached it. His gait was very unsteady, not at all like the graceful gentleman she had danced with. It tore Rita up inside to see Freddie like this. She was dying to know what had happened to him to bring on such a dramatic change. She knew that she would have to tread lightly with her questions. She did not want to upset him any more than he was. He sat down and put the bottle on the coffee table in front of him.

"What did you want to talk about?" She figured this was a safe question to start with since he had called her wanting to talk.

"I just got some more bad news today. My wife," he nearly spat out that word, "took little Freddie to her mom's and won't let me see him." He started to weep gently. Rita instinctively got up and retrieved a box of tissues. She offered him one as she sat down next to him, longing to put her arms around him to comfort him. She was afraid how he would take this gesture, so she thought twice about it.

"I'm so sorry to hear that. Why won't she let you see him?" She knew she was treading on thin ice with this question, but curiosity was getting the better of her.

"It's because of the drugs. I've tried to kick them, it's just too hard." Rita gasped.

"So it IS drugs," she thought. She had sensed that he might be using them when she saw how thin and pale he looked, in spite of his good looks. She just would not let herself believe it until now. His lack of appetite at the restaurant and his drinking had been clues she had chosen to ignore, also. Now she was face to face with her greatest fear. She had sworn to herself that after her experience with Lucy, she would never allow herself to get close to anyone with a drug problem again. Yet, here was Freddie, the biggest love of her life, a drug addict. She couldn't turn her back on him. She did not want to. He meant so much to her. What was she going to do?

Rita realized no one had spoken for several minutes. She shifted uncomfortably, trying to think of what to say. She finally got up her nerve and asked him what he planned to do about his situation.

"I don't know what I can do. She holds all the cards. I think she want's everything I have, everything I have worked so hard for." There was bitterness in his voice. He broke down once again. Rita took the biggest chance she had since Freddie walked in her door. She put her arms around him and held him.

"Maybe she just doesn't appreciate all you have done for her." Freddie did not respond to Rita's remark but seem to respond to her touch. He laid his head on her shoulder and shuddered as he quietly sobbed. Rita let the silence overtake them once more, not wishing to break it this time. After several minutes, Freddie lifted his head and looked Rita square in the eyes.

Even through the redness and the tear stains, his eyes were soulfully piercing her heart. She responded by planting a kiss on his wet lips. He started to kiss her back, but stopped abruptly. Rita looked puzzled as he backed away from her.

"I just don't feel right taking advantage of you like this. You've been so sweet and understanding. I've got problems that you shouldn't be worrying about. It's my life, I have to take responsibility for messing it up. But I don't want the responsibility for messing up yours in the process." Rita took a deep breath, carefully choosing the next words she wanted to tell Freddie. She wanted him to understand how she felt about him.

"Freddie, I want to be here for you, but you are going to have to trust me." She decided to go for broke and tell him everything. "Ever since the day we met in the elevator, I've had a dream about you that has haunted me. You are jumping from a high ledge onto jagged rocks. I haven't been able to help you in the dream. I did not believe that the dream meant anything, but after what you have told me, I'm not so sure. I also need to tell you about my best friend, Lucy. She got mixed up in drugs and died in my arms from an overdose. I ran away from New York to get away from the pain. I couldn't help her, but if you are in trouble maybe I can help you. Please let me try."

Freddie started to put his long arms around her, as the tears started to well up in her own eyes. "This is great," Rita thought, chiding herself. "He came to me for comfort and now he is trying to comfort me." Rita let him hug her for a brief time before gently backing away from his embrace. "I wanted to help you, not have you worry about me." Freddie smiled the first smile Rita had seen from him all evening.

"But you have helped me, my sweetness. You have made me feel like I'm not the only one who has problems. You even want to help me in your dreams. What more could a guy want. I guess that's why I love you so much. You are like an angel to me. Maybe God sent you to be my Angel de la guarda-- my Guardian Angel." Now it was Rita's turn to smile. She could hardly contain her joy when she heard Freddie declare his love for her, calling her his guardian angel.

"I have never been called that before. That's a big responsibility. But since I love you, I would be willing to take the job." "It would be a big responsibility in my case," Freddie actually laughed at this remark. He started to look more like the sensuous man she had first fallen in love with. His problems pushed themselves to the back of her mind, and against her better judgment to get further involved with a married man and a drug user, she reached out to him again to kiss him.

This time, Freddie responded with intensity and did not try to discourage her. Rita could feel his openness to her advances and continued to kiss him with a passion she had been longing to for ages. His long, firm tongue found its way into her waiting mouth. As their tongues intertwined, Freddie started to glide his hands up and down her spine. She responded by running her fingers through his soft, thick, black hair. He reached around and began gently rubbing the front of her shirt, making long sweeps back and forth between her breasts, stopping briefly at each one as if to locate her quickly hardening nipples.

Suddenly, Freddie got up from the sofa and picked Rita up, not breaking the impassioned kiss that kept them locked together as one. He carried her to her bedroom and gently placed her on the bed, finally bringing the kiss to an end for now. He removed his shirt, exposing his thin but muscular chest. As he flung this on the floor next to the bed he took his place beside her. A wave of doubt came over Rita as Freddie cuddled up close to her. Should she reveal to him that she had never been with a man before? She was afraid that if she did, he would get chivalrous again and stop. But she knew she had gone too far now to want that to happen. She decided she needed to convince him that she was not a novice. This wasn't really hard as Freddie started to caress her neck and face with his sensual fingers. All the pent up sexual tension that had been building in Rita the past few weeks exploded in her. She reached for his chest, rubbing its smooth muscular contours. She lingered on the hardness of his nipples, caressing them with her fingers. She then moved her head to his chest and took his right nipple in her mouth, nursing on it like a hungry child. This sent Freddie's body into alternating waves of tension and release. "Esto me siento maravilloso--that feels wonderful." She gradually released her mouth from his chest as her hands continued their way down his hard body, undoing the front of his pants and slipping them down his legs. He kicked them off with a jerk. His red bikini underwear hugged his body so tight, Rita though she could see right through them. She knew at that moment he wanted her as much a she wanted him.

As if to echo the thoughts in her head, Freddie whispered into Rita's ear, "Te deseo."

"What does that mean?", she asked him in short, breathless spurts.

"I want you", he replied as breathlessly as she had asked him. She slid her hands around to his firm buttocks and squeezed them, then slid his underwear down to his knees. Freddie saw her admiring look at what was revealed and encouraged her to take it into her small hand. Freddie responded to her caresses and squeezing by lifting her shirt over her head and effortlessly undoing her bra. His moist lips and tongue started at her mouth in a brief kiss and slowly made their way down her torso, stopping at her breasts for a lingering taste. This made Rita shiver with ecstasy, feeling the need to kiss him again. She loosened her hold on him and placed her hands delicately on either side of Freddie's head, slowly raising it back to her own. Rita placed her tongue inside his welcoming mouth. Freddie reacted to this move by guiding it in with his own tongue, as if to swallow it. As he was engaged in this, his hands slowly moved down her body and opened the front of her pants, slipping his fingers under her silky underwear and down between her legs. As the first finger found its way to her most vulnerable spot, Rita loosened her mouth from his, gasping in rapture for a breath. With his mouth free, Freddie resumed his way back to her breasts, taking one, and then the other into his mouth. He gently caressed each nipple with his teeth and tongue, careful not to be too rough with them, all the while continuing to massage her with his fingers, causing her to gently rock back and forth. His mouth then made its way down further, stopping at her navel, as if to take a sensual drink from its deep well. It was like his long tongue was made to fit her navel perfectly. At this point Freddie removed his hand slowly from between her legs and, grabbing the sides of her pants, slid them off her legs.

He tried to continue to move his mouth down below her navel, when Rita startled him by making her body as rigid as a board. "Que pasa, my sweetness?"

"I'm not sure...I mean, I never....I..." Rita struggled to find the right words to tell Freddie that he had finally tried to do something that made her feel uncomfortable without giving away the fact that she was a virgin. Freddie gently slid his body up so that he was once again face to face with Rita.

He kissed her delicately on the lips and whispered, "This is your first time, isn't it?" Rita could not help but be taken off guard by this revelation that her secret was known to him.

"Was I that obvious?" she whispered back, trying with every part of her being not to break the mood.

"Not at first, mi amor." He kissed her again, a little harder this time as if to reassure her. "But why didn't you tell me?"

"I wanted you to .... to...."

Freddie had begun to caress her neck and ears with his kisses. It made it hard for her to think, let alone speak. He stopped briefly several times, long enough to murmur, "I knew you wanted me", and "Te deseo-- I want you, too", then "Lo siento--I'm sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable. I promise I'll be gentle." Finally he looked her in the eyes longingly and asked, "Will you trust me as you asked me to trust you? "

"Yes", was all Rita could get her voice to utter. Freddie started caressing her breasts again with his fingers and tongue. She was now ready to have Freddie take her to places she had longed to go with him since the first time she set her eyes on his beautiful face. His mouth once again began kissing her body, traveling down it's length slowly, stopping for another drink at her navel. He then tried a second time to kiss her further down. This time she did not resist, but encouraged him by placing her hands alongside his head and guiding him to the place he wanted to be. Rita could not believe anything in the world could feel this good, as she undulated back and forth to every move of his tongue and lips. When she thought she would not be able to control herself any longer, Freddie moved back up her body and laid on top of her. He moved himself into the best position, but as he tried to enter her, Rita stiffened up again and let out a little yelp of pain.

"Lo siento, mi amor. Am I hurting you?"

"It is a little painful. I did not realize it would be."

"We could try this a different way, if you wish."

"Maybe that would be better. What do you have in mind?"

Freddie rolled off of Rita and laid beside her on his back. "Why don't you try getting on top of me?"

"All right," said Rita, not exactly sure what Freddie had in mind. "You'll have to help me."

Freddie assisted her into a straddling position over him and guided her down so he could slide himself inside her. As she felt his firmness, there was only a slight, momentary discomfort followed by a sensation she could not put into words, even in her mind. She found herself enjoying the view of Freddie's handsome face from this position. His long black hair framed his head upon the pillow. His lips were pursed in an O as his breathing became rapid and deep, wafting her face in hot waves. His eyes rolled open and closed as she instinctively moved up and down on him with the aid of his warm hands caressing her buttocks. As the pace of her movements increased, Freddie's face contorted into an expression she found hard to read. She wasn't sure if he was finding this pleasurable or painful.

"Am I hurting you, mi amor?" Freddie looked little surprised when she spoke to him in Spanish. He answered her in kind.

"No, muy maravilloso, my sweetness." Rita remembered him saying something similar earlier and did not ask him to translate at this intense moment. She knew he meant he was enjoying this as much as she was. Finally, her body exploded in waves of joy she never though she would ever experience. She could tell Freddie was sharing this as deeply as she was, as she felt the throbbing deep inside her. She wished this moment could be suspended in time and space as they shared this oneness between them. But the passion slowly subsided. Rita carefully shifted her weight off of Freddie and laid down beside him, exhausted, but very happy. She smiled at him and cuddled next to him in a post connubial embrace. It was in this embrace, that they allowed Morpheus to overtake them.

Rita woke up, suddenly, several hours later. She had the nightmare again. Only this time there was no pleasure before the pain. The dream started with her climbing the waterfall to reach Freddie. As she came in sight of the top ledge, he fell forward and she watched in horror as he passed her on his way down to the rocks below. Freddie stirred beside her. She tried not to wake him as she got out of the bed and put on her robe that she always kept by her bedside. She looked at her clock and discovered it was the middle of the night. She entered her bathroom and splashed cold water on her face. She looked at the person staring back at her in the bathroom mirror. She found herself arguing with her alter ego.

"I told you that this dream means something," remarked the reflection, representing Rita's rational side.

"How can it," asked Rita's emotional self, "after what happened between us tonight? Things can only get better, now that he has me in his life."

Rita's rational self wasn't convinced. "How do you know that things will get better. After all, the dreams are getting worse. His problems may be bigger than you think. And your involvement in them might make things worse for him. You might be a complication his life cannot handle right now." Rita's rational side was winning the argument.

"This dream is driving me crazy," thought Rita. "Now it has me talking to myself. I've got to get a grip." She splashed some more water on her face, and returned to the bedroom. She tried to quietly slip back into the bed so she wouldn't wake Freddie, but was unsuccessful in her attempt.

Freddie rolled over to face her. Seeing the worry lines the dream left imprinted on her face, he asked her what was the matter. "Que pasa, mi amor?"

"Do you remember those dreams I was having about you?"

"Si, why, you didn't have another one, did you?"

"Yes and this time it was worse." Rita started to shiver. Freddie put his arms around her.

"It was only a dream, my passionate angel. Don't be afraid for me. You are already my salvation, just being here with me tonight." He reached for her lips and kissed her tenderly. Rita started to cry, not even knowing why. "Ay, my sweetness, please don't cry." Freddie held her very close, cradling her head in his large, comforting hands. "It will all work out, you will see. I would not do anything to hurt you, especially after the gift you gave me tonight."

Rita broke from his embrace and looked at him with a very puzzled expression. "What gift did I give you?"

"The greatest gift a woman can give a man, the flower of her virginity. I would be the lowest, vilest creature on this planet if I were do anything to crush that flower." Rita could not say anything in return. All she could do in response to this revelation of Freddie's love for her is to put her arms around his neck and kiss him. "Your kiss still tastes like those tears. Allow me to dry your eyes."

Freddie kissed her eyes first and continued with the rest of her face until it was wet from kisses and not tears. When he had finished, Rita looked directly into those dark, loving eyes, getting lost in their depth.

"Freddie, when I look into your eyes, how can I not believe that everything will be all right." She smiled at him. He smiled an immense smile back at her.

"That's what I like to see, my angel smiling at me. Now show me how much you love me again." And Rita had no hesitations this time showing him.

Chapter 4

Morning came too soon for Rita's liking. She enjoyed Freddie lying next to her, cuddling and caressing her. As the first rays of the sun signaled the dawn of the new day, Freddie stretched and yawned, kissed Rita gently on the lips and rose from the bed in search of his clothing that had been so carelessly tossed on the floor the night before. Rita sat up in the bed and watched him get dressed, longing to undress him again. Freddie caught her studying him in the reflection of the mirror that hung over her dresser.

"Que pasa? What do you want, as if I couldn't tell by the way you are undressing me with those big brown Italian eyes?" Rita blushed but continued to admire the man standing before her, the man she had made her own the night before.

"When will I see you again?"

"Soon, mi amor, very soon. I could not bear to be apart from you for very long." Freddie sat down beside her on the bed. "How would you like to spend Thanksgiving with me? I could spend Wednesday night here and then we could go to my mom's for dinner on Thursday. Whadda say?"

"Oh, Freddie, I would LOVE to, but I already have holiday plans. Wednesday after school I catch the first flight to New York to spend Thanksgiving with my folks. I haven't seen them since June, and they are looking forward to a visit from me." Rita could see the crest-fallen look on Freddie's face. The look only mirrored the disappointment on her own face. Suddenly Freddie's face brightened as he got an idea.

"Why don't I join you. I would love to visit the old neighborhood. And I would get to meet your parents. Do you think they would mind me coming for dinner?"

"What about your mom, won't she disappointed if you don't spend Thanksgiving with her?" Rita said. "Besides, I haven't told my parents about you, and I'm not sure I'm ready to share you with anyone just yet!"

"Why? Aren't you happy about our relationship?" Freddie's face fell once again as anger started to rise in his voice. Rita knew she'd better explain and quickly.

"It's not you, my lover, that is the problem. It's my parents. They are very old school and would grill you with a million questions. In my father's eyes, no man is good enough for his little girl. I need time to tell them about you and get them used to the idea that you are in my life."

"The protective Papa. I understand completely. If you were my little girl, I'd keep a close eye on you too!" Freddie grinned and then broke out in laughter as Rita hit him with her pillow. "Ooh, my flower has thorns!" Freddie picked up the other pillow and playfully hit her back, starting a pillow fight. After both of them were out of breath from the exertion and the laughter, they threw the pillows down and "kissed and made up". Freddie was the first to break this last embrace. "I really need to go, mi amor. I have an appointment with my lawyers this morning."

"The divorce?", Rita ventured, wincing.

"No, this is another lawsuit with a former manager. He would not release me from a contract I stupidly signed when I was naive about this business. He's suing me and I'm fighting it. People in this business are only out to get what they can from you. They suck you dry and leave you for dead."

"That sounds like a very cynical assessment of the entertainment industry."

"Well it's the way it is out here. Some days I wonder if it is all worth it. Then I think that maybe it will be worth it if I can get to do the kinds of things I want to do."


"Like make movies. That's what I'm holding out for." Freddie glanced at Rita's alarm clock by the bed. "I really do have to go. I will call when you get back from New York."

"Freddie, wait a minute, I need to ask you a favor before you go."

"For you I would lay down and die if you asked me to."

Rita's breath caught in her throat. Freddie realized the unfortunate choice of words and profusely apologized.

"Lo siento, I'm so sorry. I guess after the dreams you are having that would be the last thing you would want me to do." Rita wordlessly nodded her head. "Forgive me for being an insensitive burro. What do you want me to do? Name it and it's yours!"

Rita found her voice and said, "You told me last night that your wife would not let you see your son because of your drug problem. I hate to bring up a sore subject, but I have to know. Do you have a drug problem?"

"I cannot lie to you mi amor, yes I do." Freddie could not look her in the eyes when he finally admitted his problem. Rita got the impression he had been deluding himself that his drug use was not really a problem, that he could handle it. Lucy used to tell her the same thing, even up to the day she died. She then ventured to ask him to do something for her that she knew would be the hardest thing he would ever do.

"I need you to give me a gift in return for the gift I gave you last night. Promise me you'll stay away from the drugs while I'm away."

"A gift of sobriety for the gift of virginity," mused Freddie. "That seems like a fair trade, but you know that won't be easy for me."

"Probably no easier than it was to give myself to you last night."

"You mean it was not easy?" Freddie looked hurt.

"It was the easiest thing and the hardest thing all at the same time. The point is, I gave you myself because I love you and all I am asking is that if you feel the same for me, you will try to stay sober for 8 days. I'll be back Sunday night, a week from tomorrow. I'll be here for you then. I'm just afraid for you while I'm not here to be your Angel de la guarda!"

"I can't refuse you when you put it that way, my sweetness." Freddie put his right hand in the air and his left hand over his heart. "I, Freddie Prinze, do solemnly swear on the heart that loves Rita Morelli, that I will try with all my being to honor her request and remain sober while she is gone."

"Thank you. That is the greatest gift a man has ever given a woman, his solemn promise. I accept it gladly." She kissed him.

"Now I really have to go. I will count the minutes while you are gone."

"I don't leave until Wednesday?"

"Yes, but I'll be busy with engagements and the show between now and then. I wish I could spend every day, every moment with you. Maybe someday that will be possible. Until then, Hasta luego! Don't get up, I'll let myself out." He blew Rita one last kiss as he walked through the bedroom door. Moments later, Rita heard her front door close. She laid back down on the bed and mulled over the events of the past 12 hours again and again until she fell back to sleep for a mid-morning nap. After the wonderful events of last night and this morning, the rest of Saturday turned out to be downright boring.

Rita finally got out of bed around noon, after indulging herself in a morning lying around thinking about nothing but Freddie. She fixed herself something to eat and spent the rest of the afternoon grading papers and getting her schoolwork caught up. She had a lot of prep work to do for the next week, so she kept busy all afternoon. After fixing herself some dinner and cleaning up the apartment, she settled down to watch some TV. After a half-hour of flipping channels and finding nothing interesting on, she shut the set off and got out her journal. The journal was one she had started when she moved to California in June. She had kept one in high school and gotten away from it in her college years. She wanted to get back to writing. She always felt she had a better handle on her life when she wrote down her thoughts. She addressed her reflections in the form of a conversation with her 'Gran'.

Rita's grandmother passed away when she was in the 8th grade. She had a special relationship with her, and always told her things she was afraid to tell anyone else. She knew her Gran was looking down on her from heaven, helping her with her problems.

"Dear Gran," Rita started to write, "I have lots to tell you since I wrote to you last. You remember that nice young man I wrote to you about? He told me he loves me. And Gran, I knew it before he even said it. The way he kept looking at me with those big, dark, expressive eyes, I knew he felt the same about me the way I felt about him. He is so sensitive and caring. He came to me last night, all upset about what his wife is doing to him. Gran, you would not believe what that woman is putting that poor soul through. Keeping him from his baby. How cruel can one person be. He told me that she was doing it because he has a drug problem, but I don't think it can be as bad as all that. He admitted to me he has a problem, but he promised he would clean up his act for me. FOR ME! I know he really loves me. Last night he proved it to me too. He made love to me. My first time with a man and it was with this Adonis of manhood! How lucky can woman get! I know my parents and the church would not approve, being we're not married, but Gran, it was so beautiful it couldn't be wrong. I never thought sex could be such a spiritual experience. I felt like we were two angels in heaven! I know I probably sound blasphemous, but I can't help it. God created sex, didn't He! He was the one who made it so pleasurable, so I just reveled in the pleasure of one of His most perfect creations, Freddie. Maybe I'll burn for it, but I can't believe that. Maybe the church is wrong, I don't know. The church didn't have the answers when Lucy died from the overdose either. That's why I stopped going. "That reminds, Gran, my new best friend Rosa invited me to her church tomorrow. She goes to a little Catholic church in the Barrio. The mass is said in Spanish, but since I know all the prayers in English, it shouldn't be too bad. I told her I would go, but after what happened last night, I wish I hadn't promised her I would. If the church says what Freddie and I did last night is a mortal sin, then I guess I would feel guilty going to church. I know I couldn't receive communion. I have enough fear of what the nuns drilled into my head for 12 years to risk the wrath of God receiving communion with a mortal sin on my soul. I would go to confession, but I know that you need to feel sorry for what you did, and I don't. If the situation were repeated, I would do it again, in a heartbeat. I wonder what Rosa will say when she notices I don't go up to receive. I guess I could tell her that it's because I haven't been to Mass in 6 months and that's a sin too. That's a good idea. I don't know if I'm ready to let her know the truth about Freddie and me yet. I'm not sure if I can share it with anyone but you yet. I know I'll have to tell mom and dad about him when I go for my Thanksgiving visit. I just won't go into that kind of detail. Rosa is a different story. She has a way of getting me to share things with her that I never thought I would. I don't think she would approve. Not just because of the premarital issue, but because he is still married and takes drugs. She is convinced that my dreams mean something, but I'm still not sure. "That reminds me of something else, Gran. I had another dream last night. But this time it was different. There was no love making in the beginning. Maybe that's because I finally experienced that part for real! And it was better than any dream! The dream started with me climbing the waterfall after Freddie and missing the chance to save him by inches. If Rosa is right that the dream does mean something, maybe it means I'm close to helping Freddie. I know I can! This time it won't be like Lucy! I will succeed this time! He loves me, I can't let him down. And maybe when all his problems are solved, we can get married and really be with each other forever. Wouldn't that be heaven, Gran! To have the man you love by your side, helping and loving you through every day! Was that how it was with you and Gramps? I barely remember him, he died when I was so young, but the way you used to talk about him, I know you understand the way I feel about Freddie. I have to go Gran. I promise I'll talk to you again real soon. Say hi to Lucy for me. I know she's up in heaven with you. God would not be that cruel to her after what she went through. I love you."

Rita closed her journal and placed it back n the shelf where she kept it. She saw it was going on 10:00 so she decided to call it a day. She wanted to be well rested for her date with Rosa. She would have to think long and hard what she would tell Rosa tomorrow.


Rosa met Rita outside Rita's building at 8 am. Rita was nervous and almost called Rosa several times to cancel but could not bring herself to do it. Rosa would be hurt, and Rita could not come up with a good excuse without telling Rosa the truth. So she pasted a smile on her face and hoped for the best.

"You look nice today," Rosa remarked as Rita got in Rosa's car. "Is that a new dress?"

"Yes, I bought it last week." Rita actually bought it to wear to school but did not have an opportunity to wear it before this. She hoped Rosa would see that she was making an effort with this church thing, so Rosa wouldn't notice how much she didn't want to be there.

"I hope you will enjoy the Mass. Father Juan Perez is a great homilist. He gives his sermon in Spanish, of course, but he also distributed an English version for his English-speaking congregation. Our church is attracting quite a mixed congregation, these days. I think it's because Father Perez is such a good speaker, but I also know it's because we are such a friendly church. I think you'll like it."

"It sounds like a great place." Rita knew she lied, but she did not want to hurt her friend's feelings. "A friendly church," thought Rita sarcastically, "that's just what I need right now!"

Rosa rambled on about the people she wanted to introduce to Rita the rest of the car ride. Rita just nodded and smiled, not knowing what to say and dreading this more and more each mile. Was it just because she still struggled with church after Lucy's death, or was she starting to feel a little guilty about Freddie and her? The pair of women entered a quaint, old Spanish mission style church.

The walls were stucco with pictures of the saints on them. A beautiful statue of Our Lady of Guadeloupe giving Juan Diego the tilma with her picture and the Castile roses in it, dominated the left side of the altar. A more traditional statue of St. Joseph with the child Jesus in his arms stood on the right side of the altar. Behind the altar was the largest crucifix Rita had ever laid eyes on. The corpus was like no other she had ever seen. It was almost gruesome in it's depiction of the crucified Christ. Its eyes seem to pierce right through her soul. She wanted to turn away, disturbed by the image, but something kept her eyes glued to its eyes. Rosa had to nudge her as she tried to introduce her to a friend.

"Are you ok?" Rosa asked Rita. She noticed Rita staring at the crucifix and understood.

"It's different, isn't it?" Rita just nodded. "I didn't care for it when I first started coming here. It's almost too realistic. But it sort of grows on you after a while." Rita didn't know how to answer her friend

"I don't think I could ever let that grow on me," Rita thought. After many introductions to people whose names Rita knew she would never remember, they found a seat in a pew near the middle of the sanctuary. Rita felt a little uncomfortable sitting so close to the front, but at least Rosa had not suggested they sit right up front. The congregation rose and started the first hymn. It sounded familiar to Rita, who had sung in her church's youth choir when she was growing up. This congregation sung it in Spanish, so Rita just hummed the tune while the English version ran through her head. "Praise God from whom all blessings flow.... Praise Him all creatures here below..."

The Mass started and Rita found she could recite the English versions of the prayers in her head as the rest of the people said them in Spanish. She was beginning to enjoy listening to the familiar prayers in that unfamiliar language. When it came time for Father Perez to read the gospel and give his homily, Rita read the words in English from her paper, but her mind wandered to Freddie. Hearing all that Spanish only made her long to learn Spanish and be able to converse with Freddie in his most sensuous language. She knew it was probably wrong to have such carnal thoughts in church, but she didn't care, some how. She was so lost in thoughts about Freddie, she was startled when everyone stood for the Creed.

Her eyes locked themselves back on the eyes of Jesus on that cross. She felt so small and guiltt at that point, all she wanted to do was bolt from the church. She did not want to cause a scene, so she was relieved when the congregation started another hymn. It took her eyes off that statue and put her mind on singing. The rest of the service dragged on. At communion time, when Rita made no move to go up, she could see Rosa's questioning eyes scrutinizing her. Rita avoided Rosa's gaze as she let Rosa get out of the pew around her.

After the Mass was over there were more introductions. Rosa led Rita up to meet Fr. Perez. In very broken English, Fr. Perez greeted Rita and asked her how she liked the service. Rita very politely said she enjoyed it and thought his notes in English were very helpful. She hoped adding a white lie to her growing list of sins would not completely condemn her. The crucifix's image had forged itself in her brain. She wondered if it would ever fade. Little did she guess it was her own growing guilt that was keeping it there. She would have to deal with that before she would be able to purge it from her mind.

Rosa took Rita to a little Mexican restaurant around the corner from the church for lunch. The place was crowded with members from the church as well as other Sunday patrons. The waitress, a teenage Hispanic girl with a sweet face, led Rosa and Rita to a booth near the back. It was private enough that Rita started to relax.

"I hope you like the food here. The owner is also the head cook. He cooks only authentic Mexican dishes, not that Mexican-American stuff other restaurants pass off as Mexican."

"I'm sure I'll love it. I always like trying new foods." Rita was thinking that maybe she could get some recipes from Rosa, whom she knew to be a wonderful cook herself, to make for Freddie some night. Maybe that would entice him to eat more. She also wanted to ask Rosa about Spanish lessons. "Rosa, do you think you could teach me how to speak Spanish?"

"Sure, amiga. Why do you want to learn?"

"I think it would be a help in my teaching to know what my students say behind my back," Rita joked. They both laughed. Rita had anticipated this question and was glad to have a ready answer waiting. She hoped it would fool Rosa. It didn't.

"That's cute, but that's not the real reason, is it?", said Rosa. Rita should have known she couldn't put one over on Rosa.

"You are getting to know me too well, Rosa Diaz. You are right. I would like to understand Freddie when he tells me such sweet things in Spanish without having to ask him to translate everything."

"What kinds of things does he tell you," inquired Rosa.

"You know, terms of endearment and things like that," answered Rita evasively.

"Have you seen him since the night of the earthquake?" Rosa asked, changing the topic. Rita was glad of it, but this topic wasn't any easier to talk about. She didn't want to lie to her friend.

"Maybe it was time to level with Rosa", she thought. "Maybe she can help me with all of these conflicting thoughts." Rita took a deep breath and began. "Yes, I have. He came over Friday night, very upset. His wife had just gotten a court order keeping Freddie from seeing his son."

"That's terrible, but these things happen in divorces. Did he tell you why she did it?"

"Something about his drug use." Rita knew Rosa would not let this one get by the moment she said it. She was right.

"Did he admit he was a drug addict?"

"Yes, later he did admit he has a problem with drugs. But he promised me he would stay away from them while I was in New York."

"What made him make a promise like that?"

"Well, he was very upset when he came over to talk to me that night..." Rita trailed off.

Rosa would not her get off that easy. "You did not answer my question. I get that he was upset. Just how long was Freddie at your place?" Rita knew she was in for it now.

"All night," she answered shyly. "All night as in you talked all night, or .... wait..... you didn't..... did you?" Rosa's face contorted with a look that was a mixture of shock and disapproval.

"So what if we did. We're both consenting adults." Rita's voice took on a quality of indignation, but she didn't believe for a minute that Rosa would buy it.

"Do you know how dangerous that can be?"

"What do you mean 'dangerous'? Freddie is anything but dangerous. He's more like a lonely young man whose life is coming down around him right now. I was just trying to help him feel wanted and needed. If he has love in his life, maybe he won't need the drugs."

"That's it then. You think making love to a guy will cause him to change his ways. I hate to burst your bubble, Rita, but that only happens in books and the movies. Freddie sounds like he has real problems, and lovemaking is not a solution. In fact, getting involved sexually with you could make more problems for him. You too, for that matter."

"I don't know what you mean," said Rita curtly. But she knew exactly what Rosa meant. And if she didn't, Rosa was prepared to tell her.

"Have you thought about getting pregnant? You did protect yourselves, didn't you?"

"It happened so spur of the moment..."

"So you didn't. Listen, Rita, wake up! A child is the last thing either you or Freddie can afford to deal with right now. And I think if his wife were to get wind of this little affair, she could use it to hurt Freddie more. It wouldn't do your reputation any good, either."

"Look, I didn't agree to go to lunch with you today to have you treat me like a child. You're beginning to sound like my parents." Rita was getting angry with Rosa, but deep down, she knew Rosa was right. She had been avoiding this truth ever since Freddie left her apartment yesterday morning.

"I'm sorry if I came on strong," said Rosa in a calmer tone of voice. "I consider you a close friend, and I just don't want to see you hurt. Sleeping with Freddie is just going to leave you open for a lot of hurt if you are not careful. I suppose you really love him. Do you really believe he loves you?"

"He told me so. And I believe him."

"Then I will too. Just be really careful, Rita. Freddie is on the rebound and very vulnerable. And if he is taking drugs, he's not thinking too straight. If you really want to help him, you are going have to be the one to keep a level head about this. Letting your feelings dictate your actions is not thinking clearly." Rosa stopped for a breath. "Look, enough of the lecture. I promise I'll get down from my soap box, if you promise me you will think before you act. If I can help you in any way, let me know. OK?"

"Thank you," answered Rita. "I do appreciate your wisdom. Maybe I do let myself get carried away, emotionally. I have always been like that. But I don't regret what happened Friday night. Rosa, it was beautiful. I never imagined being with a man could be that great."

"This was your first experience, then?"

"Yes, and Freddie was fantastic. He is so loving and caring. He sensed it was my first time before I told him and he wanted me to feel as comfortable about it as he did. The things Freddie did to me and with me were... well.... you know. You were married once. You know what I mean. It's hard to put into words!"

"I know," Rosa said, lovingly. "Ramon was a kind and gentle man, also. And he hasn't been gone that long that I don't remember how it was!" Sadness came over Rosa's well-lined face, and a tear formed in the corner of her eye. Rita saw all of this and really felt sorry for Rosa.

"Hey, I didn't mean to bring up painful memories, I'm sorry", she told Rosa, tenderly.

"Not painful, just sad. They're really good memories. My Ramon was a good husband and a great lover. I just miss him, that is all."

"I understand. Why don't we talk about something else?", Rita started, but was interrupted by the waitress bringing out their order. After the waitress left, Rosa blessed herself to say grace. This made Rita feel a little awkward. She was used to her family saying grace around the dinner table at home every night, but never in a public place. Rosa made it seem so natural, so Rita bowed her head and joined Rosa in the quiet prayer. When grace was said, Rita continued her last thought. "I haven't told you, I had another dream Friday night."

"The same kind?", asked Rosa, between bites of her enchilada.

"Yes, and no."

"What does that mean?" Rosa put her fork down and Rita knew she had her full attention.

"Well I never really told you the full story on the other dreams." Rita paused and realized that if she could share what happened in real life, she should be totally honest about everything.

"Each of the previous dreams started with Freddie and me swimming naked in a pool and making love. After that part was over was when the nightmare part started. I've already told you about the second part. The dream Friday night didn't start with the love making part. It went right to the part where Freddie is climbing the waterfall. But this time, I am climbing after him and miss saving him by inches. Do you know why the dream has changed?"

Rosa resumed eating while she thought about it.

"I think that you are closer to having the dream become reality. The fact that the dream skipped the part that you had just experienced for real bears that theory up."

"Yea, I thought of that myself."

"As to the change in the second part, I'm not as sure. Maybe you are closer to helping him, but it could also mean that you are getting involved more and still not close to helping him. I just don't know for sure. I'll have to do some more research on that one."

"Rosa, you are a dear friend. I didn't mean to keep you busy with my problems."

"It's no problem. I am finding all this research into dreams and their meanings quite fascinating. I'm kind of glad your dream has given me an opportunity to study it."

When they had finished the meal and paid the check, Rosa took Rita home. Rita spent the rest of the day and evening thinking about the things Rosa told her, but she was still convinced that her relationship with Freddie was heading in the right direction. And she couldn't help going over the events of Friday night, replaying every delicious moment slowly in her mind. She knew it would be a whole week before she would have any opportunity to experience his loving presence again.

Monday, after school, Rita was grading papers at her kitchen table when the phone rang.

"Hello, Morrelli residence."

"Rita, I only have a few minutes, and I need to talk to you. Do you have time?"


"Yes, mi amor" Freddie's voice was a little breathless, but sexy none the less. Rita even found herself enjoying the way he breathed over the phone. Maybe Rosa was right. She had it bad for her Latin lover.

"What arrangements have you made for getting to the airport on Wednesday?" Rita wondered where this question was leading. She thought Freddie was busy, so she never thought to ask him to take her.

"I was planning to ask Rosa, she's a fellow teacher at my school, or call a cab if she was busy. Why?"

"What time is your flight and what airport are you flying from?"

"I have a nine o'clock flight out of LAX, why?" Rita tried hard not to sound as excited as she was getting over the anticipation of his next question.

"That's perfect. What time do you get out of school?"

"More questions?" Rita thought. Aloud she answered Freddie, "I finish up at 3:30. Why do you want to know?"

"I was able to rearrange my Wednesday schedule to get the afternoon and evening off.. I was hoping to have the opportunity to drive you to the airport. If you can have your luggage at school, we will have enough time to have dinner at the airport before you leave. What do you say, but it better be yes!"

"Yes, of course, I'd love that. But won't the airport be crowded? You might be recognized. Not that I don't understand, you're a star, after all. But it would kind of ruin the evening to be swamped by adoring fans!"

"Do I detect a note of jealousy in my sweetness' voice?" Freddie laughed on the other end of the line.

"Are you making fun of me?" Rita answered, with hurt in her voice. Maybe she was jealous. She didn't want to share Freddie with anyone right now, especially fans. But it hurt to hear him make fun of that fact.

"I'm sorry, mi amor. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. I've gotten used to fans. I don't always appreciate getting pestered by them, but they are part of the price of fame, and if it weren't for them, I wouldn't be famous. I don't want them to spoil our goodbye dinner either. I check and see if we can use the VIP lounge in the airport. I may be able to get the whole thing reserved. Just the two of us. What do you say?"

Rita smiled. She knew she would never be able stay mad at Freddie for long. He was just too sweet and charming.

"That sounds marvelous. I would love to have the opportunity to say goodbye to you properly. It will be 4 days apart. I want you to remember me while I'm away."

"Great, and I don't think I could forget you that easily!" Freddie laughed again and Rita could picture his sexy smile. Freddie asked her for the address of her school and arranged to pick her up around 3:30.

"Hasta luego, my sweetness, until Wednesday!"

"Hasta luego, Freddie." Rita waited for the click on the other end before she replaced the receiver on her own phone.

Wednesday! Could she wait that long!

Chapter 5

Wednesday finally arrived, and Rita thought it had been the longest two days of her life. She tried to take her mind off the date by shopping for some winter clothes for the trip. The stores in LA had very little that would keep her warm in the cold November air of New York, but she did find a few nice sweaters. She knew her winter coat was still at her mom's, so the sweaters were all she needed. Rita also took the time to follow up on a concern Rosa had posed at lunch on Sunday. She found the address of a little free clinic in East LA.

Even though the church had drilled into her the sinfulness of using birth control, Rita knew Rosa was right about not bringing a baby into Freddie's life right now. The pill was the only option Rita thought she had to prevent this from happening. Again, she felt the need to absolve herself from guilt, justifying this decision by telling herself that taking them was a medical necessity. God would just have to understand.

She packed Tuesday evening and took her luggage to school with her on Wednesday. Rosa agreed to pick her up for school so she could leave her car at the apartment. True to his word, Freddie arrived promptly at 3:30 to pick her up. He was dressed in a crushed velvet, dark royal blue blazer and a matching lighter blue shirt underneath. His pants were also a dark royal blue and tight, the way Freddie always wore them. Rita sighed to herself, noticing every detail of how fine he looked. It made her wish she had chosen her own outfit more carefully, but this morning she had only thought about the long plane trip and her own comfort. Not that she was slovenly dressed, her principal insisted on professional dress for all his staff. She just wished she looked as nice, standing next to Freddie, as he did. She broke her concentration long enough to notice Rosa standing there waiting to be introduced to the object of her admiration. Rita introduced Freddie to Rosa.

Rosa was able to converse with Freddie in Spanish, making Rita a little jealous and desirous to learn Spanish herself. Rosa had told her she would start teaching Rita when she got back from New York. Hearing Freddie and Rosa talk to each other in those lilting Spanish intonations made Rita long to learn right now. When they finished the polite small talk, Freddie took her luggage to his car and they were on their way to the airport. While they were driving, Rita asked Freddie what he and Rosa were talking about.

"Rosa cares for you a great deal, doesn't she?"

"She's my mentor teacher and a great friend, one of the few I have out here, present company excepted. Why do you ask?"

"Exception noted. She told me that I was to treat you with respect. She also told me that if I were to ever make you cry, she would make me cry!" Freddie smiled.

"She shouldn't have said that! I'm going to have a good talk with her when I get back", Rita fumed.

"Now don't be mad at her. She's only looking out for you. She doesn't want to see you hurt. I wish I had such a good friend to keep me straight."

"You always have me!"

"If you could keep me straight, you would be an angel indeed."

"I'd like to try."

"And I would love to have you try. I just know it's a big job."

"I love a challenge!" Freddie laughed again. His whole face lit up with every chuckle. Rita melted at the sight of it. His laughter sounded like a million glass bells ringing in her ears. She loved to hear Freddie laugh.

"That is what I am all right, a challenge. And if you want to take me on, well 'you got it'." Rita recognized the phrase from Freddie's show. She had been watching it faithfully ever since she got her TV set.

They arrived at the airport and unloaded Rita's luggage. One of the porters took the luggage while Freddie gave him Rita's flight information. The porter promised to check in her luggage and get Rita checked in as well. Freddie and Rita proceeded to the VIP lounge. As the walked down a relative empty corridor, Rita remarked to Freddie, "I've never been treated like that at an airport."

"That's the VIP treatment. You deserve only the best!" The VIP lounge was on the concourse level, not too far from the gate where Rita would soon be parted from the love of her life. The lighting inside the lounge was set at a romantic dimness. A table was set in the center of the room with a candelabra that contained three lit candles. The table was set with silver, china, and an expensive linen table cloth. Rita could not imagine that the lounge usually set a table so elaborately for many customers. She turned to Freddie and inquired about this.

"Did you arrange all of this for me?"

"I told you before that you deserve only the best!" Freddie flashed her the biggest smile. In the candle light his eyes sparkled and his teeth shone. It was like a million flash bulbs going off in her eyes. She melted, disappointed that she would soon be leaving Freddie for what she knew would be four of the longest days of her life. Rita pushed back the thoughts of leaving, trying to enjoy the time they did have together before the dreaded goodbye. Freddie escorted her to the table, and with a flourish of his hand, he held the chair out for her. Rita could not help but be impressed with Freddie's old-fashioned manners. She was an old fashioned kind of person herself. Rita always thought that the woman's liberation movement was a bit overrated in some respects, like in the area of gentlemanly manners. She took the seat offered to her in such a gallant manner and Freddie walked around the table to the chair on the other side.

As if on cue, a waiter appeared and handed Freddie a menu and a wine list. Freddie waved the latter away. "No wine tonight. I want to enjoy the vintage sitting across from me!" Rita blushed at his flattering remark in front of another person. She was delighted he decided not to drink on their special night together. Maybe this relationship was going to turn out wonderfully after all.

"Rosa was just a worry wart", thought Rita. "Freddie will be all right, I just know it!" Freddie had been studying the menu as the waiter patiently stood at Freddie's side. Rita wondered why she had not been given a menu also, when Freddie looked up from his study and asked her, "Will you allow me to do the ordering?"

"I guess that will be all right." Freddie turned to the waiter. "We will start with the tossed Caesar salad, followed by the chicken marsala and the steamed vegetables. And we would like two glasses of spring water with a twist of lemon in each."

Rita was impressed with his choices and the way he took command of the situation. He had an air of sophistication about him that Rita had not noticed before. When the waiter came back with their water, Freddie raised his glass in a toast.

"Brindo por nuestra relacion, y a mi angel de la guarda, Rita. I propose a toast to our relationship."

Rita blushed again as she took a sip of water. Freddie was in a particularly romantic mood tonight. She wished, once again, that she wasn't boarding a plane in a couple of hours that would take her 3000 miles away from her Latin lover. She had a hard time conversing with Freddie, spending most of her time gazing at him, as if to memorize every feature, every line of his handsome, sexy face. Freddie was telling her how he would miss her and his plans to be in Vegas over the Thanksgiving weekend, as the waiter brought out their dinner. It had been prepared so fast, that Rita suspected Freddie had made the dinner selections ahead of time as well, and had just put on a show for her when he ordered. She didn't mind, really. She knew he must have put much thought into this evening to make it so special. His thoughtfulness made her love him even more.

"I would really like to call you, if you think your parents wouldn't mind." Rita stopped staring long enough to realize Freddie was expecting an answer from her.

"I guess they wouldn't mind. I would love to hear from you, if you think you can manage to pull yourself away from that busy schedule you have yourself on." She reached into her purse for a piece of paper and a pencil. She wrote her parents' number on the piece she found and handed it to Freddie. "This is their home phone number. Please wait until Friday to call, though. Give me Thursday to tell them about you."

"I will count the hours, my sweetness", Freddie said with a sigh, as he kissed the paper and lovingly placed it in his wallet. Changing the subject, Freddie looked longingly at her and said, "You never asked me how I was doing with my promise to you."

"I didn't want you to think I was checking up on you. I trust you."

"I know you do, mi amor, that's why I love you so. I have been good. No alcohol, no illegal drugs and only the prescribed dosage of Quaaludes."

"Your doctor prescribes you drugs?"

"Only the Quaaludes. I have a lot of stress on my job and these help me deal with it. I'm ok so long as I don't abuse them. And I have given you my solemn promise that I won't."

"If they are a prescription, I guess that's ok. And I believe you. I'm proud that you have taken this so seriously and have been good."

"Only where the drugs are concerned!" Freddie winked at her and she immediately knew what was on his mind. It wasn't hard to read, since she had been thinking along those same lines all night. But they were in a public place with very little time, so she had tried to put those thoughts out of her head. Freddie wasn't making that easy with remarks like that! Rita found it hard to eat the delicious dinner that was before her. She always got a nervous stomach before she flew, and she was more interested in listening to and looking at Freddie than eating, anyway. Freddie seemed to have a better appetite tonight. Rita guessed that being off the drugs helped bring his desire for food back. Between bites Freddie was telling Rita about how well the show and his personal appearances were going.

"I would be a happy man, if I didn't have all these legal hassles to deal with. First an ex manager and now an ex wife. I seem to work for everyone else but me these days. No wonder I seem to need the drugs the doctors give me. They help me from going insane. I hate living alone. I'm used to having people around. Show business can be a very lonely life. I guess that's why I'm glad I have you in my life right now. You keep me from getting lonely."

"I'm glad to be here for you."

"I'm going to miss you so much. I want to show you how much I love you, something to take on the trip with you, something to remember me by."

"This evening is memory enough for me. I can't believe how much you went out of your way to set this up for me."

"For us, my sweetness. But it was nothing. I did get you a little token of my love for you." Freddie fumbled in his jacket pocket for something. A few seconds later he took out an oblong box and handed it to Rita.

"Freddie, you don't need to be getting me gifts. You have more important things to save your money for right now."

"What, to give it to all those lawyers?", Freddie almost spat out. "No, mi amor, I would rather give all I possess to you, if it would show you how much I love you."

"Then I accept your gift in the name of the love in which it is given." Rita opened the box. Inside was a delicate charm of an angel with diamonds on its robe. The wings were made of gold filigree and the halo was a piece of mother of pearl. The angel was suspended on a fine chain of gold. Rita's eyes filled with tears of joy as she carefully lifted out of the box and held it up to the candlelight. The light from the flames danced on the gold and diamonds and sent tiny beams of light out over the room.

"Do you like her? I thought of you when I saw her in the store. An angel for my Angel de la guarda!"

Rita sniffed back the tears and said, "Freddie, it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I will cherish it forever, especially since it came from you. Would you help me put it on. I can't seem to work the clasp." Rita got up from her chair and walked around the table to where Freddie was sitting. She bent down backwards so Freddie could reach the back of her neck. Just as Freddie finished closing the clasp, he gently pulled her closer to him, causing Rita to lose her balance and land in Freddie's lap and waiting arms. "You did that on purpose."

"But of course, my dear. I thought you might want to show your appreciation for my thoughtful gift in a more tangible way!"

"I'm not too heavy on you, am I?"

"No, Tu eres tan ligera como una pluma! You are as light as a feather!" Rita smiled and threw her arms around Freddie's neck. Her lips met Freddie's and they kissed long and deep. Freddie started to undo the top buttons of her blouse as they were engaged in the kiss, but Rita stiffened up and disengaged herself from his embrace.

"Freddie, as much as I would love to do this, now is not a good time."

"No time like the present, I always say!" Freddie flashed her one of his sexiest smiles, showing his gleaming teeth.

"But this is too public a place. What if someone were to walk in?" "Not likely, since I arranged for total privacy for a little while."

"But there isn't much time left before I need to catch my plane." Rita could hardly believe her ears as she was voicing these objections. She knew she wanted this moment as badly as Freddie.

"True, there is not enough time to do all the things I want to do with you, but we can have a little fun before you go. It will help you to remember me and miss me very much."

"I won't need very much help in that department," Rita smiled as she answered him. "But what can we do in this short amount of time?"

"This", Freddie said as he took her back into his arms and kissed her again. This time he caressed her on top of her blouse and Rita responded warmly to his touch. She ran her fingers through his hair as he reached down and lifted her skirt above her thighs. His long sensuous fingers found their way to her favorite spot and she did not stop him. She enjoyed this attention, all the while kissing him and stroking his hair. As the intensity of her movements on his lap increased, Freddie whispered in her ear, "Correte.... please let yourself go." Rita knew it was useless to argue the point as she shook with pleasure. As she slowly regained her senses, she instinctively reached down Freddie's lap to give to him some of the same pleasure , but his hand reached out for hers to stop her.

"Why did you stop me?" Rita whispered in Freddie's ear.

"I know it would give me great joy to let you do what you want to me. But I wish to wait until you get back. I really like it better if I can be inside. This will give me an incentive to stay on the straight and narrow, if I know I have you to look forward to on Sunday." Rita kissed him again and Freddie helped her up from his lap.

Rita straightened out her skirt and blouse and said, "I wish I could have given you pleasure."

"Giving you pleasure has been pleasure enough for me right now, mi amor. Just promise me you won't forget your Freddie when you are so far away!"

"The only way I could forget you is if I would forget my own name!" Freddie looked at his watch.

"It is time to say our good-byes, my sweetness." Freddie helped Rita gather her things and they headed for the gate. They walked down the corridor in silence, hand in hand. Freddie had placed a big, black felt cowboy style hat on his head and donned a pair of dark Foster Grants to hide his face from the public. He and Rita wanted to avoid a mob of autograph seekers. They wanted their last moments together to be as private as being in public would allow. The disguise seemed to work, since no one bothered them. Rita checked in at the gate and turned to Freddie for the moment she dreaded. Freddie, with tears forming in his eyes, kissed Rita lightly on the lips and held her in a long, firm embrace.

"Hasta domingo, mi amor. Until Sunday."

"O, Freddie, I will miss you so much. I never knew saying good bye could hurt so much inside."

"I feel it too, my sweetness. Be strong. Soltare a ti, I must let you go now." Freddie released her from his strong arms. Rita walked through the gate looking back through the tears in her eyes at the shimmering image of Freddie blowing her kisses. She finally lost sight of him as she boarded the plane.

Chapter 6

Rita found that, even though it was the middle of the night, she could not get to sleep. She tossed and turned in the plane seat, glad of the fact that the seat next to her was unoccupied. She thought this was unusual, being a big travel day. "I guess someone changed their mind at the last minute." This thought only made her wish that she had been that person, acting on the hundreds of times she considered canceling her trip.

But now it was too late for that. She was winging her way 3,000 miles from Freddie. No wonder she couldn't sleep. Thoughts of Freddie kept her brain awake with images of his caramel colored, smooth skin; his large, dark, expressive eyes; his even larger mouth with those bright teeth that gleamed when he smiled; his full lips that would swallow her when he kissed; his long, luxuriant black hair that she loved to run her fingers through; and those long, strong arms that she ached to have hold her once again. She could hear his laughter ringing in her ears. She even heard his voice whispering Spanish endearments. She could feel the touch of his long, sensuous fingers caressing her body. She shivered with excitement touched with sadness as she dwelt on all of this. Finally, from sheer exhaustion,

Rita closed her eyes and let sleep over take her.

Following the pattern that had established itself in her previous encounters with Freddie, Rita once again dreamt of the pool of water under the waterfall. This time Rita and Freddie spent what seemed like hours making love. Looking back on the dream later, Rita figured that this was due to the fact that she yearned to do this in reality. As before, the dream ended with the leap from the top of the falls, but this time Rita found herself in Freddie's arms as they leapt together.

Rita's sleeping form let out a small squeal that caught the attention of a passing stewardess.

"Are you all right, miss?"

Through sleepy eyes, Rita looked up at the voice. "Yes, I just had a bad dream."

"If you need anything, please ring."

"Thank you, I will."

The stewardess proceeded down the aisle as Rita shifted in her seat. She knew she would have a hard time going back to sleep after that dream, so she took out the book she brought with her and started to read while she absentmindedly fondled the angel hanging around her neck. She got half way through the book when the plane arrived at Kennedy Airport.


Mr. Morelli was waiting for Rita by the gate as she came down the ramp.

"Rita, over here," he yelled, waving his arms at her.

Rita found herself running up to him and giving him a big bear hug. She realized how much she missed her family at that moment. So much had happened since she saw them six months ago. She wondered how much she would be able to share with them. She yearned to have Freddie join her loving family. She thought that there was nothing in the world like a large Italian family to help you with your problems. "Freddie could sure use a dose of my family," thought Rita. She released her father from her embrace and said, "I have really missed you. Where's mom?"

"She's home cooking turkey dinner."

"At six in the morning?"

Mr. Morelli laughed. "You know your mother. She has a house full of company coming, and has been cooking and baking for days. She thinks all of you are too skinny. Wait till she sees you. You have lost more weight, haven't you?"

"Not very much. It's hard to eat enough when you only cook for one."

The two of them started walking toward the luggage pick up area as Rita's father changed the subject. "So, how was your flight?"


"How's California treating you?"

"Ok, I guess. I have a good friend named Rosa Diaz. She works at my school. She's in her 50's and treats me like her daughter, so you and mom do not have to worry about me."

"You had better not tell your mother you have found someone to take her place," Mr. Morelli kidded. "She thinks she is the only one capable of looking out for you!"

Smiling at this remark, Rita asked, "How's the rest of the family? Is everyone going to make it for dinner?"

"As far as I know. I thought your brother Nick was going to have to work today, but the police department gave him the day off after all." Rita had two brothers and a sister. Nick was the oldest and her favorite brother. She was only two years younger than he was and he acted as her protector while they were growing up.

He still wanted to know everyone she went out with, making sure they were good enough for his sister. Maybe that is why she rarely dated in high school and college. She never resented him for this behavior, on the contrary, she enjoyed the love he showed her. What would he think of Freddie? How would her family react to her news of the relationship that had blossomed between Freddie and her? She wasn't sure how she would broach the subject, so she decided to wait and see when the right time would come up.

The drive home from the airport was full of small talk, mostly by Mr. Morelli catching Rita up on the family news. The trip did not last long, since her parents' home was close to the airport. Rita entered the house to the glorious smells of dinner cooking. She was nearly knocked over by her youngest brother and sister. Tony and Mary were sixteen years old twins. They were a big surprise to her mom and dad, who figured they were finished having children, when her mom discovered she was pregnant. They asked Rita a thousand questions about Los Angeles. When they asked her how many movie stars she had met so far, Rita caught her breath. She wanted to break the news of Freddie to her parents and older brother first. She knew that Tony and Mary thought you ran into stars on every corner in Hollywood. She told them she had seen a few walking the streets, but had not met too many of them. This seemed to hold them for the moment as they dragged her by each hand into the kitchen where her mom was fixing the stuffing for the turkey. Rita went over to her and put her arms around her mother.

"Mia bimba, I have missed you so. Let me look at you. You are not well. Look how skinny you are. I will have my work cut out this weekend putting some meat on those bones. No self respecting husband to be will want such a stick for a wife!"

Rita's mother was always trying to get Rita married off. She had not approved of Rita's choice of a career over marriage, and liked it less that Rita wanted to move so far away from her matchmaking activities on Rita's behalf. Rita smiled to herself when she thought of Freddie as a marriage prospect for her mother to approve. He was good looking and had a successful career. True, he wasn't a doctor or a lawyer, but Rita thought that Freddie being a big star would impress her mom. She kissed her mom on the cheek and said, "I have missed you and your fabulous cooking, mom. I'm really glad to be home."

"You didn't have to go so far away, you know. We miss you so much!"

"I know ma. We've been through this already. I don't want to spoil my homecoming talking about my moving away from home."

"I'm sorry. I just miss you so much. I miss talking to you about your day. How is life in the sunshine of Los Angeles. You do look healthy despite the fact that you are too thin." Rita's mother went back to stirring her stuffing as Rita took a seat at the kitchen table.

"Things are great, mom. The school I teach at is nice and I have met some great new friends. My best friend is a lady named Rosa Diaz. You would like her. She don't live near her anymore, so I am like a daughter as well as a friend to her. She is my mentor teacher at the school. She has been a big help to me."

"She sounds like a good friend."

Just then Rita's father and brother Nick burst into the kitchen. Her dad sat down as she stood to receive a huge hug from her brother. "Hey sis, how are you?"

"Fine, Nicky. How's life treating you?"

"You know, same ol, same ol. You look marvelous! LA seems to agree with you."

"She's too skinny," her mother chimed in.

"Ma, you say that about everybody," Nick fired back.

To Rita he said, "So, any guys I need to check out for you?"

Rita almost choked. She knew that this was the moment to tell them about Freddie. She said a quiet prayer to the Blessed Mother as she began. "As a matter of fact, I have been dating someone fairly steadily for the last month."

Shock permeated the Morelli kitchen. Her mother dropped the spoon she had been using to stir the stuffing with on the floor. Nick, who had gotten himself a glass of water, nearly spit out a mouthful all over Rita, and her father's face darkened to a shade of crimson.

"Who is this guy?", her father roared.

"Now pops, calm down," Nick said in Rita's defense.

"I'm sure he's a nice guy or Rita would not have agreed to go out with him." Rita smiled and thanked Nick for his support. "Your welcome, but that does not let you off the hook. What is his name and what does he do for a living?"

Mrs. Morelli picked the spoon off the floor and washed it off. She resumed her dinner preparations. "Yes, Rita who is your young man."

"His name is Freddie, and he works in television."

"Is he an actor?", asked Nick.

"Yes. He has his own show. He's originally from New York City."

"What part?" asked her father suspiciously.

"Washington Heights," replied Rita.

"What's his last name?" inquired Nick. Rita knew his police mind was already working on how he would check on Freddie. She decided not to share his birth surname. "His last name is Prinze."

Tony and Mary had come into the kitchen in time to hear Rita mention Freddie's name. Avid TV watchers, they picked up on the reference.

"You HAVE met a star!,' exclaimed Tony. "His show is great."

Mary looked hurt. "You met Freddie Prinze and you didn't tell me! He's sooo cute. I watch his show all the time. Don't tell me you know him!"

"Not only does she know him, peanut, but she has been going out on dates with him!", Nick rubbed in. Rita knew this would set her sister off. She hated being called peanut and was always jealous that her big sister got to do things that she couldn't. Rita had no idea any of her family would know who Freddie was. Just as Rita predicted, Mary started to howl.

"It's not fair. I was in love with him first. Why does Rita get to have everything I want? It's not fair." Mary stomped out of the room and down to her bedroom. Her mother came to Mary's defense.

"Give her time to cool off. She'll get over it."

"Has he given you anything yet?", asked Tony.

"Tony, is that any question to ask your sister?" Mrs. Morelli scolded her son.

Rita thought about the double meaning of his question, but knew that he only meant a gift. Her mother did not appreciate Tony's mercenary mind. She decided to show them the angel.

"Yes, Tony, as a matter of fact he gave me this as a going away gift." Rita held the angel out in her loving hand to show her brother.

"Oooh, it sparkles. Is it real gold and diamonds?"

Everyone was around Rita by now. Mary, who could not stand being left out, had rejoined the family in time to get a look as well. Rita's mom was the first to comment on the angel. "What an expensive gift, Rita. You'd better be careful. A gift like that could mean he expects something in return."

"Mother!' Rita exclaimed, "Freddie is a gentleman!"

Rita knew this was partly a lie, but she was not about to tell them differently. He was a gentleman, just in a different way than she meant it at that moment. "We have become good friends, and he gave it to me to remember him while I was home."

"So the two of you have gotten close, then," asked Nick.

"I guess we have. By the way, Dad, Freddie asked if he could call me tomorrow. I gave him our phone number. I hope you don't mind?"

"No, Rita. I just hope he respects you. I would not want any man to take advantage of my good little girl."

"Geez, Dad, I'm not little any more! I can take care of myself. Anyway, he's not like that. You would be very pleased the way he treats me. Just like a princess!"

"As well he should!"

Rita knew she was laying it on pretty thick, but she knew she had to in order for her to have her family approve of Freddie. She was just glad he wasn't here to get the third degree from them personally.

The rest of the day went as smoothly as could be expected in a household the size of the Morelli's. Aunts, uncles and cousins all joined the family for dinner.

Rita was exhausted from the lack of sleep she had gotten on the plane and decided to call it an early night. She went to sleep in her old bedroom her mother had lovingly kept for her. She was startled from a deep sleep by the phone ringing beside her bed. As she yawned and answered it, she noticed the clock beside the phone read 3:00 a.m. "Who could be calling at this ungodly hour?" she thought.

"Hello," Rita said with another yawn.

"Hello, is this Rita?" came the question from an Hispanic, male voice on the other end.

"Freddie, is that you? Do you know what time it is?"

"Si, about eleven o'clock."

"It's three in the morning, here."

"I'm sorry, mi amor, I forgot the time difference."

Rita could here the noise of many people talking and dishes rattling in the background. "Where are you calling from?"

"Vegas, I just finished my last show. I'm back in the kitchen on a pay phone. I'm going out with some friends in a little while and I needed to talk to you first. I miss you so much!"

Rita thought Freddie sounded a little drunk. He slurred some of his words together. "I miss you, too. Are you ok? You sound funny." She did not want to come out and tell him he sounded like he'd been drinking.

She missed him too much to pick a fight with him over the phone about his promise. She decided just to let it drop.

"I'm fine, just lonely for you. How is your visit going? Have you told your family about us yet?"

"Yes, I had the chance to yesterday."

"How did they take the news?"

"As well as I expected them to. All except my little sister. Apparently she and my little brother know who you are. They watch your show every week. My sister has a major crush on you and is very jealous of me!"

"That's sweet. How old is she?" Rita could hear Freddie's wonderful laughter pealing in her ears. She only wished it wasn't about her sister. Mary could be such a pain, sometimes. Now she was stealing Freddie's laughter.

"Sixteen, and don't get any ideas!" Rita quipped.

"Mi amor, what ideas would I get? You are the only woman for me, my sweetness."

Rita smiled and relaxed a little. She loved to hear his sexy voice over the phone. She only wished he was here beside her whispering those words to her instead of speaking them over a cold, impersonal phone line.

"Do you really miss me, my Freddie?"

"Si, te extrano muchisimo"

"Oh Freddie, I wish I could speak and understand your beautiful language. I hate asking you to translate."

"I do not mind, mi amor, I just told you that I miss you very much."

"Let me try. Te extrano muchisimo."

"You said that very well. Maybe I should just speak to you in English"

"Oh I wish you wouldn't. I do love to listen to you speak Spanish. It sounds like you are making love to me over the phone. Just remember to tell me what you are saying."

"Well then, Quiero besar y acariciar a ti entonces hacer el amor contigo toda la noche! That means I want to kiss and caress you all over your body and then make love to you all night long!"

"Isn't this a public phone? You shouldn't be saying these things where other people can hear you!"

"No one is paying the least bit of attention to me. Are you?"

"I'm hanging on to every syllable. Oh Freddie, please tell me how to say what I want to tell you in Spanish. I want to tell you "I would love to be there doing those things with you, too."

"That would be, 'Me gustaria estar alla hechando aquellas cosas contigo'."

"Me gustar.."

" Say it with me, Me gustaria..."

"Me gustaria..."

"..estar alla hechando.."

"..estar alla hechando.."

"..aquellas cosas contigo."

"..aquellas cosas contigo."

"That was muy bien. I'll have to give you Spanish lessons when you get back!"

Rita did not want to tell him that Rosa had promised her the same thing. She shivered with excitement at the thought of Freddie teaching her. "I thought about you mucho on the plane. Help me to tell you what I thought about you in Spanish."

"Ok, go ahead."

"I thought about..."

"Pensaba en.."

"Pensaba en.."

"Touching your smooth, tan skin."

"Ooh....that's 'tocando tu piel lisa de cafe claro'."

"Freddie, I have so much to say and I'm not thinking too straight for three in the morning. Maybe I'd better not try to repeat your Spanish. I will save that for our lessons. Just tell me how it would sound in Spanish."

"What ever you want, mi amor."

"Ok. Next I thought about your full lips kissing me."

"Mmmm..... that would be, 'Pensaba en tus labios gruesos me besando'."

"That sounds nice. Here's another one. I saw your bright smile."

"Mirando a tu sonrisa brillante."

"And I thought about running my fingers through your long, luxuriant hair."

"Oh mami, you are turning me on now! You would say 'Pensaba en pasando mis dedos por tu pelo largo y lujuriante'."

"Wait there is more. I also can picture your strong arms holding me."

"Me imaginaba tus brazos fuertes me abrazando. Oh, Rita, I wish I was there to hold you for real. Te quiero, I love you, my sweetness. Please hurry back to your Freddie. I need my angel de la guarda to love me the way only you can!"

"I'll be back on Sunday morning, mi amor. You will be there to pick me up, won't you? My flight gets into LAX at 8 a.m. It's flight 405 from Kennedy."

"I'll be there with brazos abiertos, open arms, mi linda. And then we can go and celebrate your return to me, doing all these things we can only talk about now!"

"Wait, who's Linda?"

"No, linda means beautiful!"

"Oh, I see. I will be counting the hours until we see each other!"

"Mi amor, I wish I could stay on with you all night, but the people I am going out with are here to pick me up. Hasta domingo, my angel." Rita could hear Freddie sending her a kiss over the phone. She sent a kiss back to him.

"Hasta domingo, my sweet Freddie. Think of me!"

"Every minute, mi amor. Sweet dreams!"

Rita heard the click on the other end of the phone and slowly hung up her receiver. "Te quiero, Freddie, I love you, too," she whispered to herself. She turned over in the bed, thought about how Freddie wasn't there to hold her, and cried herself to back to sleep.


Rita got up late and stumbled down the stairs to the kitchen. Bleary-eyed from all the crying she did after Freddie's call, she slowly found her way to the coffee maker on the counter and got a mug from the cabinet overhead. As she carefully poured herself a cup, her mother came in.

"I wondered when we would see you today. Honey, you look terrible. Didn't you sleep well last night."

"I'm ok, mom. It's probably jet lag. Let me wake up first."

"Let me fix you a good breakfast. Sit and eat something. Then you will feel better!" Rita took a seat at the table as her mother went about the kitchen preparing food for her daughter.

"Good ol' mom," Rita thought. "Solving everyone's problems with food." If only food were the answer to her problems today. But Rita knew better than that. Another thought occurred to her at that moment. "Maybe that is why Freddie's eating habits concern me. I guess that's my mom in me." She smiled as she thought of Freddie. Two more days.

Could she hold on that long? She began to imagine all the things she was going to do to Freddie when she saw him again. Her mother snapped her out of her daydreams.

"So, what are your plans for today. I thought we could go shopping. The big pre-Christmas sales start today!"

"Mom, it's the most crowded day of the year in the stores! I don't know if I'm up to fighting traffic and crowds. Could we wait until tomorrow. I have one errand I need to do and I thought I'd do it today."

"Oh, can I help you with it?"

"No, mom, I'm afraid this is something I have to do alone. Could I borrow your car, though?"

"Sure, bimba, what ever you want."

"Mom I hate when you call me baby. I'm not your baby any more." Rita realized she snapped much too fiercely at her mother, and was in for an earful.

"You will always be mia bimba, no matter how old you get, young lady. You have no right to snap at me. If you are having a bad day, don't take it out on your poor mother, who loves you and slaves for all of you."

Her mother started into her all too familiar teary tirade. Rita was in no mood to listen to the stories of her labor and delivery of each of her children. She thought it was best to head that one off at the pass today. Rita got up and put her arms around her mother's ample waist and said, "I'm sorry, mother. I didn't mean to upset you. You are right, as always. I guess that I am just tired. I didn't mean to snap at you."

"That's ok, Rita. I, too, forget that you are an adult now. I shouldn't treat you as a child."

"Thanks mom." Rita kissed her mother on the cheek.

"I wanted to ask you something this morning. Please don't take this the wrong way, but did you get a phone call in the middle of the night last night? I heard the phone ring once and then it stopped. I thought I heard you speaking to someone, but I swear on my mother's grave, I didn't hear what you said."

"That's ok, mom," Rita answered her mother. In her head she thought, "Damn these thin walls. I had hoped no one heard the phone." Aloud, she continued. "Yes, the phone call was for me. Freddie called, but didn't realize the time difference. He thought it was only 11:00."

"Oh, even 11:00 is too late to be calling, isn't it?"

"I guess so, but he was performing last night and only had a few minutes to talk to me. That's why he called so late."

"Where was he performing at that hour. I thought you told me he worked in television."

Rita was beginning to become exasperated with her mother's interrogation, but she didn't want to set her off again. "He is mom, but he also does stand-up in night clubs on the weekends and holidays."

"What does he do standing up?"

Rita could not help but laugh at her mom's ignorance of colloquialisms. "He tells jokes. It's called stand-up comedy."

"Oh, so he's a funny man, like Bob Hope!"

"Yes, mom, just like Bob Hope." Rita would have to remember to tell Freddie that her mother compared him to Bob Hope. She thought he would get a kick out of that.

"Well, if that was the only time he could call, I guess that is ok." Mrs. Morelli brought a full platter of pancakes and sausage over to the table.

"Ma, there's enough food here to feed an army. Did the rest of the family eat?"

"Yes. They've been down, eaten and gone about their business for hours now. You're the only sleepy head this morning. Just eat what you want. I can always freeze the rest."

"Ok, thanks mom." Rita found she had a bigger appetite than she realized. Her mother's cooking always had that affect on her. "I should get her to cook for Freddie. That might help put a little meat on his bones," she thought. On second thought, she decided she liked Freddie the way he was. If anyone was going to get him to eat, it would be Rita.

After breakfast, Rita drove her mother's car in the direction of the cemetery where Lucy was buried. Ever since she had started her relationship with Freddie, Rita realized she had unfinished business with Lucy. She couldn't deal with his drug problem if she didn't put her guilty feelings about Lucy behind her. Rita continued to blame herself for letting Lucy die. In her head she knew that Lucy made the decision to take the drugs that killed her, but Rita's heart was filled with thoughts of wishing she had done more to help her friend. She knew she had to go to Lucy and make her peace with her.

The cemetery was deserted. Rita was glad no one else had chosen that day to visit their loved ones. She felt the freedom to pour her heart out to Lucy in private. Rita had stopped at a florist on the way and had picked out a pink rose to place on the grave. Lucy loved pink roses, and Rita had given them to her on her birthday every year. As Rita placed the rose on the top of the tombstone, she fell to her knees and cried.

She cried more tears than she did on the day of her funeral. Rita realized she had stuffed all of her feelings down about Lucy's death for too long. Now it just came pouring out of her. After several minutes of tears, Rita took out a tissue and wipes her eyes.

Sitting down on the ground, she began to tell Lucy all the things she had wanted to tell her for a long time.

"Lucy, I have come back. I'm sorry I've been away. I'm sorry I couldn't help you. I miss you so much. Why did you have to die in my arms like that? Why did you have to die, period? Your whole life was ahead of you. We had such great plans. Now I'm all alone."

Rita paused in her thoughts and could almost hear her friend's voice in the breeze telling her that wasn't entirely true. "What are you trying to tell me Lucy? I'm listening." Again, the breeze seem to tell Rita that she was not alone. "I know, I can feel you here with me. It's been so long. You were always the smarter one, Lucy. That's why I could not understand how you let yourself get mixed up in drugs."

"Love," was what Rita heard the breeze say.

"I know. You loved Brad, didn't you."

"Yes," answered the breeze.

"Am I hearing things?," Rita thought. "Oh, Lucy, I don't know if you are really answering me or I just knew the answers all along. But I do know what you mean. I'm in love too, and can start to understand what love can make you do. I just don't know what to do. He has so many problems, right now, and he is trying to solve them by taking drugs. I know that drugs don't solve problems, they only make new ones. I tried to help you and I failed. I want to help him, but if I fail with him, I couldn't live with myself. I wish you could show me the answers, Lucy. I need to know what to do. I love him so much and I don't want to lose him. I had hoped that my love would be enough to turn him around, but my friend, Rosa says that love is not enough. You would like Rosa, Lucy. She is sensible, like you were in high school. I always did need someone to keep me from thinking with my emotions all the time. I think that is what I am doing with Freddie. I'm letting my love for him cloud my good judgment. That's why I can't think about what I should do for him. Please help me to help him. If there is anyway to let me know what I should do, give me a sign. I keep having all of these dreams. I am trying to help, but now it seems like I am getting in trouble with him. What should I do? I am so confused. If you are in heaven, and I believe you are, pray for me Lucy. I need your prayers, now more than ever. Please Lucy, I'm desperate." Rita broke down in a sob and her tears flowed freely. Just then, a big gust of wind blew across Rita's tear stained face. But instead of it being a cold, November gust, it was a warm comforting zephyr. Rita brightened up, realizing that Lucy was trying to comfort and reassure her. Peace settled in her heart, and Rita knew she would know what to do for Freddie when the time came.

Rita rose to her feet. Her legs were numb from sitting on the cold ground for so long. She was glad it was a bit of a walk to where her car was parked. It would give her legs time to wake up. She said her good-byes to Lucy and started for the car.

The rest of the weekend was filled with visits from family and friends. Rita was constantly surrounded by people, yet she felt so alone. She knew it was because she missed Freddie. No one in her life had affected her like he did. True to her word, her mother took Rita shopping on Saturday. Rita was not much of a shopper, but her mother could spend all day hunting out bargains. Rita decided to make the most of it by looking for a present for Freddie. The angel he gave her never left her neck, except to shower. Rita could feel his presence every time she stroked it with her fingers, which she did often.

She wasn't sure what to get Freddie, and futilely looked in several stores for just the right gift. Finally, in the last store they visited that day, Rita saw it. The perfect gift. It was in her mother's favorite religious goods store. Rita hated going into this store, because it reminded her of how far away from her faith she had gotten these days.

But there in the jewelry case, next to the crosses and the rosaries, was the most beautiful St. Michael's medal Rita had ever seen. Freddie wore medals around his neck. She wasn't sure what he believed, but she knew he must have had some exposure to the Catholic faith, being his mother was Puerto Rican. The medal was silver, and very masculine looking, on a long, heavy silver chain. St. Michael was standing over the devil with his spear at the devil's breast. Rita recalled the prayer she learned in Catholic school so many years ago.

"St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Deliver us from the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray. O, Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all evil spirits, who wander this world for the ruin of souls. Amen."

That's what Freddie is fighting," thought Rita. "Demons in his life. I don't know what they are, except for the drugs. Maybe he needs the help of St. Michael!" Rita wasn't sure where this insight came from, maybe it came when she recited the prayer. She wasn't sure what it all meant, either, but she did know she needed to get this medal for Freddie.

Rita also decided she was going to say this prayer for him every day as well. Maybe she needed to get back to her faith. She admitted to herself she hadn't really prayed much for Lucy when she was having her problems. Rita was in her rebellion over organized religion phase by that time. Maybe Rosa's invitation to go back to church was another way God was trying to tell her how to help Freddie. She knew that she would have to think long and hard about this, though. Her experience with church growing up still had her feeling guilty about her physical relationship with Freddie, and she wasn't ready to give that up. She still felt that this relationship was an answer to the problem, too. She purchased the medal and had the clerk gift wrap it. It was small enough that she was able to slip it in her purse before her mother could see what she bought.

She didn't want to play twenty questions with her mother right now.

Saturday night came and went and early Sunday morning her whole family packed themselves in her father's car for the trip to the airport. After saying their long good byes to Rita, she boarded the plane and relaxed, knowing that in six hours, she would be in the arms of the one she loved. Rita slept and dreamed of Freddie, but it wasn't the nightmare dream, just pleasant dreams of when she would be back in Freddie's loving arms once again.

Chapter 7

Rita was still asleep when the pilot announced that the plane would be arriving into LAX in a few minutes. Rita righted her seat, wiped the sleepiness from her eyes, and gathered her belongings in anticipation of seeing Freddie. She made sure the St. Michael's medal she bought for him was in her jacket pocket. The plane finally landed and Rita practically ran down the connecting corridor, looking for her tall, dark, and handsome Latin lover. But as she exited the connecting corridor, she did not see his familiar face.

Disappointed, she thought that maybe he just got stuck in traffic.

True, it was early Sunday morning, but LA was notorious for traffic at all hours of the day and week. Rita went to retrieve her luggage and returned to the gate to sit and wait. She was on pins and needles, checking her watch every few minutes. Ten minutes went by, no Freddie.

20...30...40...50...minutes and still no Freddie. Finally after waiting a whole hour, Rita made her way to the desk to have Freddie paged. She thought he might not know which gate she was at. As she neared the desk, she had second thoughts about the page. He was a star and she did not want to create a mob scene. As she started back to her seat, her eyes fell on a bank of phones. Rita fumbled for some change as she went to the nearest phone and picked it up to dial.

Her only problem was who to call. She didn't have Freddie's number and she knew that it was probably unlisted, so directory assistance was out. Rita was tired and a little cross by this time, so she checked her wallet, only to find she didn't have enough money to take a cab home. "Damn," she cried to herself. "This isn't my day!" The only other person she knew well enough to call was Rosa, and she was probably on her way to church. Rita decided to give Rosa a shot anyway.

She was desperate. She put the money in the pay phone and dialed Rosa's number, not really expecting an answer. All the while Rita kept an eye out, still hoping against hope to see Freddie come walking around the corner. To Rita's surprise, Rosa answered the phone on the third ring.

"Hello, Rosa Diaz."

"Hi, Rosa, it's Rita. I know you are probably getting ready for church, but I'm kind of in a jam. I'm at the airport and my ride never showed up. I don't have enough for cab fare and I was wondering if you could pick me up. I hate to ask you, but I don't know who else to call."

"Oh, amiga, I'll be right there. I can always go to a later Mass. What gate are you at?"

"Let me wait out in front of the main terminal for you, this way you don't have to worry about finding parking."

"Sounds good. I'll be there as soon as I can. Just hang tight till I get there!"

"Thank you Rosa, you're a lifesaver!"

"No problem. Bye." Rosa hung up.

"Thank you, God," was all Rita could respond as she hung the receiver back on the hook. She went to gather her luggage from where she had been sitting waiting for Freddie and slowly made her way to where she told Rosa she would be waiting. Rita could not help speculating why Freddie forgot to pick her up. The whole time she was waiting for Rosa, her mind volleyed ideas back and forth. "Maybe he got called to do something at the last minute. But he might have called the airport and left a message for me. I never though of checking, though." Rita stopped at a desk to check. No messages. She continued back on course to the entrance, still puzzling over Freddie's reasons for not showing up.

"I hope nothing is wrong with him."

Visions of car wrecks and other disasters loomed in Rita's brain. She got a hold of her runaway imagination and realized there was probably a simple explanation, and Freddie would see her as soon as he could. There was one explanation she wouldn't let herself entertain, though. He could have forgotten her because he purposely wanted to. She knew that couldn't be true.

"That's paranoid thinking," she told herself when the idea popped into her head. She quickly dismissed the thought.

Rita didn't wait long before Rosa pulled up to the entrance to the main terminal. Rosa put her flashers on and opened the trunk so Rita could put her luggage in it. They got into the car and drove off.

"Thanks, Rosa, you're a true friend to get me out of this jam."

"Like I said before, it's no problem. What happened that you got stuck?"

"Well, Freddie said he was going to pick me up, but we must have gotten our wires crossed, somehow. I can't understand it. He was so excited when he called me Friday night from Vegas. He said he couldn't wait to see me this morning. That's why he asked to pick me up. I just don't know what kept him from meeting me?"

Rita was almost in tears by this point, naturally releasing the frustration and disappointment she had kept bottled up inside her as she spoke to her friend.

Rosa tried to reassure Rita.

"I'm sure there is a good and simple reason he missed picking you up. Don't worry about it right now. You're probably tired and a little jet lagged. I'll get you home and you can take a long nap. He'll probably call you later and work it out." Rosa reached down to a box of tissues she kept handy and gave one to Rita.

"Here, take this and calm yourself. We'll be home shortly."

As Rosa arrived at Rita's apartment building she pulled up to the curb. The two ladies got out of the car and Rosa opened up her trunk. She grabbed the first suitcase, but Rita stopped her. "Look, Rosa, it was kind of you to come to the airport to get me. I can manage these myself. I don't want to impose on you further. You're a sweet friend. You are right. I need to go and lay down. I promise I'll call you later and we'll talk more. I'm just too tired to share right now. I hope you understand."

"That's ok. All you need now is rest. If you can manage, I'll talk to you later about your trip. I hope things work out between you and Freddie." Rosa reached out to Rita and gave her a big, motherly hug. Rita tried not to cry again as she realized what a good friend Rosa was.

Rita opened the door to her apartment and dropped the suitcases on the floor. She had lingered at Freddie's door, wondering if she should knock, but thought twice about it. She had another idea, instead. She found some stationary on her desk and wrote Freddie a short note, telling him how she missed him at the airport and hoped he would contact her real soon. She sealed it in an envelope and wrote 'For Freddie's eyes only' on the front. She even took her bottle of 'An Evening in Paradise' and lightly sprayed the note with it. Rita took the note back down the hall to Freddie's apartment, but as she tried to slip the note under his door, she noticed his door slightly ajar.

"That's odd," she thought. Rita ventured to open the door a little ways to see if anyone was there. She gasped in shock to see Freddie asleep on his sofa. What was more of a shock was the bottle of pills spilled all over the coffee table, the empty bottle of wine laying on the floor next to the couch and most frightening, a gun in the grasp of the hand that was hanging over the side of the sofa. Rita rushed over to Freddie, thinking the worst.

She thought about shaking him, trying to hold herself together, but his obvious heavy, rhythmic breathing told her he had not taken his own life. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, trying to figure out what she should do next. The sight of the gun dangling in Freddie's hand helped her to realize she need to get him away from his apartment and down to hers. She knew she had to try to get the gun from his hand first before she tried to wake him. She did not want Freddie to accidentally shoot it as he woke up. Rita knew enough about guns to check for the safety. Her brother

Nick had taught her all about guns the day he graduated from the police academy.

The safety was not on, another alarming fact. Rita gently reached inside

Freddie's hand to engage the safety latch. Freddie was so sound asleep he never even stirred as she performed this task. His hand relaxed as she got the latch engaged and he dropped the gun to the floor. Rita saw how out of it Freddie was and realized he must be sleeping the unnatural sleep of too many pills and wine in combination. She tried to figure out how she would get him down to her apartment. He was almost a foot taller than she was, and even thought he was thin, probably had at least 50 pounds on her. He would be dead weight, besides.

Rita cringed at the notion of Freddie being dead weight, after thinking almost moments ago that he really was dead. She knew she had to try to get him to wake up, even if it was a little bit, so he could walk with her assistance. Rita ventured to shake Freddie gently, calling his name into his ear. When that didn't work, she became more insistent in her attempt, almost shaking him off the couch. He finally stirred and groggily sat up. "Rita, is that you?" was all he said in slow and slurred syllables.

"Yes, mi amor. Can you stand up? I'll help you."

"I think so." Freddie attempted to stand, but fell back down in a sitting position on the couch.

"Here, take my arm and try again," Rita said, encouragingly.

"Ok," Freddie answered and lifted himself up once again.

This time Rita managed to steady him. "Can you try to walk with me?" asked Rita.

"I'll try, but where are we going."

Rita was afraid to tell him, not knowing how he would react. "Will you trust me, Freddie. I'll help you."

"Ok, mi amor, lead me to the gates of heaven or hell and I'll follow you."

"O great," thought Rita, "what a time to get poetic!"

Rita managed to get Freddie walking in the direction of the door. When they got to the hall, Freddie started to protest, but Rita gave him a small kiss on the lips and assured him she knew what she was doing. His breath smelled of the wine and the pills. She managed to get her door opened and Freddie inside.

Just then Freddie started to wretch, so Rita maneuvered him as quickly as she could to her bathroom. She got him positioned over the toilet just in time to see Freddie vomit up a large quantity of bits of the pills he had taken.

She wondered how many he had ingested, as she got a towel for him. The room reeked of stomach acid and wine. When Freddie seemed finished emptying his body of the poisons he had put in it, Rita helped him clean himself up and led him to her bed. He collapsed and did not protest as she undressed him and pulled the covers up. He tried to talk to her, but she hushed him and told him to go back to sleep. She took his vomit-soiled clothes out to the small combination washer/dryer in her kitchen and put them in to wash. She decided she needed a shower before she went about unpacking her things. After the shower, she was too tired to face the unpacking, so she went back into the bedroom and laid down beside Freddie, hoping to get a little sleep herself. It wasn't long before they were both asleep.

A few hours later, Freddie woke up. He found the sleeping form of Rita beside him and he drew her close to himself, her back to his front. With his long arms around her, he began to caress her front. Rita was startled her out of the deep sleep that had overcome her from fatigue of the jet lag and the trouble with Freddie. She pushed herself out his embrace and rose from the bed.

"Mi amor, what is wrong?", Freddie inquired, in sweet, sultry tones. Rita had enough recollection of what had happened before she went to sleep not to be taken in by this maneuver.

"Freddie, I need some answers from you. I love you too much to allow you to deceive me any longer."

Freddie sat up in the bed. The sheet fell to his waist, exposing his bare chest. Rita forced herself not to look. She knew that she needed to be determined and not distracted by his handsome features in order to say what needed to be said.

"How have I deceived you?"

"Why didn't you come to pick me up at the airport this morning, for starters?"

"Is it Sunday.... but of course it is or you wouldn't be here. Lo siento, my sweetness. I must have lost track of the time. I seem to be a bit confused."

Freddie looked around the room for the first time. "How did I come to be in your bedroom, mi linda?"

"Please stop using those terms with me, and speak in English, please. Just answer my question."

"I wanted to go, but I was sick."

"That's question two. Why did you break your promise?"

"Lo siento, I mean, I'm sorry. I tried, but I got so lonely for you. I needed you so badly and you weren't there. After I got off the phone with you, some friends took me to a party. The drugs and the drinks were so close and you were so far away." Freddie looked pleadingly at her. Instead of having the desired effect, it made Rita livid.

"Don't blame me for your drinking and drug use," Rita fired back. "I missed you too, so much it hurt. But I did not resort to destructive behavior. Which reminds me, what's with the gun?"

Freddie started to get defensive in response to Rita's anger. " I keep a gun for protection. That's not any concern of yours."

"I love you and I thought you loved me, so if it involves you, it should be my concern. It seems to me the way you had the gun in your hand when I found you passed out that you need protection from using it on yourself."

"I wouldn't do that, and even if I wanted to, you couldn't stop me!"

Rita was too shocked by this statement to respond right away. "What have I gotten into," was all she could think. Freddie must have seen how his statement affected her, stopping her argument dead and causing the look of shock on her face, because he was back to his sweet approach again with her.

"Lo siento, mi amor, please forgive me, por favor. I am crazy out of my mind missing you. I did not mean it. I would only kill myself if I though I would lose you."

"Freddie," Rita started slowly and deliberately, "I do not want you to lose me, but threatening me with suicide is no way to keep me. I need to trust you and you are obviously not capable of giving me that trust."

Freddie raised his voice once again. "So you will desert me, too. Just like all my other so called friends, and even my wife!"

"Look don't compare me to anyone else," Rita shot back in anger. " I'm not here to judge any of your friends and certainly not your wife. She must have had her reasons to make you leave. That's her business, and I'm not getting involved with that. If this behavior is an indication of what you put her through, I think I can see what she was up against. But you are wrong, Freddie Prinze, if you think you can dismiss me by comparing me to the other people in your life. I'm not leaving. I believe you need help and I am determined to see that you get it. You may bully or sweet talk others into thinking you are all right, but I know better."

"What help can you give me, being angry with me! I don't need that kind of help!" Freddie said indignantly.

Rita knew she needed to calm down. She wasn't accomplishing anything yelling at Freddie. She wanted him to know she would stand by him and see that he would get the help he needed to get through the problems.

"Look, Freddie," she started in a more loving tone, "Drugs are not going to solve your problems. They are only making things worse. I know this from first hand experience."

Freddie hung his head. "You're referring to your friend, aren't you?"

Rita nearly lost it. Pushing back tears, she answered, "Yes, Lucy. She tried to solve her problems with drugs and died."

"She's at peace now, though."

Rita tried to hold back, but couldn't. Through a torrent of tears and incensed feelings she let her words cut Freddie like a knife. "Yes, but at what price. Her family and friends will be forever tormented by her death. You have no idea about what you are saying. Lucy died in my arms, and I will never be able to erase that memory from my mind for the rest of my life! Are you suggesting that in order for you to have peace, your family and friends must pay that price, too? It's too high, I know! I can't live with the deaths of two people I love on my mind. You may as well lock me away in a mental institution right now. Is that what you really want for me, your mi amor?", Rita spat out sarcastically.

Freddie started to cry. "I don't deserve you. I am torturing the one I love. I can't stand it. You are right. I do need help. Are you the one sent by God to give it to me? I told you that being my angel de la guarda would be a big responsibility. Are you willing to make that sacrifice for me?"

"Yes," answered Rita in a much calmer voice. She had hoped by his tears that Freddie was finally coming around to accepting her help. She knew that until he admitted he needed help, and stopped acting like he had everything under control, she could do nothing to help him. This was the step Lucy would not take until it was too late. Rita said a silent prayer to St. Michael that it was not too late for Freddie. It was at that moment that she remembered her gift to him.

"Please wait here a minute, I need to get something."

Rita left Freddie sitting on her bed, still sobbing, as she went into the living room where she had tossed her jacket. She reached in the pocket and retrieved the small wrapped box from its recesses and returned to the bedroom. She sat down beside him and held out the box to Freddie. As he looked at her with a puzzled expression, she told him to take it. "I am willing to make that sacrifice, but I know now that I am going to need help. You gave me an angel," she said as she lovingly fingered the angel around her neck, " and I am giving you an angel, too!"

Freddie unwrapped the box and opened it. He lifted the St. Michael medal up and let it dangle by the chain it hung on. He looked at the medal and then back at Rita, silently questioning her about it with his gaze.

"It's St. Michael. He is the head of all of the hosts of angels in heaven. I can't do much better than to get him to help me protect you from yourself. I don't know what you were taught as a child to believe, but St. Michael is a great friend to have when you are battling the demons in your life. I hope he will help me help you. I am praying his prayer for you every day. Will you accept my gift and wear it and believe, if not in the power of the saint, then in my prayers and my love for you!"

Freddie wordlessly placed the medal in Rita's hands and lowered his neck for her to put it around. When she had finished doing that, he fingered it gently and raised it up to look at it more closely. "I do remember a little about St. Michael. I went to a catholic school for a while, growing up. The nuns were so strict that I lost faith in the god they believed in. I do believe in God, and I read the bible. I just don't know what to believe about the rest of religion. It always seemed so hypocritical."

"I can understand that. I left the church when I went to college. Then I blamed God for what was happening to Lucy. I have a lot to learn about Him, though. God can't be about death and destruction. I guess I am finding I need to get back to what I believed as a child, only I still can't swallow everything the church teaches, at least not yet."

"Maybe that is one thing we can explore together, and the medal can be a start."

"I hoped you would feel that way."

Freddie smiled the first smile Rita had seen from him in many days. "Thank you.... can I call you mi amor?"

Rita nodded and smiled back at him. "Thank you, mi amor, for the gift. I will learn to believe in this saint and the saint I see before me."

Rita blushed. "I'm no saint, Freddie. Just a mortal woman in love with a man who I hope loves me."

"Then I need this woman to show me the love she professes so I can return that love to her. Will you start by forgiving me the moments of my weakness, and lift me out of the dark despair that drove me to break the solemn promise I made to the lady I love!"

"If you are willing to let me help you, I will gladly show you how much I love you." And with that, Rita kissed Freddie. She drew back momentarily and made a face. "I hate to break this mood, but you still have... how can I put this. When I brought you here, you were pretty sick."

Freddie laughed with embarrassment. "I am so sorry. Can you direct this gentleman to the place to correct this offense to his lady," he said in his proper English impression."

Rita smiled back at him and imitated the same accent. "But of course, m' lord." She took him by the hand and led him to the bathroom, allowing herself finally admire the form she had grown to love.

He was unclothed since she had undressed him earlier to launder his clothes. After getting a spare toothbrush and a towel for him, she left him to shower and went to the washer to put his wet clothes in the dryer.

When she returned, she straightened up the bed and unpacked the negligee she had bought on the shopping trip with her mom. It was a purchase she had managed without her mother's knowledge, like the medal. Slipping into the negligee, she sprayed some of the perfume Freddie liked so much on herself. She went into the kitchen to brush her teeth with the spare brush she kept there. When she went back to the bedroom, Freddie had come out of the bathroom with nothing but the towel around him.

"LOOOKING GOOOD!", Freddie exclaimed as he saw Rita standing before him.

"Do you like it," Rita said, twirling around like a model. "I bought it to wear for you!"

"Come here, mami, and I'll show you how much I like it."

Rita ran to his waiting arms as the towel dropped to the floor. As on the first night together, Freddie lifted Rita up and placed her gently on the bed and took his place beside her. They kissed each other deeply.

Freddie was the first to end this first of many kisses.

"Is that better, mi amor!"

"Very much better, my Latin lover!"

They kissed again, caressing each other up and down the lengths of their bodies as they did. Freddie broke from the kiss again. He leaned over to Rita's ear and whispered, "Cogeme con tu boca, por favor."

"What does that mean", whispered Rita in Freddie's ear.

"Please take me in your mouth," Freddie whispered back. He took her head gently into his hands and guided her down the length of his body. Rita began to realize what Freddie had asked her to do. She hesitated for a moment and decided if he could do this for her, she should be able to reciprocate. As she began, she was able to glance up at Freddie's face. He had his head back and eyes closed, quietly moaning and smiling.

She was surprised to find that she reveled in his enjoyment of her ministrations.

After a few minutes of this, Freddie again placed his large hands gently on either side of her head and carefully disengaged her from this activity. She kissed him up his chest as she slowly made her way back to his mouth. Freddie kissed her deeply. Then he whispered, "Now it's my turn."

Freddie slowly kissed Rita down the length of her body, kissing and caressing every vulnerable, pleasurable spot as he passed it.. He found his way to the place she had been to with him. She forgot everything that had worried her as he made her lose herself in the pleasure of his ways. She knew that he could not continue his attentions in this activity for much longer without her body giving in. Rita gently grasped Freddie's head and caused him to stop.

Freddie kissed his way back to her face and as he smiled at her he said, "Dulcinea mia, yo te amo tanto. Mi vida, mi amor. Yo te deseo!"

Rita didn't need Freddie to translate the fact he wanted her. His actions translated that fact to her clearly as he carefully placed himself on top of her and showed her again how much he adored her. As they pulsated as one, Freddie kept whispering, "Dulcinea mia, dulcinea mia, dulcinea mia."

The lovers gradually slowed their pace and Freddie smoothly rolled over to Rita's side. She maneuvered herself to face him and, putting her head on his chest, she asked him what he had said to her as he made love to her.

"Dulcinea mia means you are my sweet one, or my sweetness, as I have called you so many times before. But now I say it with possessiveness. I want you to be mine forever!"

"Are you asking me to marry you?" Rita asked as she propped her self up to look Freddie square in the face. She could hardly believe her ears.

"Eventually, dulcinea mia. I know we cannot right now, but someday I want to make you my own, legally, as I have made you mine in body and soul now! Would you say 'Yes' to your Freddie if I were to ask you to marry me one day?"

"Freddie, how could I refuse you, when you ask me that way. But are you willing to do all it takes to make marriage work between us. I love you and you have become my life. But you know that you need to get help. I want to help you. Please let me so we can make all our dreams come true."

"You are mi vida, my life, too! I will try to get help. I do not want to repeat the mistakes of my past with you. Continue to pray to your St. Michael for me and maybe he can help me."

"I will, I promise." Rita hugged Freddie hard. She kissed him and he began to show her how much he loved her all over again. Rita never thought that she would be able to keep pace with Freddie, but her love for him gave her all the energy she needed. They spent the better part of the afternoon exploring new variations on the physical expressions of their love for each other.

Darkness came to the bedroom where Rita and Freddie lay slumbering in each other's arms. It had been hours since they had finally fallen asleep in this position, exhausted from the wonderful activities of their afternoon of love. Rita was the first to stir from her position. She had another one of those disturbing dreams. She sat up carefully, so as not to wake Freddie.

She studied his handsome sleeping features as she though about the nightmare from which she had just awakened. "Oh Freddie," she whispered to herself, "Why do you trouble my dreams, so. Are you subconsciously trying to warn me of something?" She thought back to the waterfall in this incarnation of the dream. She had been standing next to Freddie, looking down at the dizzying heights. Rita had always been afraid of high places. Freddie was actually encouraging her to jump with him. She started to protest as he leapt off, leaving her behind on the top to scream at his descent. It was at this point in the dream that she woke up. She delicately began to stroke his soft, dark hair, brushing it away from his face. She caressed his face, probing the dimples on cheeks with her fingers. She tried to brush his mustache with the tips of her fingers, when he stirred. Freddie lifted his hand to his face to scratch his upper lip and rolled over to face Rita. His dark eyes opened slowly, struggling to focus on Rita's eyes looking at him adoringly.

"Buenas noches, dulcinea mia! Why are you smiling at me? You look at me like you will never see me again and you want to memorize every line of my face so you won't forget it!"

"Oh, my God, how can he read my thoughts like that!" thought Rita. She just answered, "I am afraid of that happening. I just had another dream. You worry me so in these dreams. Why do you jump from the top of that waterfall?"

"Mi amor, I couldn't tell you. It's your dream. Please let me reassure you, though, that I would never do anything to intentionally hurt dulcinea mia!"

Rita grabbed a hold of Freddie and hugged him as the tears started to stream down her face. Her body started to shake as she sobbed in his arms.

"Hush, now, mi amor, mi vida, dulcinea mia. Don't cry. Yo te amo, I love you! It will be ok, you'll see. This dream means nothing, except that you care for me so much that you want to save me. You will, you have. You have saved me from a life filled with cynicism and despair. I see in your eyes the hope I need to live my life, not just to exist in it. Dry your eyes and kiss me and tell me how much you love me."

Freddie delicately pulled Rita from the hug she had him clutched in. He looked deeply into her eyes as she melted into the pools of his. "I do love you Freddie. Yo te amo, mi amor, mi vida."

Freddie beamed his largest smile at her as she attempted to express her words of love to him in Spanish. His eyes twinkled and his dimples became as deep as craters. She wanted to be one with him at that moment, no matter what. They kissed, holding each other in a loving embrace.

Freddie was the first to break. " I don't know about you, but I'm starting to feel hungry. I don't know when was the last time I ate."

"I haven't had anything since the plane, and that was terrible." Rita replied. " I didn't eat much of it. I could use something to eat myself. I'm afraid I don't have much in the apartment, though, being that I've been away."

"As much as I would love to indulge in your culinary delights, I think we both could use going out."

Freddie looked around the room. "What have you done with my clothes, wench!"

Rita stood up and looked at Freddie sitting on the bed like he was on a throne! She laughed as she huffed, "Wench, indeed! I have slaved in love for my lord and he insults me!" Freddie reached out for Rita and pulled her on the bed next to him. He tried tickling her and she reciprocated. They wound up tangled in the covers, laughing so hard they were crying.

Rita was the first to give in. "Uncle, uncle! I'll get your clothes. And I'll get you back one day Freddie Prinze! Revenge is sweet!"

"Not as sweet as you, dulcinea mia."

Rita got up, put on her robe and went to the kitchen to get Freddie's clothes out of the dryer. She brought them to him and they both dressed.

Freddie and Rita walked down the block to a little Italian restaurant not far from the apartment building. They shared a quiet meal together, since not many people went out to eat on a Sunday evening. Rita noticed Freddie's appetite was coming back. Maybe all that exercise he had earlier helped build it up! Rita smiled at this thought.

"What are you smiling at?" asked Freddie.

"You, and how much I love you," answered Rita lovingly.

"And I love you. I wish I didn't have to say goodnight to you."

"I know. But I need my energy for school in the morning!" Rita winked at Freddie and he burst out in a loud, ringing laugh that sent Rita into peals of laughter herself. "When will I see you again?"

Freddie got up to pay the check. Rita followed him closely. They walked hand and hand back to their building. Rita waited patiently for Freddie's answer, but he was strangely quiet. In the elevator, she wanted to repeat her question, but something stopped her.

Finally, as Freddie walked Rita to her door, he spoke.

"I have some things to do before I see you again. Please trust me. I love you, but I need to get some of my life in order."

"Would you give me your phone number, so I can call you."

"I would rather you didn't call me. Not that I don't want to talk to you, but other people are in and out of my apartment, and some of them could make trouble if they were to find out about us." Rita pouted. She knew Freddie sensed her disappointment over what he was telling her. He continued. "I wish we didn't have to be so secretive about us. I intend to correct that problem in the near future. Be patient, dulcinea mia. I promise I'll call you real soon."

"I trust you, mi amor," responded Rita. Freddie reached down and planted a sweet butterfly kiss on Rita's lips.

"I know you do," said Freddie. Be good and keep praying for your Freddie. He turned and sauntered down the hall to his apartment. "El dulce sueña, sweet dreams, dulcinea mia!" said Freddie as he blew a kiss to her and entered his apartment.

Rita walked though her doorway, closed the door behind her and entered the darkness. The apartment felt lonely without Freddie there. She went over to the sofa and sat down on it without turning on any lights. She put her head in her hands and quietly cried.

Chapter 8

The next week seemed to drag on and on for Rita. She had not heard from Freddie since he kissed her goodbye Sunday night. She knew he was busy, but the waiting was just about killing her. Friday afternoon finally arrived, but for Rita it was bittersweet. She looked forward to a few days off, but would she spend any of them with Freddie? Rosa knocked on her doorpost and entered Rita's classroom.

"Amiga, you have moped around here all week. What's gotten into you, lately?... No, don't tell me, Freddie. Am I right?"

"I can't hide anything from you, Rosa. I have quit trying to. Yes, he hasn't called all week. After the day we had Sunday, I thought we would be together more."

"I know you told me you got the airport snafu straightened out. I wish you would slow down with your physical relationship, though. I still think you are setting yourself up for the big hurt. It sounds like he isn't ready to make any more commitments, especially in that department."

"I know, I wish I could slow this down, but for some reason, I feel like I have to grab what I can from this relationship, as the opportunity presents itself to me. Freddie is not the most accessible person I know. He showed me his schedule for the month of December, and I don't think three people could keep pace with Freddie! The show, his personnel appearances, his standup, meetings; it made my head dizzy just looking at it. I'm afraid if he tries to keep up with this schedule, he might slip back into the drugs to help him cope! I wish he would just call me. Just hearing his lilting voice over the phone lines would go a long way to comfort me right now!"

"Rita, listen to yourself for one minute! Who is trying to help whom here? You are trying to tie him down to help him, yet do you think having to worry about you on top of this busy life of his is going to help him? Don't get me wrong, I am concerned, but more about you! I think you have gotten yourself into something that might be way over your head."

Rita knew Rosa was right. She had been trying to avoid admitting that very same thing to herself as each day that she didn't hear from Freddie went by. He had said he needed time to straighten things out, but how long would that take? It did seem she had become one more problem for him to solve. Rita could not answer Rosa. All she could do was put her hands over her face and cry. It was not the first time this week.

Rosa put her arms around the sobbing Rita and held her tight. "Shh...La calmate, mi bebé, mi amiga. Shh... Everything will be alright. If this is amor, it will work out. I didn't mean to upset you." Rita looked at Rosa, tears still streaming down her face. She quietly broke from Rosa's motherly embrace and took a tissue from the box she kept on desk. She wiped her eyes and blew her nose.

"Rosa, it's not your fault. I need you to remind me of the truth. I let my love for Freddie keep me from seeing reality. I just don't know what to do. He needs help, but I don't know how to give it to him, even if he would let me."

"What kind of help do you think he needs?"

Rita had asked herself that question hundreds of times, but the shock of hearing it forced her to voice the answer she did not want to admit. "Rehab, I guess. After the way I found him Sunday morning, nothing short of forceful intervention and rehab is going to break him of this nasty addiction. But I think he is afraid that going into rehab will cause him to lose his job. He has told me that the entertainment business is ruthless and does not tolerate weaknesses in its stars. No one around him has pressed the issue with him, of that I'm pretty sure. Why would he continue this destructive behavior, if he had some one who would force him to get help?"

"Maybe no one realizes how bad it has gotten."

"Rose, if you had seen him, passed out, with that gun in his hand, you wouldn't believe that for one minute."

"A gun!?! Rita, this is more serious than I thought," Rosa exclaimed. "Ah, Dios mio! Madre Mary, virgen de Guadeloupe! Rita, he needs help, but you are in danger, also. Think what he could do if he is stoned out of his mind one time with you there! Mi amiga, please be careful!"

Rita could see that Rosa was close to hysterics. She had to say something to calm her, and quickly. "Rosa, listen to me, I'm not a brave person. I intend to be careful. That is why I need to find a way to help him soon. I'm not even sure how long he has been taking drugs or playing with that gun. Do you have any friends who could help me? I know so few people out here. When I lived in New York and Lucy got desperate, I was able to find a hospital. I only wished she would have stuck with the rehab program. If it wasn't for that bastard of a so called boyfriend of hers, she might have stayed sober." Rita was never one for cursing, but her hatred of Brad and his role in Lucy's death still ran deep.

"Si, let me think a minute.... I do know a doctor. Ramon went to him when he started to get addicted to some pain medicine he had to take after a job injury. Dr. Gilberto Ramerez. He treats drug addicts in the barrio. He is very good. He helped my Ramon get off the pain pills."

"Do you think he would he agree to treat Freddie?"

"I think he would. I could call and ask him, but do you think Freddie would accept his help?"

Rita hesitated. This was the moment of truth. No one could be helped who didn't want to be helped. Rita learned that lesson the hard way. But at least she had the name of someone who could be there when Freddie was ready to accept the help he needed.

"I don't know, Rosa, but now that I know someone, maybe I could press the issue with Freddie more. That's if I ever hear from him!"

"Oh, I think you will. What will you do if he refuses the help, though? That is a very real possibility!"

"I know," answered Rita with a sigh. "It might take some force to get him away from the drugs and the gun. He might even become violent. I have to think of how to handle that, too."

"It might help to get him away from Los Angeles for a while, you know, give him time to kick this."

"Yea, maybe a rehab hospital would be too much publicity. It would be hard to sneak a big star into one of those places." Rosa became thoughtful for a moment. Then her face brightened as a thought occurred to her. "Rita, I know where we could take Freddie. Ramon and I had a beach house in Malibu that we used to spend our summers in. After Ramon's death, I never went back. I still kept the place for my children to use. It is not being used right now. Dr. Ramerez could treat him there."

"That's good," Rita said with thoughtful excitement. "I could try to convince Freddie that we would be taking a long needed vacation. He could even tell his producers that."

"You would deceive him of the real reason for going?"

"No, I couldn't.... I wouldn't.... Oh Rosa, I don't want to lie to him, but I might have to if he refuses my help."

"Look, I'll call Dr. Ramerez and let him know to be on call. The house will be kept ready, also. Play it by ear, and call me if you think it is time to act. I can even call my nephews to come and help if you think his is getting violent. They are both your age and lift weights. They should be good and strong. But you must make sure he doesn't have the gun. No amount of muscle will stand up to a gunshot. I must not put their lives in danger. I would never forgive myself."

"And I would never let you do that." Rita gave Rosa a hug. "This is a good plan. Let's wait and see what happens. I feel a little better knowing I have a course of action when the time comes. Let's hope he calls me soon. I cannot stand all of this waiting. I've never been a particularly patient person."

Rosa smiled at her friend. "I have begun to notice that about you, mi amiga."

The two women burst into laughter. "It feels good to laugh again," thought Rita. Maybe when this was all over they could all laugh and never cry again.


Another frustrating week would go by before Rita would hear from Freddie. Rosa asked Rita to go to church with her again, and this time Rita looked forward to it. The hymns, the prayers and even that haunting crucifix seemed to give Rita the peace of mind and resolve she needed to help her cope with what she knew she would have to do. She even spoke to Fr. Perez and set up a time to talk to him about her doubts and fears. He seemed very understanding, reminding her of the faith she had been raised on. She was able to pour her heart out to this gentle man of the cloth in a way she had needed to for a long time. She told him of Lucy, and her anger at God for all that had happened. Fr. Perez seemed to know just the right words to give her comfort and peace. She knew that when the time came for her to take the step to be reconciled to the church, she could go to Fr. Perez and confess her sins. She knew, though, that she was not quite ready for that. She was grateful that Fr. Perez did not press the issue with her.

Rita had not forgotten St. Michael, either. She prayed his prayer every night for Freddie, hoping that the good Saint would protect him.

Another Friday rolled around, and Rita was starting to think that Freddie had forgotten her. She remembered fondly the few times they had been together. Every morning she took the birth control pills she had gotten before her trip. They were a painful reminder of all Freddie had been to her.

That is the way she had begun to think these days, her relationship with Freddie as being in the past. She kept taking them, though, as if to keep hoping they would have another special time together. Rita was sitting at her kitchen table, picking at the dinner she had fixed for herself. She wondered why she even bothered to cook for herself anymore. She had no appetite, every bite lay heavy on her stomach. She finally pushed the plate away and threw the remains of her dinner down the garbage disposal. Rita figured she would have to stop pining away for Freddie.

"Obviously, he has found someone else or finally gotten things straightened out with his wife," thought Rita with a sigh and a small sob. "I guess Rosa was right, I just set myself up for the big hurt." Rita took the angel from around her neck and fingered it gently for one last time. "St. Michael, I am putting Freddie into your hands now. I seem to have been fired from the job of his angel de la guarda. You will have to do the job yourself. I have not given up on him, rather he seems to haven given up on me." Rita broke down in large tears and soulful sobs. "Michael, I have begun to believe in you. Tell Jesus for me that I still love Freddie, even if I did wrong by showing him how much physically. If there is any way that this can work out, please cause it to be, but if there isn't, I will release him."

Rita remembered a saying she saw on a tee shirt in a store recently. She thought the quote came from the Little Prince, a book she read in a college lit. class. She thought it was appropriate for her situation. The quote was, "If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it was meant to be, if it doesn't, it was never yours to begin with." The shirt had a picture of a butterfly on it. Freddie surely was that in Rita's life. A beautiful butterfly, flitting in and out.

"Oh Freddie, I don't want to, but I will let you go, out of the love I have for you. I must get on with my life." Still crying, Rita went to her bedroom and opened the bottom drawer of her dresser. Reaching in to the very recesses of the drawer, she removed a square leather box.

Opening it, she took out the friendship charm that she had laid lovingly in the bottom, wrapped in tissue paper. It was one of those charms that broke into two halves. Both halves lay within the folds of yellowing paper. One had been Rita's, the other Lucy's. They had given them to each other the day they graduated 8th grade from Our Lady of Perpetual Help parochial school. Lucy's mother found Lucy's half when she was given Lucy's personal effects. She thought Rita would want it. Rita had taken the half she always wore from her own neck that day and laid both pieces in the box just the way she found them now. She found another piece of tissue paper and wrapped Freddie's gift to her in the same loving manner she had the childhood charms. Placing the reminders of the two people that had meant the most in her life back in the box, Rita again replaced the box to its former resting-place in the bottom drawer and closed it. Going to the record player she had in her room, she took out her Styx album and put on the song, "Lady". She always pictured Freddie singing that song to her.

"Lady, when you're with me I'm smiling

Give me all your love

Your hands build me up when I'm sinking

Touch me and my troubles all fade

Lady, from the moment I saw you

Standing all alone

You gave all the love that I needed

So shy, like a child who has grown

'Cause you're my lady of the morning

Love shines in your eyes

Sparkling, clear, and lovely

You're my lady

Lady, turns me on when I'm lonely

Give me all your charm

Evenings when she lays down beside me

She takes me gently into her arms

Lady of the morning

Love shines in your eyes

Sparkling, clear, and lovely

You're my lady

Lady of the morning

Love shines in your eyes

Sparkling, clear, and lovely

You're my ... lady"

Now all she could do was lie on the bed, listen, and cry herself to sleep.


The shrill call of the phone woke Rita from a deep sleep. The record still scratched on the turntable, the needle tracking the groove nearest the label. Rita got up and shut the phonograph off and picked up the receiver.

"Morelli residence," she whispered, her voice raspy from the crying she had done earlier.

"Is this Rita?" asked an equally whispering voice. Rita did not have a hard time recognizing the voice, but it didn't sound how Freddie usually sounded.

"Freddie, yes it's me. Where have you been?" Rita tried not to sound too upset with Freddie, but after crying her eyes out for two weeks, it was hard not to feel a little angry.

"I need you, mi amor. Could you come to my apartment."

"Freddie, I'll come, but you don't sound very good."

"I'm fine, I just miss you!"

"I've missed you for two weeks. Where have you been?"

"Please, Rita, I need you now! Are you going to come to me or will I do this alone?"

Rita was beginning to wake from her stupor. She thought she could hear strains of music playing in the background, but she could not make out the tune. Whatever it was, it sounded hypnotic.

"What are you going to do, Freddie?" Rita was beginning to become alarmed at the tone of Freddie's voice.

"I want you to be with me forever! Will you come?"

"I'll be right down. Please don't do anything till I get there."

"Ok, then. Bye.", and Rita heard the click on the other end. Putting her end of the phone down, Rita wondered what Freddie meant? Together forever? He couldn't mean he wanted to elope with her, could he? But he said he would do it by himself, so that didn't make sense. He didn't make sense.

"He's high again, and I need help," thought Rita. Freddie sounded desperate, so Rita didn't want to keep him waiting. If she needed help, she would just have to call Rosa from Freddie's apartment. Rita said a quick St. Michael's prayer for safety for both her and Freddie and then rushed out of her apartment, down the hall and to the door of Freddie's apartment. She hesitated momentarily, listening to the haunting sounds coming from Freddie's stereo.

"All our times have come......here but now they're gone....Seasons don't fear the reaper........ nor do the wind, the sun or the rain...... We can be like they are....."

She opened the door without knocking and gasped at what she beheld. Freddie was sitting on the sofa; gun, wine and pills on the coffee table in front of him. He was writing something in a book, not unlike Rita's own journal. She finally recognized the song that was blaring from Freddie's stereo. It was Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper." Rita had only heard this tune on the radio a few times since it came out a few months ago, but she was always disturbed by its dark lyrics.

"Come on baby...... Don't fear the reaper..... Baby take my hand......Don't fear the reaper..... We'll be able to fly.....Don't fear the reaper... Baby I'm your man..."

Freddie looked up from what he was doing. "Dulcinea mia, you came! I knew you would! Come in and close the door. I have something to show you!" Rita did what Freddie asked, more out of fear than love. Freddie was beginning to scare her. It was obvious he was stoned.

"Come on baby...... Don't fear the reaper....."

"Freddie, how many pills have you taken today?"

"I don't know, 50 maybe. It's ok I can handle them. Actually I really needed them tonight to do what I need to do."

Rita shuddered. "What is that Freddie?"

"Come on baby...... Don't fear the reaper.....Baby I'm your man."

Freddie started to get agitated. "You used to call me mi amor, remember?" Slowly, Rita approached Freddie, trying not to make any sudden moves.

"Yes, Freddie, you are still mi amor." Pointing to the stereo, she inquired, "Could we turn that song off?"

"No, mi linda, I need that song, too. It's my inspiration!"

"Valentine is done..... here but now they're gone....... Romeo and Juliet....... are together in eternity......"

Rita was really scared now. What could he have in mind? "Freddie, may I see what you are writing?" She hoped this would distract him and calm him down again.

"Yes, I want you to see it. I wrote it for you to see!" Freddie handed Rita his journal and sat back on the sofa, his long arms dangling at his side and his beautiful dark eyes drooped at half mast. Rita took the journal and sat down in the chair opposite the sofa. She saw Freddie's scrawl across the two pages open before her. She instinctively allowed her eyes to wander to the entry dated a week ago.

"December 3. Well the last straw has finally dropped on this Puerto Rican camel's back. Christmas without my kid. If you don't have family, what do you have? Nothing! I just want to hold my son, the way my friends do. Is that too much to ask? How can I straighten up if I am never given the chance?" This was followed by scrawl that Rita could not make out. She looked up at Freddie as he sat, stoned and looking past her. "So that is why I haven't heard from him! I bet he has spent the better part of two weeks trying to straighten this out. Poor Freddie, no wonder he is so despondent." Rita forced herself to look away from Freddie and back to the journal. Most of the next entries spoke of the same struggle to get to see his son for Christmas.

Finally, she came to today's entry. "December 10. Loneliness, that's all I have left. I can't go on. I must call the only person that has understood me through all of this. I know what I must do, but will she love me enough to join me."

"forty thousand men and women every day........"

"What sweetness it would be to be together forever. I need to get her away from all of my problems, though. She does not deserve to be burdened with them. I will take her to Lucy. She misses her, I can tell.

"forty thousand men and women every day........ another forty thousand coming every day......"

"I will ask her to take my hand, just like the song. The song has the answer. Together forever. We will be like Romeo and Juliet!"

"Come on baby...... Don't fear the reaper.... Baby take my hand...... Don't fear the reaper..... We'll be able to fly.....Don't fear the reaper... Baby I'm your man."

"So that's what this is all about!" exclaimed Rita. She jumped up and let the journal drop to the floor, forgetting she didn't want to make any sudden movements.

"Came the last night of sadness.......and it was clear that she couldn't go on..... and the door was opened and the wind apeared...... the candles blew then disappeared......."

Freddie saw her get up and rose also, slower than Rita did, though, owing to his drugged condition. He came up to Rita and put his arms around Rita.

"....the curtain flew and then he appeared..... said don't be afraid.......Come on baby..... and she had no fear...... and she ran to him...... and they started to fly...... they looked backward........ and said goodbye......She had become like they are.......she had taken his hand....... she had become like they are......"

"What do you say, bebe! Will you go with me to a place where we won't be separated any more. No more pain, only pleasure!"

"Come on baby...... Don't fear the reaper....."

Rita struggled in Freddie's arms. He tightened his grip. Rita fought becoming hysterical at that moment. She had to think clearly in order to figure out what to do. Maybe if she humored him a little without agreeing to this crazy proposal of a suicide pact, she could calm him down long enough to phone Rosa for help. "O God, help me, NOW," she quietly prayed.

"Freddie, mi amor, I love you! Of course I want to be with you! Didn't I come when you asked me tonight? She reached up to kiss him on the lips. He tried to kiss her back, but backed away abruptly.

"You don't mean that! You are humoring me! They all humor me! But I will show them! I don't need .....need.... Oh Rita, I do need you! Please come with me! I promise it won't hurt. I've been practicing my shooting. It will be over soon, quick and painless! And after I send you, I will be right behind you!"

Rita was shaking so hard now, she was afraid Freddie would start to notice. She watched his every muscle, waiting for him to grab the gun from the table. He was between the gun and Rita. Again, she prayed for help. Just at that moment, Freddie started to wretch and instinctively headed for the bathroom. Rita saw the break she needed. She grabbed the gun, set the safety as her brother taught her, and disengaged the clip. As Freddie was busy vomiting, Rita took the gun and the clip and hid them in two different locations in the apartment, and then turned off that damn song. She quickly picked up the phone and dialed Rosa's number. As the phone began ringing on the other end, Rita prayed Rosa would be home and pick up before Freddie came out of the bathroom.


"Rosa, it's Rita, listen I don't have much time to talk. I'm in Freddie's apartment. I managed to get the gun hidden, but I need your nephews here NOW! He's very despondent and suicidal. Call the doctor, immediately and get him to your beach house. Your nephews and I will get him there if we have to chain him to the car!"

Breathless from her fast speech to Rosa and the tension from what she had just gone through, Rita gave Rosa the apartment number. Hanging up, she ventured into the bathroom to see how Freddie was doing. He was passed out on the floor. She felt his wrist for a pulse. It was strong and steady. His breathing was labored, but steady as well.

"Maybe this is for the best," thought Rita. "We won't have to wrestle him to the car. I hope those nephews of Rosa's are as strong as Rosa led me to believe!" Rita decided to use the time while she waited for Rosa's nephews to gather some of Freddie's clothes to take with them. She found his keys on his dresser and thought she should take them in case she would need to get back into his apartment. She had no idea how long Freddie would need to be with the doctor, so she only took enough clothing for a few days. She felt strange rummaging through his personal things, but the thought of what they were going to have to face the next day or two kept her going.

Rita continued trying to convince herself that this was all necessary. She kept returning to the bathroom every few minutes to check on Freddie. He looked so uncomfortable, passed out on the bathroom floor, but after the way he had been behaving, Rita was afraid to move him and risk waking him till help arrived. About twenty minutes went by before Rita heard a knock on Freddie's door. She opened it to find two large Hispanic men standing in the hall.

"Are you Rosa Diaz's nephews?" inquired Rita.

"Yes, replied the taller one of the two, in a thick Spanish accent. "I am Manuel, and this is my brother, Felipe. Tia Rosa said you needed our help. What can we do?"

"Come with me," answered Rita as she led the two men to the bathroom where Freddie lay unconscious.

"Ah, Dios mio!", cried the shorter man, Felipe. "Is he dead? We want no trouble with the Man!"

He started back for the front door.

"No man, listen. Tia Rosa said this lady needed our help." Manuel grabbed his brother's arm and pulled him back. "Senorita, what can we do?"

"Thank you, Manuel. I need you to carry him out to my car. He is not dead. (not yet, anyway, thought Rita) He is passed out from taking too many pills. He needs a doctor. Your Aunt Rosa is bringing one to her beach house in Malibu and we have to get him there."

"Why not take him to the hospital, if he is sick?" asked Felipe. Rita could tell that he was the nervous brother.

Manuel took charge of the situation. "Now, hermano, this nice lady has given us orders and we are here to carry them out. Quit your complaining and help me get him off of the floor." The two men got on either side of Freddie and lifted him easily. He started to stir slightly, but never woke up.

Felipe got one look at Freddie's face and whispered to his brother. "Manuel, do you know who this is, man?"

Manuel grunted under the dead weight of Freddie's slumped body. "No, man, but he sure is heavy. Lift up your side a little more."

"This is Freddie Prinze, the guy on TV!"

"I don't care if he is Pancho Villa, will you help me, por favor!" Manuel grunted back at Felipe.

"Sorry, man!" The two men remained silent while they carried Freddie's prone body out the door and down the hall to the elevator. Rita followed with the bag of Freddie's personal items she had gathered. As she passed the chair where she had been sitting, she spied the journal still on the floor where she had dropped it. She quickly snatched it up and put it in the bag with the rest of Freddie's things. Out in the hall, Rita helped the men get Freddie to the elevator.

"Wait for me here a minute," she ordered as she ran back to Freddie's apartment.

"Ok, lady, but don't be too long," answered Manuel. "It don't look too good standing here with a body."

"I'll only be a minute," Rita promised. She paused at Freddie's door in order to lock it and then went to her apartment. She repeated the actions she had carried out in Freddie's apartment only moments ago, throwing clothing in a bag and making sure everything was turned off. She grabbed her keys off of the counter and left her apartment, locking her door behind her. She ran down the hall, now burdened with two shopping bags full of clothes, back to the elevator, where Manuel and Felipe were waiting with Freddie propped up between them.

"I'm glad it's the middle of the night", remarked Rita as she glanced at her watch. Two in the morning. Rita did not bother to check the time when Freddie had called her, but it must have been around 12-12:30. She realized she might have gotten these men out of bed and away from their families to run this errand of mercy. Rita began to feel sorry she did this to them. "I am sorry to disturb your sleep. I appreciate your help. I would never have been able to manage this by myself."

"No problem, lady. Any amiga of Tia Rosa's is our amiga too!" Manuel smiled and Felipe smirked.

"My name is Rita. Your aunt is a special lady. You must love her very much to come out in the middle of the night to help a stranger, just because she asked you to."

"That she is, and we don't mind, do we Felipe?"

Felipe did not have time to respond as the doors of the elevator opened and the two men pulled Freddie into the car. Rita followed and pushed the button for the ground floor. Silence fell over the group once again. Rita thought back to the night of the earthquake when she and Freddie were stuck on this elevator.

"Will things ever be beautiful again between Freddie and me," she thought with a sigh. Tears started to well in her eyes. Rita fought them back. She didn't want to cry in front of these men. What would they think? "I wonder what they do think about all of this anyway?" puzzled Rita. "What I am asking them to do must seem crazy!"

The elevator opened and the group made its way to the garage. No one was around, not even the security guard. Rita was relieved she didn't have to explain this to anyone. "The night man must be taking a nature break. What luck!" thought Rita.

They dragged Freddie's drugged body to Rita's car and piled him in the back seat. Manuel instructed Felipe to sit in the back with him, speaking to him in Spanish. Even though Rita understood none of the words, the intent was very clear. Reluctantly, Felipe climbed in the back, and Manuel opened the front passenger side door and slid in. Rita put the bags she was carrying in the trunk and got behind the wheel. Starting the engine, she put the car in gear and drove out of the garage and onto the highway that led them to Malibu.

Chapter 9

Manuel gave Rita the directions to the beach house. During the whole long drive, Freddie only stirred occasionally, never actually waking up. Rita wasnt sure what she would do if he did, so she said a little prayer of thanks to God for keeping Freddie unconscious. She just hoped he wasnt in any real medical danger.

As the car crunched down the long gravel driveway that led to the house, Rita saw that Rosa was there waiting. Every light in the house seemed to blaze. As Rita opened her car door, Rosa came running out to greet her, with the doctor not far behind. Rosa hugged Rita like her mother used to do when Rita was little and had just gone through a traumatic experience.

"Ah, Madre de Dios, you are finally here! I was so worried about you. Were you able to convince him to come?" Rosa spoke in a mixture of Spanish and English as she always did when she was excited. Rita knew what she meant and said, "I did not need to convince him. St. Michael helped me by knocking him unconscious."

"Is he ok?"

"I dont know yet." Rita turned to see that the doctor had not wasted time talking like the women had, but had followed Manuel to the back seat of her car. He was busy examining Freddie to determine if he was fit to move. After what seemed like an eternity, Rita got up her nerve and questioned the doctor.

"Well, Dr. Ramerez, is Freddie going to be alright?"

"He is weak and obviously very stoned. It is a wonder his heart can take what the drug is doing to it. How long has he been on methaqualone?"

Rita looked puzzled. The doctor realized she did not know the medical name for the drug, so he explained.

"Quaaludes, how long has he been taking them?"

"I really dont know. I think quite a while though. He told me he had taken 50 today, and that he could handle them. His doctor prescribed them to him, but 50 wouldnt be a normal daily dose, would it?"

"No, it isnt. He must have been abusing his prescription for some time. And thats not the only drug he has taken. There is evidence of cocaine use in his nostrils and if he has been abusing these drugs there may have been others, marajuana probably as well as alcohol. He seems to be well enough to move. Manuel, you and Felipe gently move my patient to the bed your Tia Rosa has set up in the small front bedroom. Ms. Morelli, I need you to dress him in something loose fitting. A tee shirt and shorts will do."

As the orders of the doctor were given, the group went about complying with his wishes. Rita brought the bags in from the trunk and gave Rosa the one with her things in it to put in the room where she would sleep.

Rita looked through the bag of Freddies things and found an old tee shirt and sweat pants that had been cut off at the knees. She was glad she had grabbed them, although why she did, she hadnt a clue. Maybe St. Michael had been at work again. She entered the small bedroom where Rosas nephews had placed Freddie. The room looked like it had been stripped of all its decorations and furniture except for the single bed, a couple of chairs, and a crucifix on the wall over the bed. The only light came from a close fitting ceiling fixture attached to a fan. The fan swept out slow swaths of air as it moved lazily. Rita went to Freddie and gently undressed him and redressed him in the clothes she had brought with her. Freddie was still out of it, but was beginning to show more signs of life than he had since he had passed out in his bathroom. "Dr. Ramerez," Rita called out with a little sense of alarm in her voice. "I think Freddie is waking!" The doctor rushed in and brushed Rita aside. Rita moved back toward the door to give the doctor the room he needed. He re examined Freddie, more thoroughly than he had in the car. Freddie continued to stir and even started to thrash a little from side to side. Dr. Ramerez reached into his medical bag and filled a syringe with a clear fluid. Wrapping a tourniquet made of a wide, plastic stretch band around Freddies upper arm, he felt for a vein and injected the solution into his arm.

"What are you giving him, doctor?"

"Just something to keep him calm for the moment." Rita knew he must have seen the worried look on her face because he continued in a reassuring voice. "Dont worry. He is in no immediate danger, yet."

"YET?" Rita practically screamed. She sank down in one of the chairs that stood by the door.

"Get a hold of yourself. I only said yet, because Freddie is not out of the woods yet. He will have a long road to travel till he gets these poisons out of his system. I will not lie to you. Withdrawal from methaqualone is very hazardous. He is young and strong. I think he will be ok. But we have much work to do before this is over. You must be strong for him. Are you going to be able to help him?"

"What can I do, Im not a doctor!"

"I will be here for all of the medical side of this, but that will not help him if you are not here for his spirit. You are going to have to will him to get better. I have seen this too many times. A drug addict needs his addiction, and unless he can find a substitute for the drugs he is taking, he will only go back to them, no matter what I do to help him clean up. Are you ready to provide that anti drug?"

Rita knew what the doctor was telling her was true. Thats why the rehab never seemed to work for Lucy. The lure to the drugs was greater than anything Rita could provide for her. She was determined that this time would be different, though. She, Rita Morelli, would be Freddies anti drug. She straightened up in the chair with a look of determination on her face. "Yes, Dr. Ramerez. I will do whatever you need me to. Just tell me!"

"Good. The first thing I need you to do is probably going to be the hardest thing I will ask of you. There is nothing for you to do for a while. I need you rested for that time when Freddie will need you. Go to Mrs. Diaz and let her show you to your bed. You need to sleep now."

"But Doctor, I want to stay here and help you!"

"I know you do Ms. Morelli, but you asked me what you should do and this is it. Are you going to follow doctors orders, or do I need to give you medicine to help you get the rest I need you to get?"

Rita cringed at the thought of taking anything to help her to sleep. She hadnt need to take anything stronger than aspirin for anything before, and she was not going to start now. "Ok, Dr. Ramerez, you win. Ill go. But please wake me the moment I can be of assistance!"

"I promise." Dr. Ramerez turned to check on Freddie while Rita reluctantly left the room in search of Rosa. She found her in the kitchen making tea. Manuel and Felipe were drinking beers. The three of them were conversing in low tones, in Spanish. They stopped abruptly as Rita entered the kitchen. Rosa went over to Rita and put her arm around her. "Amiga, it will be alright. Dr. Ramerez is the best. He has treated hundreds of drug addicts. He will see your Freddie through this crisis. We will pray the rosary for him and madre Maria will help him, youll see. Ill call Fr. Perez in the morning. He will come out to see him and pray for him too."

"Thank you, Rosa." Turning to the two men who rose from their seats when she walked in, she said, "Thank you both for your help tonight. Muchas gracias!"

"De nada," answered the two men in unison. Manuel turned to Rosa and said, "Tia, we must be going now. Let us know how it turns out between el caballero and his senorita."

"Buenos noches, or more correctly buenos días! I will keep you informed. Give your mama a kiss for me!"

Rosa escorted the two men to the door. When they had gone, she came back into the kitchen where she left Rita. "Amiga, how is your Freddie?"

"The doctor says he is ok for now, but he may have a rough time coming off the drugs. He wants me to rest until he needs me. I guess I need to go to bed."

"The doctor knows what is best for both of you. I will wake you if you are needed. Let me show you to your room."

Rita followed Rosa down a short hallway to a bedroom in the back of the house. It was large with an uncurtained picture window overlooking the ocean. The room was painted in coral and sea foam. Mexican pottery was strewn about in a lazy but organized manner. A huge king sized canopied bed dominated the center of the room.

"Rosa this room is beautiful. Was it yours and Ramons?"

"Yes, and now it is yours. Sleep the sleep of angels, amiga." Rosa gently closed the door behind her. Rita took out a nightgown and her toothbrush and went into the master bathroom to get herself ready for bed.

She returned to the beautiful bed, climbed in between the sheets, and with out any trouble at all, to her surprise, nodded off to sleep.


"Help me Rita, dont let me jump, dont let me fall! Im so afraid! Rita, dulcinea mia! Where are you? I cant see you! Please help me.... Im falling........ aaaaaaaaaaa...."



"Rita, amiga, wake up! Ah, Madre de Dios, why wont you wakeup?" Rita started to stir from her nightmare only to find Rosa standing over her, shaking the stuffings out of her.

"Im awake already!" Rita practically shouted.

"O mi amiga, I was so worried! I heard you scream and I ran back to see what was the matter. You were thrashing about in the bed, screaming at the top of your lungs. I tried to wake you for several minutes, but you were so sound asleep!"

"Well Im awake now. Tell me, what was I screaming in my sleep?"

"Something about Freddie. You were telling him to stop doing something, I think. Did you have another nightmare?"

Rita put her hand to her forehead and wiped the sweat from her brow. She laid back down and tears started streaming down the sides of her face as she stared at the canopy overhead. "Rosa, I cant take this anymore.

The dream was the worst it has ever been. I was on top of the waterfall, but I couldnt find Freddie anywhere! I searched and search, calling his name. I finally turned around toward the ledge and there he was.

He was begging me to help him, but he did not see me.

Rosa, he didnt jump this time. It was like an invisible hand just pushed him over the edge." Rita broke down in large sobs. "I couldnt help him, Rosa, I.... just.... couldnt....."

Rosa grabbed a hold of Rita and held her in a motherly bear hug. She stroked Ritas hair and tried to comfort her. "Hush, chiquita, mi bebe. It will be alright. It is only a dream. You have helped your Freddie. He is here, under the doctors care. Shhh, now. Everything is going to be alright. Madre Maria told me so."

Rita slowly disengaged herself from Rosas loving embrace. "You really think so? I prayed, and St. Michael gave me the strength and help I needed to get him here. But Rosa, will he make it through the treatment? I have heard that people die from Quaalude withdrawal. Rosa, you may as well carry out Freddies last wish and kill me too if he dies. I love him too much to live without him!"

"Then we will have to pray even harder that he makes it through. You must be strong for him. Why dont you get dressed and I will make you something to eat. You can talk to the doctor and see how Freddie is doing."

Rosa got up from Ritas bedside and closed the door as she left. Rita busied herself with her morning routine and went to find Dr. Ramerez. He was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of coffee. Rosa was busy at the stove cooking something that would have smelled heavenly if Rita had an appetite. Rita went to the kitchen table and sat down next to the doctor.

Rosa put a cup of coffee down in front of Rita. "Thank you, Rosa.

"De nada," answered Rosa as she went back to her cooking. Rita poured a little cream into the coffee and stirred it. The whole time she was trying to form the right questions to ask the doctor about Freddie. Dr. Ramerez must have sensed her awkwardness about what to say because he began the conversation.

"How did you sleep, Ms. Morelli?"

"Fine. Dr. Ramerez, how is Freddie doing and why arent you with him?" Rita tried not to sound curt with the doctor, but her nerves were shot and she was tired of the doctor seeming to be more concerned with her than with Freddie.

"Do not worry. He is resting. This is going to be a long process, and if you spend all of your energy worrying, you will not have the strength to see him through this. Try to relax and rest. I will make sure he will be alright. That is why I am here."

"Im sorry, Doctor, I guess I should remember to trust you. You keep telling me that this is going to take a long time. How long will it take?"

Dr. Ramerez stroked his short graying beard. "I have seen this take as little as a few days or up to a couple of months. It depends on how much he was taking and how long he was taking the Quaaludes. Treatment can also be complicated by any other drugs he might have been taking, including alcohol. If you dont know anything specific about his drug history, Im forced to treat him by trial and error."

"You mean experiment on him?!"

"Not exactly. I need to give him doses of Phenobarbital in decreasing amounts to get his body used to not getting the Quaaludes it was used to having. The initial dose is a guess at this point. If he remains sleepy, I will gradually decrease the dosage, but if he becomes agitated or anxious, I must increase the dosage. Even if I knew exactly how much he took, I would still have to watch him for at least 72 hours. That is the first job I have for you. I just gave him another dose an hour ago, so he will be ok for a while. Would you be willing to stand watch and check his behavior for me? I, too, need rest and someone needs to watch over him."

"I can and will do that." Rita stood up.

The doctor also rose to his feet. "Well then Nurse Morelli, lets check on our patient." The doctors attempt at injecting levity into the situation was not lost on Rita.

"Muchas gracias, Dr. Ramerez. I do need to lighten up a little. Lead on!"

They entered the small bedroom. Freddie was resting on the bed with an IV hanging on a pole next to the bed. Rita guessed that was done after she left. She went over to Freddies sleeping form and kissed him on his sweaty forehead. Instinctively, she took the towel that had been hanging from the bedpost and wiped it for him. Dr. Ramerez smiled.

"See, your instincts are well suited for this job. I see I am leaving him in good hands. Tell Mrs. Diaz to wake me when he shows signs of consciousness or distress."

"Yes, Doctor. I will. Go and rest. Thank you again."

Rita sat down on the little chair that was beside the bed as Dr. Ramerez left the room. She saw the bag of Freddies clothing sitting in the corner of the room. Sticking out of the top of the bag was the journal Rita had grabbed on her way out the door. Rita got up and retrieved it from the bag. Taking it back to the chair, she sat down and opened it to the first page. The date at the top read "December 5, 1973." "That was a little more than 4 years ago," thought Rita. "Maybe this journal will have the answers for the doctor about his drug use, and some answers for me too." Rita decided she would spend the hours she had to keep an eye on Freddie studying his journal and getting to know the man she had fallen in love with. She realized she needed a more comfortable chair for that, though. She asked Rosa to help her move the overstuffed rocker from the living room into the bedroom. It almost didnt fit, but when they moved the bed to one side a little, Rita made it fit. She settled down to read.

"December 5, 1973. I am starting this journal so that I will be able to look back someday and write my story. I will be famous, I know that. My friends tell me I have what it takes in this business. I am with my manager, flying to the west coast to be on Carson.

You know you have made it if you play Carson. I have made it. I know I will be great. I will prove myself to all the big shots in Hollywood. No more school for me. I am on my way to the top!

"December 7, 1973. Its Pearl Harbor Day, but there were no bombs for me last night. I blew them away. I was nervous, but I got out there and did my stuff. The audience loved it. I had them in the palm of my hand. And Mr. Carson asked me to sit with his guests. Me! Freddie Pruetzel! The Hungarian kid from Washington Heights! He knew I was good, too, just like his audience. He told me later I was destined to go far in this business. Im flying high. Im going straight to the top. The Merv Griffin Show was great too. I perform at the LA Comedy club tonight and then its home to New York. I cant wait to see Ma and give her a big hug. She is so proud of me!"

As Rita read, Freddies life unfolded before her. She found out that he had been experimenting with illegal drugs since he was in high school. That did not surprise her very much. She knew many kids who tried stuff in school. It sounded like Freddie was used to life on the streets of NYC and she knew that it can be a tough life. Her brother had to deal with drugs and gangs in his job. He would tell her how hard it is for kids growing up in the city. And Freddie grew up there in the middle of it. Yet he was able to make it out of there and make it big. His talent helped him out, but it did not prevent him from what fame would do to him later. She read about that in the later entries.

"January 12, 1974 Im ready for the big time. My first audition for a TV show. I was very nervous, but a little coke took care of that. I was on, I was hot. I hear it is between me and one other actor. We need to fly to Canada to audition with the actor playing the Man to my Chico. I know I will be good. Ma is praying for me."

Rita continued to read about how Freddie got the part of Chico. A lot of pressure was heaped on the broad shoulders of the teenager from Washington Heights.

"Feb-Mar 74 I move to Hollywood, knowing I want it to be my home, at least for a while. For now it beats New York, at least the roaches have tans.

"Im in Hollywood to do a pilot for a possible series called Chico and the Man. If it goes, I can fulfill my dream and move my folks out of mugger land and buy them a home here in California and give them enough money to retire.

"Some of my old friends are now in LA but even they dont get me out of my depression. Will the show go? Will I be flash? Will I get my folks out?

"We taped the pilot, and the moment Ive been waiting for has arrived. I am a smash! Everybody knows it. But I am the new kid on the block and Im still naive, and my manager wont relocate to California. I feel alone."

Rita put the journal down and rubbed her eyes. She looked over at the still sleeping Freddie, wondering if he would ever wake up. When he spoke of his loneliness, all Rita wanted to do was take him in her arms and kiss the loneliness away. She had been there for hours. Rosa came in and brought her a tray and watched her eat, making sure that she would keep up her strength. Rosa was a good friend, thought Rita. Freddie could use friends like her in his life. People to take care of him. People to watch out for him and not use him. Finally, around 2 p.m. Freddie started to lash around violently. Rita sprang up from her chair and ran to the doorway.

"Dr. Ramerez, come quickly! Its Freddie!"

The doctor and Rosa appeared in the doorway. Dr. Ramerez rushed to Freddies side and started to take his vitals. Freddie, still only half conscious, was fighting him.

"Ms. Morelli, take his arm and hold him down. Mrs. Diaz, the other one. Quickly! Im going to have to strap him to the bed." He pulled a large strap from his bag and as Rita and Rosa struggled to keep Freddie as still as they could, the doctor ran the strap across

Freddies mid-section and his arms and tightened it. Rita and Rosa let go of him and sat down, exhausted from their fight. Freddie seemed to have the strength of many men. The doctor quickly took out a syringe and injected Freddie with more Phenobarbital through his IV. Freddies muscles relaxed, but he remained conscious. For the first time since he passed out the night before he spoke. He sounded very angry.

"Ah, Madre de Dios, where in the hell am I? Why do you have me pinned down like this? What in the hell do you think you people are doing to me?" He started yelling and cursing in Spanish. Rita was confused, but

Rosa and the doctor understood him perfectly. Continuing in Spanish, Rosa introduced the doctor to Freddie. Then Dr. Ramerez began to speak to Freddie in Spanish. Rita was so frustrated because she could not understand them and did not know what was going on. She turned to Rosa with her mouth open and a puzzled look on her face.

"Its ok, Rita. The doctor is explaining to Freddie what has happened to him the last 24 hours. I must say, he isnt taking it well." With those words, Rita collapsed into the chair and started to lose consciousness. Rosa saw what was happening and shook the doctor. He told Rosa to get damp face cloths and put them behind Ritas neck to revive her. Rosa carried out the order. The doctor examined Rita quickly and returned his attention to Freddie. Rosa came back with the cloths and Rita soon revived.

"Rosa, what happened? All of a sudden everything went black!"

"Oh amiga, you passed out. Its going to be ok now. You feel any better?"

"Rita, mi amor, are you there? Are you alright?" Freddie was straining against the strap that held him fast to the bed. "Doctor, please untie me, I need to help Rita. I..." He collapsed back into unconsciousness."

"Freddie.....," screamed Rita as she pushed both the doctor and her friend aside. "Doctor, hes not responding again." Rita collapsed across Freddies chest in sobs of mournful tears. "Freddie dont go......... I love you, mi amor! Im so sorry I did this to you. Please come back to me............."

Rosa tried to put her hand on Ritas back to comfort her, but Rita, with tears streaming down her cheeks, turned to them and yelled, "Why did I ever let you talk me into this. He will hate me for the rest of his life. This was wrong. Its cruel to have him strapped down like a crazy person. Hes sick, not crazy. Why dont you help him! I hate you!" Rita ran from the room and down the hall to the bed she slept in the night before.

Rita lay, inconsolable across the bed. "Its all over between the two of us," thought Rita. "Hell never love me again." Thinking about his beautiful dark eyes looking loving at her, the way he laughed when he told her a joke, the way he put his arms around her and kissed her with those full lips of his..... Rita sobbed all the louder. "Freddie......," she whispered and cried. "Freddie, Freddie..." She continued to call out his name, in a kind of chant like pattern. She was on the verge of insanity.

Rosa gently knocked on the door and entered the room. "Rita," she whispered. "Are you ok, honey. I have someone with me who wants to speak to you ."

"Rosa, I dont think..." Rita was going to say she wasnt in any condition or mood to speak to anyone, but as she turned to face Rosa, she saw Fr. Perez standing behind her.

"Oh, Padre, I didnt know it was you. Please come in."

Rosa showed the priest to a chair sitting beside the bed. Rita sat on the edge of the bed and Rosa sat beside her.

"The Padre has been in to see Freddie and he wanted to see you, too."

"Im glad he came. Padre, you must pray very hard for my Freddie. Im afraid for him."

"I know, Mi niña. He is in Gods hands right now. Rosa tells me that you are the one we should be worried about now."

"Im, ok. This is all very nerve wracking, thats all."

"I know."

Rosa stood up. " I need to check on the doctor. I will leave the two of you for a while so you can talk."

"Thank you, Rosa. Im sorry I yelled at you earlier. You have been such a big help and I have treated you badly."

"Do not worry yourself about that, amiga. I understand. Maybe the good Padre will help you find the answers." Rosa turned and left Rita with the priest.

"Is she right, can you help me make sense of this?"

"I will try, Senorita Morelli, but I can not guarantee I will have all of the answers."

"Well try this one first. Why is God making Freddie suffer so much?"

"Did God give Freddie the drugs?"

"Well, no... I see where you are going with this. He made the decision to be destructive with his life, so God cant help him, right?"

"Wont, unless Freddie wants his help. You see, God gave us all the gift of free will and he wont take that gift back, even if we abuse it. He loves us that much."

"It doesnt sound much like love to me. I mean, what if a person is not in his right mind? How can he make good decisions? God needs to help him by stepping in."

"Thats why God put us here. We are to be the ones to help each other through hard times and bad decisions. And God will help us if we ask him to."

"I need to know if this will turn out alright. I see

Freddie in there suffering, and I cant help him. Besides, after what I did to him, I really dont know if he will accept my help any more."

"What do you think you did to him, that you would think he would reject you."

"Padre, you saw the way they had him strapped down! They are treating him like a lunatic, and its all my fault!" Rita put her face in her hands and broke down once again.

Father Perez reached over and put his hand on her shoulder. "Mi niña, you have done what was needed to be done. Remember, you said he was not making good decisions on his own. You had to make this one for him. I believe God put you into his life to help him when he could not help himself any more."

"You really think so? Thats what Rosa kept telling me when I was having those nightmares about him."

"You say you had dreams about him?"

Rita was embarrassed. How could she tell this priest her dreams. He seemed to be understanding, but he would never understand this. But she though Rosa wouldnt either, and she did. Rita was so distraught, she decided to go for broke. She told Fr. Perez the whole story, meeting Freddie, the dreams, the relationship, everything. To her surprise, he didnt look shocked. When she had finished, it felt like a burden had been lifted from her shoulders. "Maybe confession is good for the soul," Rita though. "Oh my God, did I really go to confession!" Aloud she asked the priest, "Did I just have confession?"

"Maybe. Did you want to go to confession?"

"I didnt think so. I mean I really wanted the things that happened between Freddie and me to happen. I always thought you had to be sorry for your sins in order to confess them."

"And you dont think you have any regrets about your actions?"

"Well I didnt think so, but now.... Padre, I just dont know anymore. Things have gotten very complicated and I dont know what to think. I know that I love him. Thats about the only thing I am sure about any more. Maybe getting involved with him physically was more than either of us could handle. Maybe thats what sent him........ over the edge.... of the

..............waterfall........oh, my God.............Freddie........." Rita reeled around and laid across the bed on her stomach. She poured her heart out again in tears that would fill that pool at the bottom of the waterfall of her dreams.

Father Perez rose from his seat and took out his prayer book. In low tones, he began to pray in Spanish. Rita heard him throughout the breaks in her crying. Peace settled upon her and she slowly started to repeat the prayers of her child hood. "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done...." She paused and turned to Fr. Perez. "Thy will be done. What is Gods will for Freddie,


"I dont know, but we can pray together for him if you like. God does know our hearts and Im sure he will hear your prayers for Freddie."

"Oh, yes, Father, I want to pray with you. And Rosa, too. I want to pray the Rosary, like I did when I was little. Would you see if she will come and pray with us?"

"Yes. I will get Mrs. Diaz and we will pray for your young man." Fr. Perez left the room and came back with Rosa. The two women and the priest knelt down on the soft coral carpet. Rosa gave Rita a pair of pretty crystal rosary beads. Father Perez began, in English, for Ritas benefit, "In the Name of the Father..." Twenty minutes flew by like a few. Rita always thought the rosary had a tendency to drag on and on and as a child, but when she poured her heart out in every Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be, it seemed like the time flew by. She really could feel that God was hearing every word.

When the rosary was concluded, the three stood up. Rosa told Rita to keep the rosaries she had given her. "Use them often, amiga, when you pray for Freddie. They are a powerful weapon in Gods prayer arsenal. You will see!" Rosa left to fix something to eat and Rita stood looking at Fr. Perez.

"Thank you Padre. You have helped me more than you can know. I still dont have many answers, but Im beginning to have peace.

"You asked me about confession, earlier. Do you feel you are ready to go now?"

Rita sighed. "Yes, Father, I think I am."

With that, Fr. Perez sat down on the chair and Rita knelt beside him. She blessed herself and using the formula she learned in catholic grade school she began..."Bless me, Father, for I have sinned...."

Chapter 10

Two days had gone by and Freddie was showing some signs of improvement. The Phenobarbital doses got smaller and smaller, and Freddie was not as agitated. The strap was taken off after the second day. Rita spent long hours by his bedside, talking to Freddie when he was conscious and read in his journal when he slept.

It was this reading that helped her find more of the answers to the questions that were nagging her brain.

"May 1974 My producers think I might have a problem with cocaine. I keep telling them its no problem. They get me to see a doctor, anyway. The doctor examines me and asks me what drugs I have been taking. I level with him. Cocaine, Pot, Valium and Quaaludes. He tells me my nose is eroding from sniffing coke.

"June 1974 My schedule is full, but I still feel so alone....

"December 1974 Things are starting to tear me apart. Everyone wants a piece of me. The show is still high in the ratings in our first season and everyone wants a share. My ex manager has just filled a lawsuit against me. He wont release me from the contract I signed. I am having a hard time coping with all of this fame. I went to see the doctor again. He gave me ludes to help me cope with the pressure. I know I will get through this. I am on top, but for how long? I must hold it together. I just wish I didnt have to do it alone."

"So, Freddie started going to a doctor who prescribed the Quaaludes to help him cope." Rita knew this was the beginning of the real problems in his life. The more she read, the more she saw how the drugs were making him think differently. The early entries were full of hope and self-confidence. Slowly, doubts, cynicism and eventually paranoia were taking a hold of Freddies mind.

"Mi amor, whacha reading so intently?"

Rita was so absorbed in her reading, she didnt hear Freddie wake up. Startled and embarrassed, she closed the book and hid it in the bag. Freddie wasnt fooled by this maneuver. He sat up, held out his hand, and frowned.

Rita reluctantly gave Freddie the book he knew so well.

"My journal! Why?"

"Please dont be mad. You gave it to me to read the night.... the night....." The words caught in her throat.

"The night you brought me here," Freddie finished.

Rita nodded. "You wanted me to read it, so I have been."

Freddie laid his head back down on the pillow and stared at the ceiling. "So now you know everything about me. How far have you gotten?"

"Im almost finished," answered Rita timidly. "Oh Freddie, Im so embarrassed."

Freddie sat up again and looked her straight in the eye. Rita squirmed under his intense gaze.

"YOUR embarrassed! How do you think I feel? My private thoughts are now yours as well."

For a second time he laid back on the pillow. But this time he closed his eyes. A small tear ran down from the corner of his eye and made its way to his hair that lay upon the pillow.

Rita also began to cry, wishing curiosity hadnt gotten the better of her. The excuse about having to find out about his drug history for the doctor seemed like a lame one now.

"Freddie, forgive me. I was wrong to invade your privacy. I was wrong to bring you here. I should not meddle in your life. I meant well, but I see I have messed things up again. I would not blame you if you walked out of here right now and out of my life. I deserve it for being so... so..." again Rita was at a loss for words. Freddie turned to face her and reached out his hand to her. She took it in hers and raised it to her face. His long, thin fingers wiped back the tears from her eyes. Even if he said nothing, she would have known in her heart he had forgiven her at that moment.

"Dulcinea mia, mi amor, mi angel de la guarda, you have saved me from myself. No one would risk my anger, but you did. I made them all afraid of me, I fooled them into thinking I was ok, but you didnt believe me. You did the one thing the rest were afraid to do, and for that I am forever yours. Please stop crying and kiss me. I have missed that so much."

Rita reached across to Freddie and placing her lips against his, kissed him long and hard. She ran her hands through his unkempt hair and didnt care. He still loved her. That was all that mattered. His arms found their way around her back and he tried to pull her on the bed with him. Every fiber in her being wanted to be there next to him.

As this little love scene was playing out, Dr. Ramerez stepped in the room. "Ahem, I dont want to interrupt you two...."

Freddie quickly released Rita from his embrace. "I guess that teaches us to leave the door open, hey Doc."

Rita blushed at the doctor and let him get around her to examine Freddie. "Well I see a little physical activity has done your heart no harm," remarked Dr. Ramerez with a smile and a wink for Rita. Rita was really embarrassed and her face turned bright red. She retrieved Freddies journal from the bed where Freddie had placed it and put it back into the bag. Dr. Ramerez continued to check Freddies vital signs

Rita recovered from her embarrassment and asked the doctor, "How is Freddie doing?"

"Remarkably well for some one who had abused his body like he has."

Freddie frowned at the doctor. "Thats fine coming from you Doc. It was your guys that got me in this mess."

"Now, Freddie, Dr. Ramerez is trying to help you!"

"Thats ok, Ms. Morelli. In some ways Mr. Prinze is right. I dont condone what some of my fellow physicians are doing with the drugs they prescribe, but you have to be honest with yourself, Mr. Prinze, you were the one who abused the drugs."

"But they did nothing to help me. They knew I was abusing and they did nothing. Why?"

"I dont have that answer, but let me ask you a question. Would you have let me try to help you if you had not had my help forced upon you?"

Freddie got silent and sullen. Rita knew he was having a hard time answering the doctor. "Will he finally admit he had a problem to someone other than me," she thought.

Slowly Freddie leaned back on his pillow and closed his eyes. "Probably not, Doc. I never admitted to myself that drugs had become a problem, so why should I have sought help."

"Do you feel differently now?"

"I dont know..." Freddie trailed off. Rita was becoming very uncomfortable being there. The conversation was beginning to sound like the confession session she had with Fr. Perez. She sensed Freddie needed to talk with the doctor alone.

"Look, I need to see Rosa about some lunch for us. Ill leave you two to talk." Rita turned to leave when Freddie called out to her.

"Mi amor, muchas gracias, for everything."

"De nada, mi vida," answered Rita. She saw Freddies big smile as she answered him in Spanish. She closed the door and went in search of Rosa. She needed to start those Spanish lessons NOW!


Freddie had called the studio and his manager later that day to explain his absence from work. It wasnt easy to explain where he was and what he was doing, but he seemed to make them understand the vacation he was on was a medical necessity and he was doing this under the advisement of a doctor. Both Rita and he knew he could not reveal the truth just yet, if ever. A forced medical leave for exhaustion seemed the plausible lie to tell. The studio agreed to shut down production till after the holidays, since they still had a few shows in the can to last till then.

Freddie knew they could always show re-runs if necessary, but every day that they were shut down meant money lost to the producers. Rita knew Freddie was determined to get better as fast as he could.

Dr. Ramerez was pleased with Freddies recovery as well. Freddie was off of the IV Phenobarbital by the end of the week and was taking oral doses under the close eyes of Rita and Rosa. The doctor was no longer staying at the beach house overnight by this time, so Rita became Freddies nurse and doctor. As Freddie grew stronger, he reveled in his role as patient, teasing her and trying to get her to examine him in less than professional ways! She knew though, with every setback and flashback that he had, that he still was not well.

Rita was becoming good at helping Freddie through these bad spells. The doctor had taught her how to inject him with the Phenobarbital when he needed a higher dosage than the pills provided.

Rita and Rosa spent the next two weeks on an emotional roller coaster dealing with Freddies mood swings. By the end of the second week, Rosa went back to work. Both ladies had taken leave, which left their principal dealing with substitute teachers the weeks before Christmas. Rosa knew Freddie was well enough to left alone with Rita She realized that part of the tension and moodiness was due to the presence of a third wheel. Rosa promised to hold down the fort for Rita at school and come by every evening to check on them. Even the doctor had gone back to an on call basis with Freddie.

One more week would go by and then Dr. Ramerez told Freddie he was well enough to go back to work. The week alone with Freddie was a wonderful time for Rita. She actually had fun taking care of her lover, wondering if this would be a taste of what it would be like to be married to him. To his dismay, she insisted he stay in his own bed. She used the excuse that sex would send him into a relapse and he wanted to get back to his show soon. This was a lie, but at least Rita thought it might be true. She never really asked the doctor, and Freddie assumed she had. The real reason had to be kept from Freddie for a little while longer. She just knew that the next time they held each other in their lovers embrace, they would have to be man and wife. She wasnt sure if Freddie was ready for that commitment yet, the divorce only a short distance away from becoming final, but she was willing to wait. She just wasnt sure if he was, or would understand her reasons why she wanted to wait. She just kept using the possibility of a relapse as her excuse until the time she knew she would have to level with him.

Fr. Perez also visited them several times. He had an opportunity to talk to Freddie alone and help him work out his apprehensions about the church. Rita knew Freddie had rejected organized religion from reading his journal. She had just found her faith in the church again and hoped Freddie would be reconciled as well.

She knew it had to be up to him. She would not force her beliefs on him. Freddie seemed to get along with the Padre, but he never spoke to Rita about their conversations.

Freddie and Rita began reading from Freddies well-worn Bible in the evenings and discussing things that struck them as they read. Freddie had asked Rita to get it the first time she needed to go back to his apartment to get more clothes. He was also agreeable to have Rita teach him the St. Michaels Prayer that went along with his medal. Freddie never took it off. Rita had retrieved her angel necklace from its hiding place the day she went back to get the bible. Fortunately, he was too sick to notice she had not been wearing it.


By the week before Christmas, Rita had Freddie had resumed their lives. The only difference now was that Rita would drop off and pick up Freddie from work every day and they would have dinner together at her place every night. They made plans to spend Christmas together, with dinner at his moms house. Rita got to meet his mother one day while Freddie was recovering. They had hit it off, but Rita could tell she was still concerned that Freddie was still married and had a child to think about.

Rita went shopping one afternoon a few days before Christmas with Rosa. They had just finished their last day before Christmas break. Rita wanted to get something nice for Freddie for Christmas, but was having a hard time making up her mind. Freddie was not an easy person to buy for and a beginning teachers salary did not go very far. It was Rosa who actually spotted the gift as they walked passed a rack of sweaters in the mens department of a clothing store.

"Oh, Rita, couldnt you just see Freddie in this!" Rosa exclaimed holding on to the sleeve of a blue sweater on the rack.

Rita took the sweater from the rack and held it up to the light. It was a dark royal blue cashmere with strands of lighter gray blue angora woven in the pattern of the weave. The sweater was very soft to the touch. Rita put it against her cheek and though about how nice it would be to lay on Freddies chest while he was wearing it. Blue was his color, too.

"This would be perfect for him," answered Rita, then she searched for the price tag and gasped. "Not for me it wouldnt!" Rita held the tag out for Rosa to see.

"But Rita, its perfect."

"This is two weeks salary, Rosa, I cant afford that!"

"What if I chipped in," offered Rosa as she began to stroke the softness of the sweater against her cheek.

"Freddie would look muy hermoso, very handsome in this. You must buy it for him. You will never find a more perfect gift!"

"Ok, but I will pay you back every dime. This is just a loan!"

Rosa smiled and said, "Tell you what. You agree to come to my house for part of Christmas day and I will be happy to make the money a gift and not a loan to you. I want to see him in this sweater!"

"We promised his mother we would come to her house for dinner that day."

"Then come to mine for dessert, I insist."

Rita thought a moment. "Wont you have your children and their families over?"

Rosas face grew sad. "Not this year, amiga. They have committed themselves to the in laws. They are coming for their holiday visit at New Years."

"Im sorry, Rosa. I would love to come and have dessert at your home. Im sure Freddie would love to come, also, after the way you helped him. The doctor has taken him off all extra work till after the holidays, so I know he will be free. But I still insist on paying you back."

The women took the sweater to the counter and paid for it. The sales lady had it gift wrapped and Rita couldnt wait for Christmas day to get here.


Christmas day dawned bright and warm. This was a foreign feeling for Rita, who was used to the cold and snow of New York at Christmas. "Christmas doesnt feel like Christmas in LA," thought Rita as she got up to fix a pot of coffee. She knew Freddie would be here soon to open presents with her. She thought back with fondness to the events of the night before. They had spent the evening trimming the tree they bought in her apartment. It wasnt large, but they had fun decorating it together. Freddie and Rita each had their own ideas on how to place the tinsel. Rita liked to throw it on and see how it would land, but Freddie insisted that the correct way to do it was one strand at a time. He won that argument, as usual. Rita couldnt help but admire it and realized Freddie had been right. They strung popped corn and hung the ornaments Rita had brought from home. This was her first Christmas far from home, and it made her a little sad.

Having Freddie here made it more bearable, but when he began to look sad also, Rita wondered why.

"Oh, dulcinea mia, the only thing that would make my Christmas complete would be to have my son here, too."

"Mi amor, I know. It is hard. I miss my family terribly. At least we have each other. We are not alone this Christmas!"

Freddies face brightened up as he drew Rita near. "Yes, I have mi angel de la guarda to be with me this year." They kissed with much passion as Freddies hands reached to undo the back of Ritas sweater.

Rita stiffened and broke the embrace. "Freddie, we shouldnt!"

"Why not! And dont tell me its fear of a relapse, cause I aint buying that any more. I asked Dr. Ramerez about that the last time I saw him and he said I was fine. So, what gives?"

Rita knew the moment of truth was upon her. She said a quick prayer to the Virgin Mary and began. "Freddie when you were sick, I had a long talk with Fr. Perez. I love you more than my own life, but I cannot risk my eternal soul any more for that love. Every part of my being cries out to make love to you, but my spirit says wait. I want you, but only when that time is right. I knew I risked losing you when I had to tell you I wanted to wait and I did not want that to happen, so I made up that medical excuse to put off the inevitable. I dont blame you if you dont understand this. After all, it was I who encouraged this relationship to become physical in the first place. If you wish to go, I understand, but realize you will be taking my heart with you, for that is yours forever."

Freddie began to cry. "Dulcinea mia, where would I go. You are the only one who has had faith in me enough to save me from myself. You once gave me the gift of your virginity, and I will give it back to you, under one condition."

"Name it!"

"That you save it for me so that when the time is right you have it to give back to your Freddie!"

Now Rita began to cry as well. "Oh Freddie, you know it is yours always. I could never give it to another. I know you love me now, because you have given me the greatest gift a man can give a woman, respect."

The two embraced and kissed again. It was hard to resist what each one knew the other wanted, so Freddie was the first to stop before it went any further. " Tell you what. Lets sing Christmas songs. Ill go and get my guitar and we can spend the rest of the evening enjoying each others voices."

"Ok, that would be nice, but I cant sing too late. I promised Rosa I would go to midnight Mass with her."

"Then I will go too! I havent been to midnight Mass since I was a little boy. I may have gotten away from church, but I always have fond memories of going with my mom to midnight Mass and lighting a candle for el bebé Jesús."

"Well light one together tonight, how about that."

"That would be wonderful. Let me go and get my guitar and I will be right back."

Rita smiled as she recalled the songs they sang together that night. Her sultry alto harmonies blended perfectly with his clear tenor melodies. When he broke out into "Oh,

Holy Night", Rita felt the most famous tenor in history, Caruso, could not have done a finer job.

Midnight Mass was wonderful, too. Freddie sat between Rosa and Rita and recited every prayer and sang every song. As promised, Rita led Freddie up front after Mass to where the creche was set up and together they lit a candle for the Christ Child.

Rita was startled out of her daydreams by a knock at her door. "Freddies here!" her heart cried as if she was a little child awaiting the visit from St. Nicholas. She ran to the door only noticing, too late, that she was still in her robe and pjs.

" Allo and Merry Christmas to you, mami linda! Looooking Goood!"

"Stop that, I look terrible," giggled Rita as she drew her robe around her. " I havent had time to get dressed yet. What do you mean coming so early and surprising a girl like that!" Rita noticed Freddie had taken great care with his clothes that morning. His light blue shirt looked smart with the dark royal blue of his slacks. Rita was glad he decided to dress in his favorite colors, so his sweater would look great with his outfit.

"Now you are Loooking Goood yourself. I love you in blue. Its my favorite."

"Thank you, my dear," responded Freddie as he assumed his English accent and spun around like a model on a runway. I chose it just for you. I saw you admire it on thenight we dined at the airport."

"Give me a few minutes to get pretty and I will be ready for presents." Rita headed for her bedroom door. She stopped and turned to Freddie. "Make yourself a cup of coffee and anything else you can find."

"Take your time, mi amor."

Rita tried to rush through her morning routine to save time, but she was all thumbs. She finally put her makeup on and straightened the dark red dress she bought for this day. It was crushed velvet with tiny sequins around the neck and half sleeves. It was cut low enough in the front to show off the angel that hung around her neck. The skirt came down to mid calf, showing off the matching suede boots. She finished the outfit off with the crystal drop earrings her grandmother had given her before she died.

Rita emerged from the bedroom slowly, waiting for Freddie to get the full impact of her ensemble. Freddies mouth almost dropped to the floor. For the first time in their relationship, Freddie seemed to be at a loss for words. "So, what do you think," Rita asked as she twirled around, imitating his movements from earlier.

"Oh, mami, dont go walking out on the streets of the Barrio in that outfit. All of the guys will be yelling, "Mira, mami linda, oye!" and make kissing noises at you."

Rita blushed and grabbed Freddies hand and pulled him over to the tree. She sat him down on the sofa and reached under the tree for the big box she had placed under it the night before, prior to going to bed. "This is for you, mi amor, Merry Christmas!" Rita gave him a kiss as she handed him the box.

"Seeing you in that dress is all the gift I needed!"

He had the biggest smile on his face as he took the box from her. Ripping the box open, he drew the sweater from its resting place among the tissue paper.

"Do you like it," Rita asked timidly.

"Mami, I LOVE IT!" He stood up and carefully pulled it over his broad chest. It fit him perfectly.

"It looks muy hermoso on you!" said Rita.

"When have you been learning all this Spanish?"

"Rosa has been teaching me a little until you had time to teach me more. Are you mad I didnt wait for you?"

"Dulcinea mia, come here and let me show you how mad I am!" Rita went over to him and he pulled her on the sofa beside him and kissed her very hard. Tongues intertwined and they stayed in this position for a very long time. Just as Rita was about to lose her resolve to keep her promise to wait, Freddie came up for air. "Now it is your turn. Close you eyes."

"I didnt make you close yours," Rita protested.

"Just do it!"

"Ok." Rita reluctantly closed her eyes and Freddie took her hand and placed a small box in it.

"You can open them now," said Freddie in a playful tone.

Rita opened her eyes and saw a small wrapped box resting in her hand.

"I know its not as big as yours, but I hope you like it. Open it!" Freddie said eagerly.

Rita carefully unwrapped the box and saw that her careful ministrations over the wrappings were driving Freddie up the wall. She couldnt help but smile at his boyish impatience.

"Will you just open it already!" he pleaded.

"OK, Im almost done. I dont want to tear the pretty paper," said Rita coyly. She finally got to the box and opened it. On a bed of crushed velvet sat the biggest diamond ring Rita had ever laid eyes on. It was a marquis cut diamond on a band of glittering gold. As she lifted it out of the box, Freddie fell to one knee and said, "Dulcinea mia, will you be mi amante, mi companera del alma, mi vida, mi eposa?"

Tears welled up in Ritas eyes. Not the sad tears she had shed so many of in the past weeks, but real tears of joy. "Yes, mi amor, mi vida, mi querido. Whenever you are free to take me as your own, I am yours."

Freddie took the ring from her and slipped it on her finger. It, like the sweater, was a perfect fit.

Rita held her hand up to the sunshine streaming in her window. The suns rays stroked the facets of the diamond and sent prismatic lights to every corner of her living room.

"It looks almost as beautiful as you, mi amante. It makes it harder to ask the favor I need to ask of you." A forlorn expression overshadowed Freddies continence. Rita was afraid to ask him what he meant.

"Mi vida, what is the matter, I love the ring, but I love you more."

"Then you would mind if I asked you to put it away for a while."

Ritas face fell. "But why?"

Freddie took a deep breath and said, "My divorce will not become final for a few more weeks. It might cause more complications and questions for all involved, including you, if it became known we were planning to marry. Im not sure how my parents are going to take the news and I would like time to tell them. Do you understand?"

Rita stared admiringly at the symbol of Freddies love that rested upon her finger. The light continued to send bits of color across the room. With a small sigh, she gave her answer to Freddie. "Freddie, I have asked you to wait for me, what kind of lover would I be if I did not honor your request to wait to wear your ring. I will wait. I need to break the news to my family as well. Our secret is safe within my heart. There is one person, however, I would like to tell right away. I know she will keep our secret until it is time to reveal it to the world."

Freddie opened his mouth and let out a sonorous laugh. "Dulcinea mia, I would never allow you to keep this from Rosa. She has been such a great friend to both of us. When we see her this evening, you must wear it and show it to her!"

"Oh thank you, sweetie," exclaimed Rita as she threw her arms around Freddie and kissed him. "You knew I would need to show it to her. She has been more than a friend to me. If it wasnt for her help, I would never been able to help you! I have to tell you a little secret. It was she who saw the sweater and thought it would be perfect on you. She cant wait to see it on you later!"

"Ooh, two mami lindas to admire el hermoso Freddie! I hope there is enough of me to go around!"

Rita smiled and hit him with the small pillow on the sofa. Freddie burst into a long, loud laugh as he wrestled Rita into his embrace once again. "You are enough woman for me, mi amor." Their lips met and parted as their tongues once again explored each others mouths. Rita wished they could stay like this, happy forever with no more problems to worry about.

Chapter 11

Ritas Journal

December 31, 1976

Dear Gran,

I know its been a while since I wrote but so much has happened in the past few days. Christmas was wonderful. To have a sober Freddie by my side was heavenly. It made the horror we went through all worth it. I have saved him! Not just I, but my friends, Rosa, Dr. Ramerez, Fr. Perez and especially St. Michael.

We visited Freddies parents Christmas day. His mom is so sweet and can she ever cook! I will be glad the day she will be able to accept me as a daughter-in-law. I know it must be hard for her to think Freddie is divorcing the mother of her grandchild. I hope that someday I, too, will be able to give her many grandchildren. Freddie has decided it might be better to wait to tell them about us being married till the divorce is settled. He knows his parents best, so I will let him do this in his own way.

Rosa was so pleased when she saw Freddie in the sweater she had helped me purchase for him. She fawned over him, hugging him and stroking his chest, feeling the softness of the cashmere and angora. He cooed at Rosa, pretending she was his true love. I acted jealous to tease Freddie, telling him that he was such a gigolo. He is such a ham! He drew Rosa into his arms and kissed her on the lips! He said if he had the name, he might as well have the game! We laughed and laughed, with Freddie laughing the loudest. Then I showed Rosa my gift from Freddie. Her eyes got as big as saucers and she hugged the both of us so hard, I thought we would pass out!

It has been so hard to wait until I can make Freddie my own again physically. We are spending every day together, but the nights are still so lonely. I worry every day that Freddie might relapse and start taking the pills again. We went through his place when we returned from the beach house and flushed all the drugs that were there. He gave me the gun and told me to sell it, which I did the next day.

He has hired one of Rosas nephews, Manuel, as a bodyguard and personal assistant. Manuel is a good person and needed the work. It makes me feel good that he is watching over Freddie. Stardom does have its drawbacks, and overzealous fans and threatening lunatics are unfortunately a part of it.

Freddie says it looks like the divorce is in its final stages. His wife has seen the change in Freddie since he has become sober. I feel sorry for her, Gran. I think she still loves him, but now he belongs to me. She seems to want to be amicable about the settlements, so we are hopeful that she will agree to let him see his son from time to time. The boy needs his father, and Freddie does love him. We are hopeful the judge sees the changes in Freddie and will be generous with the custody agreements.

I have told my parents about Freddie and me. I told them it needed to remain a secret until the divorce was final. They were not too pleased that I am marrying a divorced man with a baby son. They are still very old fashioned in their thinking. I told Nicky, but I will wait to tell the twins until it can be public. Neither of them could keep a secret! Nicky was happy for me. He has always understood and protected me. When I told him about the intervention, something I dared not tell my parents, he understood and told me to be careful! He is always looking out for his little sister.

Now, it is the last day of the old year. We will celebrate the New Year in Las Vegas. Freddie is feeling so much better that he has decided to take the New Years gig in Las Vegas he was scheduled to do before the intervention. The managers had not been able to get anyone to take his place at such a late date. He has flown on ahead to make the arrangements, and I have an early afternoon flight. It wont be as private a New Years celebration as I would have liked, but that may be for the better. Less temptation to get carried away! I know it will be hard for Freddie to stay sober, but he has been enjoying sobriety so much lately, that I hope I can help him to continue through the New Year. I think my job as his angel de la guarda will be a permanent position! Like I started to say, Freddie has enjoyed being sober for the first time in his adult life. It had sharpened his wit, and his energy level on the set of Chico and the Man is amazing. Everyone at the studio is astonished at the changes in Freddie. I was able to visit the set this past week, since I was off from school. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. His co-stars were fantastic. Everyone treated me like family. I can see why Freddie enjoys the show so much. He is still itching to do movies, but he realizes that the show is his meal ticket for a while, and he works very hard at doing his best.

We have started going for walks in the evenings. He seems taken in by every sight, sound and smell, like a child discovering these things for the first time. I never realized how much drugs can rob you of the simple pleasures in life. He was always romantic, but even this has been taken to a new level. Even though we have committed ourselves to chastity till our wedding night, he has found other ways to make love to me. He is always playing his guitar and singing love songs to me. My favorites are the Spanish ones. He has begun to teach me Spanish. I am a slow learner, but he is patient, rewarding me with kisses when I get it right! He sends me flowers and takes me out dancing. I love to dance with him, especially the slow dances. He always wears the sweater I gave him for Christmas when we go dancing, so I can feel its softness against my cheek when I place my head against his chest.

I wish I could say its been all happiness. Freddie still suffers from flashbacks. Sometimes I am with him, but they happen more at night when Manuel is with him. Manuel keeps a supply of the Phenobarbital the doctor gave us for when the flashbacks get bad. Dr. Ramerez tells us Freddie may suffer with these for a long time. Unfortunately this is one of the on going side effects of taking so many drugs for so long. I have told Freddie that I will stand by him, no matter what. I think that has been a big comfort to him. He tells me that he doesnt feel so lonely anymore. When things start to get to him, I always seem to know what to say to soothe his anxieties. He calls me constantly when we are not together. Well, I need to get to the airport. Rosa will be here in a few minutes to pick me up. I promise, Gran, Ill write to you more frequently.



The plane touched down on the runway and Rita gathered her overnight bag from the overhead compartment. As she made her way down the corridor that led from the plane to the gate, she could see Freddie waving like a little kid at her from behind the barrier. She ran over to him and he swept her off her feet as he swung her around and hugged her. There was no shame in exchanging a long kiss in this public forum. Their love blinded them to the presence of anyone else at that moment.

As they finally concluded their greetings, Freddie grabbed Ritas bags and started to the limo he had hired to take them to Caesars Palace where Freddie was performing. He talked a mile a minute about the plans he had made for their New Years. Several times he would not reveal everything, saying only that it was a surprise and winking at her. Freddie took charge of checking Rita in. He had a suite on one of the top floors of the hotel. It was a large one; a living room with a fireplace, two bedrooms and a bathroom with a sunken tub. Rita had never stayed in a hotel this elaborate. Freddie told her that it was one of the perks the performers got when they stayed here.

Freddie then escorted Rita on a shopping trip for a new dress to wear to his performances that night. "Mami linda," he told her, "I want you to look so good, that every guy in the place will all be jealous of me for possessing such a treasure!"

Rita blushed. "Freddie, it will be me who will be the jealous one. You are looking so good these days, that every woman in the place will try to sink their claws in you."

"Well they will be sorely disappointed tonight, because I will have my one and only by my side!"

Entering a shop along the main street, Freddie spoke to a sales girl, asking her to tell the manager that Freddie Prinze would like to see her. She recognized the star and went immediately to get her manager. A tall, middle aged woman appeared and went up to them.

"Yes, Mr. Prinze, what can we do for you today?"

"I would like a dress for this goddess standing next to me. Something in silver and blue. Low cut in the front and backless. Maybe strapless as well. Something to show off her silky smooth shoulders. And the skirt should come just above the knees to highlight those sexy gams!" Rita gave Freddie a small punch in the arm for embarrassing her like that. "Ouch, this goddess packs a mean punch. Maybe you better change that order to boxing trunks and gloves!"

The store manager gave the couple a playful grin and Rita just glared at Freddie, but she knew he realized she was enjoying the attention. "I think I have just the thing the gentleman requires. If you would have a seat, I will bring it out to you."

She went back to the back of the store as Freddie led Rita to the sofa by the mirrors. The lady returned with the most breathtaking dress Rita had ever seen. It was everything Freddie asked for and more. The blue and silver shimmered in the light of the shop.

"Dulcinea mia, that is the very dress. Try it on for your Freddie, por favor?" Rita was afraid it would not fit or not look good on her. The sales manager escorted her to the dressing area and helped her on with the dress. It fit her like a glove. She turned to the full-length mirror to see how the dress looked on her. She hardly knew the person in the mirror.

"Freddie sure has good taste, thats for sure." The dress highlighted the hues of her hair and cheeks. It did show off her shoulders, which she had never been brave enough to show in public. She seemed to fill the dress in all the right places. The manager had also picked out the perfect pair of shoes to go with the dress. They were of the same shimmering silver and blue hues. Rita emerged from behind the curtain that separated dressing area from the modeling area. When she stood in front of Freddie, a wolf whistle emanated from his lips.

"You are beyond Looooooking Gooood! Oh mami, in that dress I dont know if I will be able to control myself!"

"Then maybe I shouldnt get it!" said Rita playfully.

"Well take it," replied Freddie to the sales lady, holding his finger in the air. The manager winked at him and he returned the wink with a smile. Rita realized she had been had.

"You set this up, didnt you? You shopped earlier, thats why they had exactly what you want...." the rest got muffled in a kiss.


They decided on an early dinner together before Freddie would have to report to his dressing room to get ready for his show. Romantic as always, Freddie held Ritas chair for her and took charge of ordering for the both of them. When the waiter brought out their lemon water in champagne glasses, Rita smiled at this special touch. Freddie seemed committed to remaining sober for New Years.

They raised their glasses as Freddie offered a toast. "Dulcinea mia, my wish for us is a New Year filled with happiness and love. May we never feel loneliness or hurt ever again!"

Rita nodded in agreement and they entwined their arms and carefully sipped their water from the flutes. Dinner was delicious. Freddie had regained his appetite after the effects of the drugs had worn off. He was careful not to overdo it, though. He told Rita he had been a chubby kid growing up and had gotten teased about it. Rita said she had known the ridicule of the kids in her school because she, too, had been overweight as a child.

"Living in an Italian household, my mother always tried to solve all our problems with food."

"Sounds a little like my ma. What is it with mothers and food, anyway?"

"I think its an old world concept that you are considered well off if your kids are well fed. I had a hard time convincing my mother I needed to lose weight. She still thinks Im too skinny. I have to watch every little bite I eat. Now that I am healthy again, I might start to have problem with my weight. I guess I should start working out."

"Why dont we do it together. This way we both can stay in shape for each other."

"You got it, mami. That will be fun, watching you bounce around in a pair of tights and a body suit!"

Rita smirked at him and gave his ankle a small kick under the table.

"Ouch, boy you are sure abusive, arent you!" remarked Freddie, feigning being hurt. "Just for that, you are going to have to kiss it and make it better!"

"Your ankle?"

"Well maybe later, but I will take a kiss here for now", he answered, pointing to his cheek.

Rita got up and reached over to plant one on the cheek he held out to her. Just as she came within inches of his face he turned and her lips met his. "Mmm, thats better," crooned Freddie when they finished kissing.

"You are incorrigible!"

"Encourageable? Sure you can encourage me any day!"

Rita looked up in exasperation as Freddie laughed so hard the people around them stopped what they were doing and stared at them. "I guess this is the price I must pay for getting involved with a comedian. What am I going to do with you?"

"Love me, my dear, for who I am."

"Oh, Freddie, that really wont be hard. I can see my life with you will never be boring, thats for sure. But all this rich lifestyle, Im not sure I will ever get used to it. Im just a simple girl, after all."

Freddie became serious. "Dulcinea mia, you dont know how glad I am to hear you say that. I have had enough of the party life. I am ready to settle down and live a relative quiet life myself, as much as an entertainer can, that is."

"I will be honest with you, that is the hardest part of this relationship to deal with. I cant help but feel a little jealous when fans clamor for you. But so long as you continue to love me, I guess I can get used to it."

"No problem, mi linda." Freddie looked at his watch. "Oh, mi amor, I hate to leave my Venus, but I must get ready for the show. I have reserved the table right down front for you. The show starts at nine. Please dont be late!"

"Im looking forward to it. Ill be there with bells on," Rita answered, smiling. "Well, ring my chimes!" exclaimed Freddie laughing. He rose from his chair and bent over her to give her a kiss good bye. "Hasta luega!"

"Hasta luega, mi amor", responded Rita, blowing him kisses as he sauntered from the dining room. "God, he is so fine, that man of mine!", admired Rita.


Rita waited patiently as Freddie was finally announced. He bounded onto the stage.

"Thank you, people", Freddie began, as the people started cheering him. "Thank you. Thank you very much. LOOOKING GOOOD!!" Rita remembered when she had gone to the Improv in New York almost five years ago to see the hot new comic, Freddie Pruetzel. Freddie Prinze had come a long way in four and a half years. His act was more polished and his jokes sharper than she had remembered them. Some of the jokes were familiar ones, but he had added plenty of new material.

He even joked about giving up drugs. Even though there wasnt anything funny about the experience, Rita realized this was Freddies way of dealing with the pain. It was a side of him she was beginning to understand, even though she found it hard to relate to sometimes.

"I guess this is what he meant by loving him for who he is," pondered Rita. After about twenty-five minutes of jokes, Freddie thanked the audience for their laughter. "I know you all came here to allow me to make you laugh, but I would like to do something completely different now, if you would let me."

Cheers and catcalls came from the crowd. Rita thought he could read from the phone book and this crowd would go wild. He had them in the palm of his hand. What he did, though, surprised her more than anyone there.

"Many of you may not know that I sing and play guitar. I brought my guitar tonight to sing you a song. It is dedicated to a special lady who is with me tonight." He looked straight at Rita and said, "This is one of my surprises, my sweetness."

A stagehand brought out Freddies guitar and handed it to him. "This is for Rita." He quickly checked the tuning and started to strum. Rita almost swooned when he began to sing "Dulcinea", from "The Man of La Mancha".

"I have dreamed thee too long, never seen thee or touched thee, but known thee with all of my heart, half a prayer, half a song, thou has always been with me, though we have been always apart."

Tears formed in the corners of her eyes as his dark, expressive eyes locked onto hers and never left her.

"Dulcinea....Dulcinea... I see heaven when I see thee, Dulcinea, and thy name is like a prayer an angel whispers.... Dulcinea.....Dulcinea!"

It was like there was no one else in the room but the two of them.

"If I reach out to thee, do not tremble and shrink from the touch of my hand on thy hair. Let my fingers but see thou art warm and alive, and no phantom to fade in the air."

His crystalline tenor voice pierced her heart. "Dulcinea... Dulcinea... I have sought thee, sung thee, dreamed thee, Dulcinea! Now Ive found thee, and the world shall know thy glory. Dulcinea.... Dulcinea...."

When he sustained the last high note, the crowd went wild. Cheers and cries of encore rose up as people found their feet in a standing ovation. Freddie bowed many times. Rita, who had also stood up under some unseen power, could only stare at his loving face as his eyes never left her face the whole time he was taking his bows.

Freddie extended his hand out toward Rita. She shrunk back in fear, the thundering of the applause for Freddie ringing in her ear.

"Por favor, Dulcinea mia," he mouthed to her. She didnt want to disappoint him in his moment of triumph, so reluctantly she walked up to the edge of the stage. Freddie reached down and with the grace of a dancer, lifted her up to stand beside him. He took her in his strong arms and kissed her passionately in front of the audience, who went wild with a renewed round of applause and whistles. Freddie ended the kiss and waved his hand toward Rita as if to introduce her to the crowd. Rita blushed. She was feeling very warm and woozy. She willed herself not to faint. After several minutes the applause began to die down and Freddie and Rita exited the stage.

"Well what did you think, mi amor," asked Freddie as they walked hand in hand back to their room, avoiding the crowds in the casino by taking back corridors.

"About the song or that little display of affection in front of the whole world?!"

Rita realized that she sounded too harsh too late.

Freddie stopped suddenly and was taken aback. "Are you angry? I had hoped you would love it!" He sounded hurt and a tear started to form in the corner of his eye.

"Oh, Freddie it was wonderful, Im sorry that you thought I didnt like the song. I know you were singing it just for me. Dont be sad, mi amor, por favor. I love you and think you are the most romantic man I have ever met. I was only taken aback with the way you brought me up there on stage with you and kissed me in front of all those people. You may like being in the spotlight, but it scares me to death. Lo siento, mi vida! Forgive your Dulcinea mia for making you cry."

Freddies face brightened up and a playful smile emanated from between his soft lips. "You are forgiven, but it is I who must ask forgiveness from my lady love. Lo siento, dulcinea mia, I did not mean to make you feel scared. Actually it makes me feel warm inside to know that you arent star struck. I think that is the thing that most attracted me to you when we met. I am surrounded by people who like me for what I am in public. You are the only one, besides my ma, who loves me for who I am. And you did it knowing my worst side. Mi amor, I wish right now we hadnt made that promise to each other."

"I know, mi vida. We need to plan this wedding soon, or I wont be able to hang on much longer myself." Rita took his hand again and they resumed their walk to the suite in silence knowing what was in each others mind and heart, but daring not to speak the words aloud.

Chapter 12

The first week into the new year was filled with much activity for Freddie. The divorce became final and he and Rita went out to the fanciest supper club in LA to celebrate. Rita brought the ring with her and Freddie proposed to her all over again, placing the ring on her finger to stay. Freddie said they would have to wait for a while till the judge made his final ruling about the custody arrangements, but he was hopeful that he would have some time with his son. Rita and Freddie then decided it was time to announce to the world their plans for marriage. They visited with his parents first, showing the ring to his mother. She was welcoming, but still apprehensive that it was too soon after the divorce. Rita thought she was afraid Freddie would repeat his mistakes, but he kept reassuring her he knew what he was doing this time. Rita was glad that his mom seemed to like her at least. She kept telling him that he needed to do right by Rita.

Rita and Freddie continued to go to Fr. Perezs church each Sunday. Freddie was still not sure that church was for him, but he saw how important it was for Rita and she loved him all the more for it. Rita could see that Freddie and the Padre had become friends. The Sunday after the divorce settlement, Freddie approached Fr. Perez at the conclusion of mass. Rita was by his side.

"Padre, could we make an appointment to see you sometime soon, por favor?"

"Sure, Freddie, what about?"

Freddie lifted Ritas left hand up to show the priest the ring on her finger. "We would like to get married as soon as possible." Freddie was smiling his biggest smile and all Rita could do was blush.

Fr. Perez admired the ring but when he heard the word soon, he started to frown. "It is your wish to be married in the church?"

"Yes, Padre, why, is there a problem?" Freddies tone became very serious and even frightened Rita a little.

"Well, there might be. Do you have some time now?"

Freddie looked at Rita and the both of them nodded in agreement. "Sure."

"Let me finish greeting the congregation and unvesting, and Ill meet you in my office say.... in 30 minutes?"

Freddie answered, "Thirty minutes. We will be there."

Thirty minutes later, the three were seated in the tiny room Fr. Perez used as his office. Freddie very impatiently started the conversation. "So Padre, what is the problem?"

"Well your marriage has some complications we would have to straighten out before I could let you be married in the church. We have rules that are for the good of the flock, and I must follow them." Freddie frowned and Rita could see he was trying hard to keep his composure. Getting married in the church had been her idea. Freddie had been skeptical, but was agreeable so long as it was what she wanted. Now the good Father was bringing up church rules that Rita knew would cause Freddie to have second thoughts about a church wedding.

"What rules are these?", asked Freddie in a less than friendly tone of voice.

"You have recently been divorced," began Fr. Perez. Rita knew this was a matter of public record and it had been in all the papers, owing to Freddies stardom.

"Yes, and I am free to get remarried, so whats the problem," asked Freddie impatiently.

Fr. Perez turned to Rita and directed his conversation to her. "Rita, you wish to have the churchs blessing for this marriage, correct?"

"Yes, Father."

"Then you know we will have to get Freddies first marriage annulled in order to do that."

Rita sighed. She knew this was the procedure, but was afraid to tell Freddie about it. "Yes Father, I know."

Freddie turned to Rita. "You knew about this and you did not say anything to me?"

"Freddie, you were going through such a hard time with your divorce, I did not want to add any complications to your life at this point. Father Perez, what will Freddie have to do and how long will it take?"

"Were you married in a church or civil ceremony?" "We were married in Las Vegas, so I guess it was a civil ceremony," Freddie replied. "That might make it easier. The annulment process is simple if there is no church wedding involved. I will need you and your ex wife to fill out a few forms and then submit them to the bishop for approval. If all goes well, and it should, it will not take long."

"How long is not long, Padre?"

"A lot depends on how soon the two of you can get the forms back to me. The bishop can sign and approve them within a month of receiving them." Father Perez paused and continued. "When were you planning to be married?"

Freddie and Rita looked at one another puzzled. Freddie spoke up. "We really havent discussed it yet. We would like to soon though."

"Father, you know what I told you about the relationship I had with Freddie. We have committed ourselves to refraining from that until we have the churchs blessing, and it is hard for both of us." Freddie looked at Rita with a 'We need to talk later' look in his eyes. Rita tried to avoid Freddies eyes for the time being, knowing she was in for an unpleasant conversation with him. Instead, she continued her conversation with Fr. Perez. "We will do all we can to make sure the paperwork is in to you soon."

"I will be delighted to officiate at your wedding. Please let me know what your plans are when you get them finalized." He got up and went to the file cabinet. Pulling out the middle drawer, he extracted several forms from it. He closed the drawer and handed these to Freddie. "This is the form you need to fill out and this one must be filled out by your ex wife."

"Whatever you say, Padre. Im still not comfortable with this. Can I call on you if I have any questions?"

"Most certainly. This is not an easy thing, but when it is over you will be glad it has been done."

"Whatever you say, Padre," Freddie answered skeptically. He got up and shook Fr. Perezs hand. Rita rose as well and gave the priest a hug. "Thank you for seeing us today."

"Anytime, my child. Come and see me when you have everything worked out."

"We will, Padre," answered Freddie, and they turned and walked out of the tiny office and into the sanctuary. Genuflecting before the altar, Rita and Freddie exited the church. Once outside, Rita braced herself for the barrage of questions she was sure would come form Freddie. Instead, Freddie surprised her by asking her, "Want to go and get something to eat?"

"Sure, what do you have in mind?"

"Youll see." Freddie opened his car door for Rita and she slid inside.

Freddie drove along the coast for what seemed like hours. Rita was afraid to start the conversation, and Freddie was strangely quiet for the entire ride. "Maybe he just needs some time to think," she thought. She decided to study the scenery instead. The ocean was such a bright blue today and the air was warm, even though it was January. Rita was not sure if she would ever get used to California weather. The car pulled off onto a side road and stopped at a small restaurant. There were not many cars in the parking lot.

"This is perfect!", exclaimed Freddie. After so many minutes of silence, Rita was startled by the sound of his voice. The place was a bit run-down, but boasted the best seafood in the Los Angeles area. They entered the darkened room and Freddie asked the hostess to seat them at a table away from any other patrons. She obliged him and escorted them to a table in a far corner overlooking the ocean. She filled their water glasses, gave them menus and left.

"Rita, I think we need to talk."

"Sure, Freddie, what about?" Rita knew what he wanted to discuss, she just dreaded his displeasure at what happened in the meeting with Fr. Perez.

"You know what about. For starters, just how much of our relationship did you discuss with the Padre?"

"Nothing like starting with the hardest question first," thought Rita. She took a large sip of water and decided that honesty was going to have to be the basis of their life together. "Freddie, you were very sick and I was distraught. I needed to unburden my soul to Fr. Perez. I told him everything. It was in the context of confession, though. I know you are struggling with this whole church thing, but you do remember confession, dont you?"

"Yes, its supposed to be good for the soul, but geez, Rita, that stuff is supposed to be between the two of us. I felt so... exposed back there when you and Fr. Perez were talking about us." Anger and hurt caused tears to well up in the corners of Freddies eyes. Rita began to cry herself.

"Freddie, I am sorry this hurts you, but I needed to talk to someone when you were going through that horrible time. I had so many doubts and worries. I wasnt sure if I was the cause of all the misery you were going through. I didnt know whether I... I...." Rita had a hard time continuing through the sobs, but she took a deep breath and finished her thought. "I thought I caused you to fall from the waterfall in my dreams and I thought I was going to lose you for good!" Rita forgot they were in public and broke down. She did not realize the hurts and wounds were still this raw. She had hoped she was over this part, but worrying about Freddie had become such a big part of her life, it was hard to let it go. Freddie saw her distress and came around to her side of the table and held her, trying to calm her down.

"Oh, dulcinea mia, I didnt know this still hurt. Lets get out of here and go for a drive where can be alone." Rita nodded through her tears and Freddie helped her out to the car. They drove back up the coast, till Freddie stopped the car at an overlook. He shut off the engine and pulled Rita to himself. He held her tight and said, "Mi amor, lo siento, I really put you through hell, didnt I?" Freddie began crying large tears. They spent several minutes locked in each others arms, crying away the pain of the last couple of months.

Rita was the first to pull away from this teary embrace. "Freddie, I love you with all of my being. I am not embarrassed by what has been between the two of us. Its like I explained to you when I asked you to wait. I am beginning to realize I have to have my faith back to be able to cope with all of this. And that means getting my soul right with God. He has been a big comfort and strength to me since I have been trying to help you. You have faith in God, so you can understand what Im trying to say here. I find my faith in church, as you do in reading your bible. Please be understanding about all of this. I didnt tell the padre about us for any other reason than to make myself right with God."

"I understand, ducinea mia, and we will not talk about it again. I will make sure I get those forms filled out quickly. I do not want to spend any unnecessary moments being apart from you. If we can get these formalities out of the way in the shortest time possible, when would you like to be married?"

Rita thought about it. "Oh Freddie, anytime soon would be fine with me. I was thinking, though, that since Fr. Perez said it would take about a month, what about February 14th?"

"Valentines Day! That would be perfect! I will try my hardest to make that happen."

"I was thinking of something else. I want our wedding to be small, just family and close friends. The church is too public and you are such a big star!"

"Small is fine with me. But I thought you wanted a church wedding. You are confusing me, woman!" Freddie smiled at Rita and she though that this was the best thing she had seen all day.

"I just wanted a priest to marry us, but it doesnt have to be inside a church building. I was thinking of asking Rosa if we could have it at her beach house. It is where you got your life back and would be an appropriate place to start our new life together. What do you think?"

"It certainly would be private", mused Freddie. "I love it! Do you think she would let us?"

It was now Ritas turn to smile. "Are you kidding? Rosa will love it. She loves to fuss over the two of us. I will ask her when I get home." Rita leaned back over next to Freddie and sighed. "I love you so much, Freddie Prinze, and I hope I make you a good wife. You deserve nothing less. You have been so patient and understanding. And you love me. No woman could want any more from man. I am truly blessed."

Freddie turned Rita around so he could look directly into her beautiful brown eyes. Rita could see the tears in his own large brown eyes. "No, mi amor, I am the fortunate one here. You took me in and loved me when I was at my most miserable. I felt everyone was deserting me because I needed help, but you stood by me. You would not let me go until I got the help I needed. You even risked me hating you for it. I will do everything in my power to see to it that you are happy." Freddie broke his eye contact with her and looked down. "I am willing to admit now that all my life I have been very selfish. It has always been what Freddie wants. Every one has let me be this way, thinking it was what I wanted to make me happy. Even ma, who could be tough with me, spoiled me cause she loved me. But you showed me some tough love when you would not accept me destroying myself. Now I am looking at life differently. Freddies needs are important, but my life is full of other people who have important needs, too." Looking at her once again, Freddie continued, "And the first person whos needs are important to me is you, Rita Morelli. I want to make you happy. You deserve nothing less from me. I dont care how many papers I need to fill out or how many church rules I have to follow, I will do it for you because I love you, mi vida."

Freddie took Rita into his arms and kissed her, gently at first, lips pressed, but soon they were parted by tongues intertwining. Rita could taste the saltiness of his tears as they flowed down to his mouth. Her tears mingled with his. These were tears of joy and love. Rita ran her fingers through his full beautiful long hair and Freddie ran his hands down her back slowly till they reached her buttocks. He gave it a gentle squeeze as she led his head away from her lips and down to her neck. He caressed her neck with his kisses. Rita knew they needed to be careful not to get to carried away, but it had been a long time since they allowed themselves the pleasure of exploring each other like this. She reached down to unbutton Freddies shirt and ran her hand across his bare chest. Freddie smiled and said, "Mi amor, that feel so good. Have you changed your mind so soon?"

"Not really," responded Rita in a whisper. "Its just that I have such a hard time keeping my hands off of you, thats all. I still think we need to wait to finish this, but would it be too much of a tease for you if we could go a little further? I miss giving you pleasure so much!"

"A little further would be fine by me. I will tell you when it is too much."

Rita placed her head on Freddies now bare chest and nuzzled up to one of his hardening nipples. As she placed it in her mouth, Freddie leaned back against his door and moaned with delight. His hands found their way to her blouse and he reached inside of it to find her breast. He stroke it and fondled the nipple between two of his long fingers. Ritas mouth broke free of him as she sighed in delight. She inched her way back up to his face and kissed him again, sliding her tongue into his waiting mouth. Rita then reached around and whispered in Freddies ear. "Could I take you in my mouth?" Freddie turned to her and smiled.

"As much as I would love for you to do that, I think that would be too far, dulcinea mia. I will be patient and wait." Rita pouted playfully. Freddie laughed at her. "You are quite irresistible when you do that, my dear, but I think maybe we should stop before we both go too far!"

Freddie righted himself in his seat and buttoned his shirt back up. Rita sat back in her seat, disappointed that their fun had to end so soon. Freddie gave Rita a peck on the cheek as he started the car. "You hungry yet?"


"Ok, would you like to try that place we were just at or somewhere else?"

"Could we try somewhere else. I think I would be too embarrassed to go back there." "You got it, mami!" Freddie drove back in the direction of Los Angeles.


All the next week, Rita and Rosa could talk of nothing else but wedding plans. Rosa was ecstatic that Rita wanted to use the beach house for the wedding. She fussed so much that Rita finally had to explain to her friend that she and Freddie were wanting to keep it simple. "Oh, amiga, I will try, but you know me. This will be the most romantic wedding in world. I know just what to fix for the reception too. And the cake...."

"Ok, ok, Rosa, whatever you want is fine with me," Rita said with a smile and a chuckle. "I knew it would be hopeless trying to make you keep this simple. Just remember there will only be about 30 people there."

"Oh, I know. Not to chance the subject, but how is Freddie coming with the paperwork? Will it be done in time for Valentines Day?"

Rita was cautious with her answer. Filling out the annulment papers had not been an easy thing for Freddie to do. "He did them the night the Padre gave them to him. They were very embarrassing for him, I think. They asked so many personal questions, and Freddie is such a private person when it comes to his personal life. I had to keep reassuring him that the church would never make any of it public. He worries about that so much. He gave the other papers to his wife and I think she got them back to Fr. Perez the next day. Her information is sealed, so Freddie will never know how she felt about all of this."

"That is for the better. No use carrying old baggage into a new relationship."

Rita hugged her friend. "Amiga, you always know the right things to say! Mucho gracis, for everything."

"De nada, my pleasure. Now lets get back to this wedding!"


To Ritas surprise, the time flew by very quickly. She never realized there was so much to do, even for a simple wedding. Her mother flew out to stay with her and help her prepare. She was disappointed that Rita had chosen not to hold the service in a church, but was glad that Fr. Perez would be officiating at the nuptials. Fr. Perez told Rita that the paperwork should be approved on time and gave her the go ahead to plan for the 14th of February. Rosa and Anna, Ritas mother, seem to hit it off right away. "You know, Anna, I have been keeping a good eye on that la chica pequeña of yours. She is a very good amiga to have."

Anna smiled. "I see you have been doing a fine job, Rosa. I could not be happier. Il mia bimba has grown to be a beautiful woman and she will make a la bella sposa. I cannot wait till tonight when I meet her il bel gentiluomo."

Rita blushed at her mother calling Freddie her handsome gentleman. She was very nervous about this dinner. Her mother would be the first one in her family to actually meet Freddie. Her mother could be so picky when it came to her daughter. He had one strike against him because he was divorced. Rita prayed very hard that her mother would do like she promised and not bring that up. The three ladies spent the rest of that day shopping and making more plans. It sounded to Rita that Rosa and her mother were planning enough food to feed a small army. She learned not to argue with her two "mothers" and let them do what they enjoyed doing best, fussing over her. One of their many stops that day was to a bridal shop Rosa knew of on the outskirts of the barrio. The dresses in this shop were old world in their design. Rosa and Anna oohed and aahed at each dress the owner of the shop showed them. Rita liked them, but thought that she wanted something simpler in design. "This is such a small wedding. Could I see a dress that is less elaborate, por favor?"

"I have just the thing," the lady answered. She went to the back of the shop and brought out a dress that took Ritas breath away. It was a simple white satin brocade with Spanish lace sleeves and lace work around the low cut bodice. The train was of a medium length. Rita could picture herself standing beside Freddie in this dress, looking deep into his gorgeous eyes and saying "I Do" to him. "This is perfect," announced Rita. "You know what would go with this dress, a simple lace veil. Do you have one?"

"I will see, senorita. Un momento, por favor." The owner disappeared into the back once again. When she returned, in her arms was the most beautiful veil of Spanish lace Rita had ever seen. She reached out to take it from the lady and carefully placed it on her head. Twirling around in front of the mirror, Rita exclaimed, "This is the one I want." Removing it as carefully as she had put it on, Rita asked the lady if she could be shown to the dressing room to try on the dress. When Rita emerged from the dressing room in the dress and the veil, tears flowed from Annas and Rosas eyes.

"Il mio bimba è cosí bella!" cried Anna.

"Usted es muy hermosa en ese vestido, Rita." Rosa seconded.

Rita smiled at the two women. She knew enough Italian and now Spanish to know they both thought she looked beautiful. As she slowly turned and looked at herself in the mirrors, she could not help but agree with them. She longed to have Freddie see her in this dress, and even allowed herself the mischievous thought of him helping her out of it on their wedding night!

Back at Ritas apartment and exhausted from their days shopping, Rosa said, "Buenos noches," to Rita and her mother and left. The two women prepared themselves for their dinner date with Freddie. Promptly at 7 p.m., a knock was heard on Ritas door. When Rita opened it, Freddie was standing there with a large bouquet of long stemmed red roses. "Oh, Freddie, are these for me? You shouldnt have!"

"Sorry, my dear, I didnt. These are for this other signora bella standing here before me." Freddie stepped in and handed the roses to Anna and took her hand into his and raised it to his lips. "Lei deve essere la sorella del Rita perché lei non può essere sua madre."

Rita was smirking at Freddie as her mother blushed. "Hes really laying it on thick, telling my mother she looks like my sister," Rita thought to herself. "And in Italian, no less. I wonder where he learned Italian all of a sudden?" Tapping Freddie on the shoulder, Rita said, "Oh Freddie, mi amor, remember me?"

Freddie turned to Rita and smiled. "How could I forget ducinea mia, mi vida, mi amor." He kissed her hand this time. "But your mama, she is so bella! Mrs. Morrelli, I see where your beautiful daughter gets her looks!"

Rita smiled and began to study her handsome lover closely. Freddie had out done himself tonight. He wore the sweater Rita had given him for Christmas over a baby blue shirt and a deep royal blue jacket covered both of these. He opted for a pair of deep royal blue pair of slacks that were not as tight as he was used to wearing. Rita knew he had taken great pains to look his handsome best tonight to please her and impress her mother. Rita saw that this effort was not wasted. Her mother was sizing him up with admiration in her Italian mama eyes. She was glad she had chosen to wear the dress he had purchased for her in Las Vegas. Her mother had also picked a pretty blue dress to wear. They made a handsome trio.

"Well, we could stand here all evening exchanging pleasantries, or we could go and eat. Which will it be ladies?" Freddie flashed one of his biggest smiles, which made Rita melt. Her mother answered for the both of them. "We should go and eat. Will you escort us to your car il bel gentiluomo!"

Freddie held his arm out to Anna and led her through the door. Rita shook her head and grinned as she locked her door and brought up the rear.

Rita sat in the back of Freddies stingray, allowing Freddie to seat her mother next to him. Rita was afraid Freddies driving would frighten her mother. But following his current pattern of behavior, Freddie drove slowly.

Freddie had chosen the same restaurant he took Rita to on their very first date. Anna was impressed with Freddies manners and taste. Rita thought he was laying it on a little too thick, but her mother was happy, so Rita relaxed and let Freddie work his magic on her mother.

"Freddie, my daughter tells me you are a funny man like Bob Hope," Anna said after they were seated. Rita could only give Freddie an embarrassed look as Freddie laughed at her mothers remark. "You could say that, Mrs. Morellli. But I think I have a long way to go till I reach his level of fame."

"Well, my other daughter, Mary, thinks you are a big star now! She is very jealous of her sister for stealing you away from her!"

Rita shook her head and realized this was going to be a long, embarrassing evening.


As Rita and her mother were getting ready for bed later that night, Anna came over to her oldest daughter and gave her a big, motherly hug. "Mia bimba, you have done well for yourself. Your Freddie is a handsome, charming young man. It is obvious he loves you very much. If your papa was here we could give this to you together, but since he is not here, I will do the honors." Anna kissed Rita on both her cheeks. "You have our blessing and our prayer is for a happy life together with lots of bambinos running at your feet!"

"Mother!" Rita exclaimed, glad of the fact Freddie was not here for this little speech. Then she realized how serious her mother was and responded, "I am glad you like Freddie, mama. Thank you for your blessing and your prayer. You will make a wonderful la nonna someday!" Anna smiled as she climbed under the covers. Rita took the extra blankets and pillow and turned out the light of her bedroom. "Buona notte, mama, i sogni dolci."

"Buona notte, mia bimba. I sogni dolci a lei." Rita then closed her bedroom door and set up the sofa to sleep on. She knew she would have i sogni dolci, sweet dreams tonight.


The next day, Freddie picked up Rita and her mother and took them out to his parents home to meet his mother and father. This had been Freddies idea and Rita was very nervous. What if they didnt like each other? But she neednt of worried about it. Anna and Maria became best of friends from the start. Maria offered Anna some lemonade and the two mothers swapped stories and talked about plans for the upcoming wedding. Freddie stole Rita out to the patio by the pool. "Lets let them be for a while. How about a swim."

"Freddie, I dont think thats such a great idea. I know my mama. Shell be telling embarrassing stories about when I was growing up." Rita looked through the kitchen window at the two women talking and laughing. Freddie looked at Rita and laughed at her. "Mi amor, my ma can match your mama story for embarrassing story. Let them have their fun. Its what mamas like to do best. I race you to the pool!" Freddie, who was already in cut off shorts, peeled off the tee shirt he was wearing and ran for the diving board.

"No fair, I need to change first!"

"Alls fair in love and races!" Freddie laughed again as Rita pouted. "Ok, ok, ducinea mi, you can change in the bathhouse and I will wait for you." Rita made sure she didnt take too long. When she emerged from the bathhouse moments later in a one piece black swim suit, Freddie whistled. "Mira, mami linda, oye!" and made kissing noises at her. She walked coolly over to the diving board where he was standing and nonchalantly pushed him into the water. She then poised herself on the end of the board and as Freddie came up for air, she did a perfect swan dive into the water. Swimming over to him, Rita put her arms around him and quickly kissed him. "I win!"

"Mami, you may have won that round, but I feel lucky today!" Freddie grabbed her tight and kissed her long and hard. He then playfully pinched her butt and as she pulled away from him in surprise, Freddie said, "You have to watch yourself in this pool, there have been sharks reported!"

"Oh, Freddie Prinze, you just watch your back, mister!" replied Rita as she scooped a large handful of water and splashed him in the face.

"Oh a mami shark off the port bow, captain. Shall I go after her? Ok here I come!" Freddie dove down and grabbed Ritas legs before she could swim out of his reach. He picked her up by her legs and threw her over his shoulders. She came up out of the water sputtering, coughing and laughing. Freddie went over to her alarmed and said, "Lo siento, mi amor, are you alright?"

"I will be in a minute...... give me a chance to catch my breath...." When Freddie saw that Rita was alright he burst out laughing and Rita, who still could not breath too well joined him. Freddie pulled Rita close to him and kissed Rita with the passion that was in his heart. Rita didnt care if their moms had come out to see what was going on, all she had eyes for was Freddie. She kissed him back with the same amount of passion. They only broke it up when her mother began to speak.

"La vergogna, simply shameful. What do you think of those two?"

Maria smiled at her son and Rita carrying on in her pool. "I agree, vergonzoso! I did not raise my son to carry on in such a manner."

Anna smiled, also "Nor I my daughter. Where do you think they picked up this shameful behavior?" Freddie was not fooled by this outburst. "Ma I know you better and I suspect Mama Morrelli is just as pleased!" He reached around to kiss Rita again.

Embarrassed, even if Freddie was not, Rita made it a short kiss and swam to the edge of the pool. "I cant help it, I love Freddie. Im sorry if I acted shamefully in front of you and Mrs. Pruetzel."

Freddie came up behind her and grabbed her around the waist. "Im not sorry, not one bit! And I dont believe they think it was vergonzoso either!" Freddie gently lifted her out of the pool and leapt out after her. Rita took a towel that was draped over a patio chair and threw it to Freddie. Grabbing another towel, she began to dry herself off. Freddie addressed his mother. "Whadda got around here to eat. Im starved!"

His mother gave her reply to Rita, "I hope you like to cook, my dear, cause you are going to be doing it night and day to keep this one happy!"

The foursome went into the house to see about lunch. They spent a marvelous rest of the day together. Rita was sure that everything would be wonderful in her and Freddies life from now on. They had family that loved and cared for them.

Chapter 13

Rita's Journal

Dear Gran, It is the night before I am to be joined with the man I love. I am so nervous, I cannot sleep. So I thought I would share my thoughts with you tonight. The past year has been a roller coaster ride, that is for sure. First losing Lucy, then moving 3000 miles from home. Then I met Freddie and experienced love for the first time in my life only to almost lose it to drugs again! How am I feeling now? Happy, nervous, excited? All that and more!

The rest of the family flew in two days ago. I was so glad that Mama had grown to like Freddie, but I wasn't sure how Papa was going to react. I need not have worried, though. Freddie was as charming with him as he had been with Mama. It was Nicky that gave Freddie the third degree. I don't think Freddie knew what to make of my overprotective brother, but I could tell by the tone of Nicky's voice, he was just kidding with Freddie at his expense. I decided to rescue Freddie by wrestling my brother to the floor like we used to do as kids. Freddie just shook his head and laughed. Nicky said to him "See what you are getting yourself into, man. She's always been a hellcat! Its that red hair and Italian temperament. You'd better get used to it!"

"I know what you mean. I have felt her wrath on more than one occasion," answered Freddie playfully as he rescued Nicky from my clutches. I see I will have my hands full with the two of them!

Mary was extremely jealous and Freddie tried to make her feel better by making her feel special. Freddie gave her a sweet kiss on her cheek and she acted like a typical teenage fan with a crush on a big star. She cooed at him and he cooed back at her. It made me feel very uncomfortable, but Freddie told me not to worry about it. He put his long arms around her and gave her a hug and told her that he was glad he was becoming her brother in law. He really loves my family and I am glad they seem to like him, too. I asked Rosa to be my matron of honor and Mary to be my maid of honor. They both are very excited to do this. Freddie asked Manuel to be his best man and Nicky will be an usher. Freddie and Manuel have become great friends and Manuel was honored that Freddie chose him.

Well Gran, I really should try to get some sleep tonight. Tomorrow's the big day! I love you and wish you could be here. I know you and Gramps and Lucy will be watching from heaven. I love you, Gran.



Valentines Day arrived to a flurry of activity. Rita could hardly sit still as her mother tried to do her hair up so the veil would stay in place.

"Ouch, mama, don't pull so hard!"

"Well if you would sit still, this wouldn't hurt so much."

Mary was running around asking a million questions and Nicky and Tony just sat on the sofa watching TV making fun of the whole process. Rosa had decided to get herself ready at the beach house so she could supervise the last minute preparations. Rita knew Freddie and Manuel were in his apartment getting ready themselves. She was the one stuck with the crazy family! Rita did not know how long she was going to be able to take all this confusion. She was finally able to retire to her bedroom to dress in peace for a few minutes. She had tried to think of all the things she needed for a traditional wedding. Something old.... that would be her grandmother's crystal earrings. Something new..... she thought the angel Freddie had given her was new enough. Something borrowed..... Rosa had loaned her a beautiful bracelet of interwoven strands of gold, that had been her abuela's, to wear for the day. And something blue..... her mother bought her a pretty lace garter that had blue silk ribbons entwined in the lace. Rita looked in the mirror at her image. She didn't seem to know the woman that stared back at her. She quietly bowed her head and said every prayer she knew for a wonderful marriage. Her mother knocked softly on her door and entered.

"Oh Rita, you are no longer mia bimba. La mia piccola ragazza è adesso una bella donna."

Rita hugged her mother, careful not to ruin her dress. "Mama, you have made me so happy calling me a beautiful woman. I hope Freddie thinks so, too. Grazi."

"If he doesn't, then he has no eyes in his head and doesn't deserve my daughter's hand in marriage! But I think he will find you molta bella! He is both bell'ed intelligente, your Freddie."

Rita's father came through the door to see what the women were discussing. Antonio got one look at his daughter and tears began to flow from the big Italian papa's eyes. "La mia piccola ragazza è cresciuta in una donna. When did you stop being my little girl."

Rita could not help crying either and hugged her father. "Oh, mio papà. I will always be your little girl. Please don't make me cry. I'll have to do my makeup all over again."

Antonio looked at her daughter and laughed. "It is a good thing you are marrying a funny man, so he can put up with all your joking!"

Rita chuckled. "Whos joking! It took me hours to put this face on!"

Rita's two brothers and sister came in and voiced their approval about the way Rita looked. Nicky said to her, "Just remember, little sis, if that Freddie ever does anything to make you sad, I'll have my boys take out a contract on him!"

"I thought you gave up that Mafioso stuff when you became a cop!"

"Well it never hurts to keep the connections!" Nicky winked at her.

Rita's mother stepped in. "Nicky, it's almost time for us to go. Please go down to Freddie's apartment and make sure they are ready. Go with Freddie and Manuel to Rosa's beach house. Your father will follow with the rest of us in Rita's car. Just make sure Freddie doesn't see Rita before the wedding. We do not need any bad luck! Va!"

Nicky kissed his mother on the cheek. "Alright, mama. I will go. Geez, she can be such a dictator sometimes." Nicky headed for the door.

"And watch your language!" Anna yelled after her son.

"Yes, mama!"

Rita's father drove her car down the highway. They had given Nicky and the guys a twenty minute head start. Rita sat in the front passenger seat giving directions to the beach house and Anna sat in the back with Tony and Mary giving her own directions to the family.

As Rita's car slowly made its way down the driveway, Rita's mind went back to that fateful night when she brought Freddie here, not knowing whether he would live or die. Now there would be a celebration here to wipe those memories clean from her mind. Anna got out of the car first and helped Rita with her dress. Rosa hurried to the car.

"Ah, mi amiga, you look muy hermosa." she started to cry.

"Rosa, don't you start, too. I already got the tears back at my apartment from the family. You all need to save some for the ceremony!"

Rosa wiped her eyes and said, "Lo siento, mi amiga. I can't help it you look so beautiful. But we must hurry. Padre Perez is waiting and so are your guests. Freddie is all nervous. He looks muy hermoso, too! Wait until he sees you!"

Nicky came out and escorted his mother to her seat. Tony followed them in. Mary and Rosa took their places in front of Rita and Antonio. Rita smiled at her father as she took his arm. "Well, papa, I guess this is it." Tears welled up in her eyes. "I love you, papa."

"I love you to, mia bimba." Antonio beamed and shook his head. "All grown up. I am so proud of you!"

They walked down the aisle as the pianist played. Rita could see Freddie standing next to Manuel and Nicky. All three looked handsome in their blue tuxedos, but Freddie was by far the most handsome of the three in Rita's eyes. Freddie got his first look at Rita and mouthed the words "Oh, dulcinea mia," to her. As they made their way to stand in front of Fr. Perez, Rita turned to her father and helped him lift her veil. Handing her bouquet of roses and daises to Rosa, she hugged her father and kissed him on the cheek. "Grazi, papa."

Antonio, choked with tears, could only smile in response. He took his seat next to his wife. Rita flashed a smile at Freddie as she turned to face Fr. Perez.

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the sight of God to witness the union of these two people in the holy bonds of matrimony," began Fr. Perez. "You have come together here so that the Lord may seal and strengthen your love in the presence of the Church's minister and this community. Christ abundantly blesses this love. He has already consecrated you in baptism and now he enriches and strengthens you by a special sacrament so that you may assume the duties of marriage in mutual and lasting fidelity. And so, in the presence of the Church, I ask you to state your intentions.

"Freddie and Rita, have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?"

Freddie and Rita answered, "We have."

"Will you love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?"

"We will."

"Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?"

Rita smiled at Freddie and he grinned back at her as they both answered, "We will."

"Since it is your intention to enter into marriage, join your right hands, and declare your consent before God and his Church.

"Freddie, do you take Rita to be your wife? Do you promise to be true to her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love her and honor her all the days of your life?"

Freddie looked deep into Rita's eyes with the dark expressive orbs that first attracted Rita to him. "I do." Rita fought the urge to faint.

Fr. Perez then turned to Rita. "Rita, do you take Freddie to be your husband? Do you promise to be true to him in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love him and honor him all the days of your life?"

Rita smiled at Freddie and answered, "I do!"

"You have declared your consent before the Church. May the Lord in his goodness strengthen your consent and fill you both with his blessings. What God has joined, men must not divide."

"Amen," came the response from the people assembled.

Manuel handed Fr. Perez the rings. "May the Lord bless these rings which you give to each other as the sign of your love and fidelity."


Freddie put Rita's ring on her finger and repeated the words the priest recited. "Rita, take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Then it was Rita's turn to do the same. As she slipped Freddie's ring on his finger she repeated, "Freddie, take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

"My dear friends, let us turn to the Lord and pray that he will bless with his grace Rita now married in Christ to Freddie and that he will unite in love the couple he has joined in this holy bond.

"Father, by your power you have made everything out of nothing. In the beginning you created the universe and made mankind in your own likeness. You gave man the constant help of woman so that man and woman should no longer be two, but one flesh, and you teach us that what you have united may never be divided.

"Look with love upon this woman, your daughter, now joined to her husband in marriage. She asks your blessing. Give her the grace of love and peace. May she always follow the example of the holy women whose praises are sung in the scriptures.

"May her husband put his trust in her and recognize that she is his equal and the heir with him to the life of grace. May he always honor her and love her as Christ loves his bride, the Church.

"Bless this man and give him the wisdom to love and protect his wife. Help him as he lives your command to cherish her with all his heart.

"Bless them with children and help them to be good parents. May they live to see their children's children. May your children bring you happiness, and may your generous love for them be returned to you, many times over.

"May the peace of Christ live always in your hearts and in your home. May you have true friends to stand by you, both in joy and in sorrow. May you be ready and willing to help and comfort all who come to you in need. And may the blessings promised to the compassionate be yours in abundance."

"May you find happiness and satisfaction in your work. May daily problems never cause you undue anxiety, nor the desire for earthly possessions dominate your lives. But may your hearts' first desire be always the good things waiting for you in the life of heaven.

"May the Lord bless you with many happy years together, so that you may enjoy the rewards of a good life. And after you have served him loyally in his kingdom on earth, may he welcome you to his eternal kingdom in heaven.

"And may almighty God bless you all, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

And everyone responded "Amen."

Fr. Perez then instructed Freddie and Rita to face the guests. "I now present to you Mr. and Mrs. Freddie Prinze." Turning to Freddie he said, "You may now kiss your bride."

"Oh, mami, this is the part I've been waiting for!" As the guests laughed at Freddie's exclamation, Freddie took Rita in his arms and kissed her with such force of passion, Rita though she would fall over. Freddie strengthened his hold on her, though, preventing that from happening.

After the ceremony was over, Rita and Freddie went separate ways and mingled among the guests, thanking them for coming. Freddie's family was there as well as many of his co-workers from the show. Friends from Rita and Rosa's school were also in attendance. Nicky banged on his glass with his spoon to get the crowd's attention as Freddie made his way back to Rita's side. "I want to offer a toast to my sister and her new husband. Freddie, I want you to know you have an Italian princess for a wife now." Many of Freddie's friends ooohed at this remark. "You must treat her with the respect and love she has come to expect from her family. I wish you molta felicità e molta pace e molta abbondanza di bambini che correndo intorno ai suoi piedi."

"What did he say?" whispered Freddie in Rita's ear. "Ssh," she answered.

Nicky continued, "For all my non-Italian-speaking friends here, including my new brother-in-law," Nicky grinned at Freddie who playfully sneered back at Nicky, "I said, much happiness and peace and plenty of children running around at your feet! Saluto!" Nicky raised his glass and everyone followed his lead. When everyone had taken a drink of the champagne, Rosa came forward. "If the gentlemen are finished making speeches, there is plenty of food in the kitchen. Eat, por favor!"

The rest of the afternoon and evening was filled with the activities of the reception. Rosa and Anna had outdone themselves with the food. There were both authentic Hispanic and Italian dishes reflecting both cultures. The cake was a three tiered creation, baked by Rosa. After everyone had eaten, Rita and Freddie settled down on the end of the sofa to open gifts. There was much oohing and aahing as each gift was revealed. Finally, the last gift was handed to Rita. It was a long envelope with 'To Freddie and Rita with love, Rosa' neatly scripted on the front. As Rita carefully slipped her finger under the flap of the envelope she said, "Rosa, you did not need to get us anything. This wonderful wedding was all the present I could have ever hoped for."

"Mi amiga," Rosa responded, "You have been like a daughter and a sister to me. And Freddie is like a son. I wanted to do this for you."

Rita looked inside the now opened envelope and extracted a legal looking document. As she and Freddie read what it was, their eyes grew larger and larger. "Oh, amiga, we couldn't..... this is too.... much...." Tears started to slide down Rita's cheeks.

"What is it?" cried Tony, always the mercenary.

"It's the deed to this beach house," answered Freddie. "Rosa, Rita's right, we couldn't..."

"Then I will be very disappointed in the both of you!" exclaimed Rosa in mock anger. Smiling and softening her tone, she continued. "Amigos, I do not have any use for this house any more. It was built by my Ramon to be a haven of love from the hectic world. It is a cottage for lovers, and I want you to have it and be happy in it! Please accept it with my love."

"How can we refuse," answered Rita looking first at Rosa and then at Freddie. Freddie nodded in agreement. "Muchas gracias, Rosa. You have been una amiga muy buena."

"De nada, but you have been the amigos to me!"

Rita and Freddie both hugged Rosa. As she freed herself from their loving arms, she said, "It is getting late and I know these two love birds have more pressing business to attend to!" Everyone present gave knowing smiles and remarks in answer to Rosa's statement. "Well then, I think it is time to be saying buenas noches to the happy couple."

Freddie and Rita stood in the doorway of the beach house and said their good-byes to everyone. When Antonio came up to Rita, she gave him the keys to her apartment. "If you need anything, papa, it's yours. Please stay at my place while you finish your visit to Los Angeles. It looks like I wont need it tonight!"

Antonio smiled at his daughter. "It looks like you won't at that." He reached to her ear and whispered. "I taught you to be a good girl, now you need to be a good wife to your husband. Make your papa proud of you!"

"Papa!" cried Rita. "You are too much." Winking at him she said, "Don't worry, I will make you proud!"

Freddie witnessed this little exchange between father and daughter and leaned over to Rita and quietly asked, "What was that all about?" With another wink, she answered, "You'll find out later!"

Anna was next to say her good-byes to Rita. "Rosa told me all about her gift. I have put your things in the bedroom. Sweet dreams, mia bimba. Enjoy that new husband of yours tonight!"

"Mama, not you too!" Rita shook her head. Her parents never ceased to amaze her.

Last to leave was Rosa. "Buenas noches, que suene con los angeles--sweet dreams to you both." She, also, winked at them. "Make my Ramon and me proud of you tonight!"

"Buenas noches, Rosa," said Freddie, "We will try our best!" He grinned his flashiest smile at her as he closed the door. Turning to Rita, he remarked, "You would think that your parents and Rosa were expecting some hanky panky to go on around here tonight!"

Rita gave Freddie a devilish grin and said, "Well, let's see........ race you to the bedroom!" And she took off with a dash. Freddie was not far behind her. They both fell on the bed giggling and panting. Freddie pinned Rita to the bed and started kissing her. "Oh, mi amor, I have waited so long to get you where I have you now. You can not escape your Freddie any more."

They rolled around on the bed, kissing and petting one another as the weeks of pent up feelings flowed out of them. Freddie's large hands made their way down inside the low cut neckline of Ritas dress as he felt his way to her breast. As he fondled it, Rita moaned with delight, knowing they would not have to stop this activity any more. She nearly tore the buttons loose from the tuxedo shirt to get at Freddie's chest. Reaching inside his shirt with her face, she nuzzled up to one of his hardened nipples and sucked till Freddie was also moaning with pleasure.

"You really do enjoy doing that, mi amor, don't you?"

Without stopping Rita answered, "um mmmm!"

He looked down at her with his large loving eyes and said, "I'm glad because esto me siento maravilloso!"

He continued to caress her breast with his hand until she could no longer concentrate on what she was doing. Releasing her mouth from his chest she rolled around in delight. Her hand found its way between his legs and as she caressed him, she said, "It's all mine now, mi amor."

Freddie smiled at her with his teeth gleaming in the moon light that streamed in the window. "You got it, bebe, any time you want it!"

Rita was so tangled in her dress by this time, she finally had to stop what she was doing and said, "Mi amor, can you wait a few minutes while I get into something more appropriate for the occasion."

"Only if you let me help you out of that beautiful dress."

"Ok, but you must show some restraint," Rita said in mock sternness.

"Oh, mami linda, but why?" asked Freddie playfully. The couple rose from the bed and, facing Rita, Freddie took her into his arms and kissed her while his hands worked the zipper of the dress all the way down her back. He then slowly slid the dress down her body, stopping and kissing every sensual spot he came to. When the dress lay in a puddle at Rita's feet, Freddie started back at the top, removing her slip and underwear in the same fashion. Rita really did not want him to stop, but she had really looked forward to wearing the negligee she bought for this special night. After a few minutes of playful petting and kissing, she asked him again to stop for a few minutes.

"Mi amor, I have something special for you. Uno momento, por favor?"

"Oh, Dulcinea mia, why?" answered Freddie longingly. "It had better be good!"

"Oh, I think you will think it is worth the wait!" Rita winked at him and retired to the bathroom.

Freddie took the time to remove his tux and stood at the picture window, staring at the full moon shining over the Pacific Ocean while he waited for Rita to finish. Rita emerged moments later dressed in a pretty white negligee.

"Dulcinea mia, you look bella!" whispered Freddie.

"Aren't you mixing languages?"

"I'd like to be mixing more than that! Come here to your Freddie. You are mine now, and I never want to let you go!"

The lovers retired to the bed. Freddie held Rita gently in his arms and kissed her lips with a butterfly kiss. "Rita, you have made me the happiest man on earth tonight. I love you with all my heart and I thank God he picked you to be my angel de la guarda. Now I can truly make you my own once again and forever."

Rita returned his kiss and said, "Freddie, you are mi amor, mi vida. I will always thank God that he sent you into my life. I am yours forever."

After weeks of being faithful to their promise to wait, Freddie and Rita now relished the freedom to fulfill their desire to please each other. Freddie sought his pleasure from caressing and kissing Rita's soft breasts and watching her sigh with ecstasy when he stroked her in all of her erogenous areas. Rita delighted in exploring all the sensuous parts of her handsome husband, fawning over him with affectionate kisses and gentle caresses. Time stood still as they sought the pleasure that was now theirs to partake. When they finally joined as one, Rita knew she had found the ultimate happiness that life could bring her.

It was well into the dark hours of the time before the dawn, when the moon had finally set into the depths of the Pacific ocean that lapped with peaceful waves against the beach outside their window, that Freddie and Rita finally lay sleeping in each others arms, exhausted from the night of passion they had reveled in. Each slept with smiles on their faces, and love and peace in their hearts


The pool under the waterfall shone in the moon light as Freddie and Rita swam and caressed each other in its coolness. Kissing Freddie, Rita whispered, "Oh Freddie you have made me so happy."

"And you have been my salvation, dulcinea mia. The waterfall will hold no fascination for me ever again."

Rita looked at the top of the waterfall. In the moonlight, she could see Lucy smiling and waving to her. "He is yours now, Rita," Lucy told her. "Take good care of him as you did me."

"But, Lucy," started Rita. "I didn't help you!"

"You could not in life because I would not let you. But by saving Freddie, your heart has freed me as well. Do not grieve for me any more but be happy in Freddie's love. And when you both have been graced with a little girl, remember me."

"Good bye Lucy, I will always love and remember you."

"Farewell, Rita, my friend."

Freddie took Rita in his strong arms and carried her to the ledge under the small stream and made love to her in the moonlight.

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