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This one is all Katherine Lehman's fault. I never should have admitted to having a hard time resisting a challenge/dare. Sigh. One of these days, I'll learn to keep my big mouth shut. Yeah, when Fraser swears like a longshoreman or Kowalski becomes exceptionally articulate or Vecchio starts wearing grunge.

This one came out a bit odd, for me. It's first person, present tense...Ray Kowalski is rambling, for the most part.

If You Want My Advice.


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She married him. I can't believe she did that. What was so great about him, anyway? Sure, he can smooze like nobody's business...oh. I guess that could be a good reason. The Stella always did say I couldn't communicate worth a damn. Well, as long as she's happy, I guess I shouldn't complain that it's not with me. But I still love her. Too bad me lovin' her isn't enough. She really doesn't love me any more. Well, I hope they're happy. If he ever hurts her, though, I'll kill him and they'll never find his body. It's over, he's kissin' her and she's kissin' him back. Now they're comin' back up the aisle. She's looking at me and smiling. Oh, God, twist the knife why don't you? I've come to hate that expression on her face, this past year. The one that tells me that she's hurtin' me on purpose, because she knows she can, and it makes her feel...powerful, I guess. I meet her eyes and force a smile on my face. She frowns at me. It must look pretty good; for a change I must have gotten it right. I feel my smile widen, real, this time. She looks annoyed. Good. I look at him. He looks scared. I don't blame him. I guess I wish him luck. He's gonna need it, poor schmuck. Everybody's gettin' up. Fraser looks good in the tux. I'm surprised he didn't insist on wearing his dress uniform. No doubt The Stella was behind that. Couldn't have him showin' her up at her own wedding. I snicker, thinking about that and realize that somewhere along the line, I've gotten over her. Sure, I still love her, but it's kinda a bittersweet thing, now. And with that realization, I smile for real. Fraser is following them out, along with the rest of the entourage. Bet they'd be surprised that I know that word. Fraser sees me and smiles back. His smile looks a bit strained, though. I grin and wink at him and I can see him relax. Just lettin' him know that he's not alone here, that I'm still his partner and here for backup. The rest of the people start to trail out after them. The reception's next door, so we're all gonna walk over. Fraser is waitin' for me, Frannie's with him, but she's not lookin' up at him like she always used to. She's lookin' at me. I'm not as surprised as I used to be. I wonder what her brother would say if he knew that our weekly dancin' dates had turned a bit more serious. She's a nice lady, and she likes me and I like her. We've gotten to be good friends. She tells me her secrets, I tell her mine. One of these days, I'm gonna ask her the big question. Just as soon as I get up the nerve, that is.

"Hey, Ray," Frannie says as I join them. She takes my arm, then links to Fraser's and urges us over towards the reception hall. Fraser is relaxed, now, since the hard part is over. Just the reception line to go for him and he's done. Frannie lets him go as we get to the door and he heads over to where he belongs. I let Frannie go through by herself. No need to upset her brother any more than he needs to be. There'll be time for us later, after they go. I can't believe that they're gonna give everything up here and move to Florida. Of course, Fraser's always talking about how much Vecchio loves Florida, so I guess it's not such a surprise for him to want to go, but Stella? I gotta shake my head at that. I just can't see it. And a bowling alley? What kind of business is that? I kinda hope that the mob doesn't spot him, though. As I go through the reception line, I'm the last one, and as I stop to talk to Stella, she smiles at me. I'm a little surprised. She seems happy. I smile at her and say something, what's that word? Inane. Yeah. It's just some ordinary thing you might say to someone you don't know. And I don't kiss her. That pisses her off, but I don't care. Vecchio's watchin' me; I can see him watchin' me, wonderin' if I'm gonna disrupt their day. Not on your life. I pass Stella and offer Vecchio my hand, tellin' him congratulations and good luck together. He's surprised but covers well. Doesn't even call me Stanley, for a change. I pat him on the shoulder and lean in to whisper to him that if he ever needs advice, that he can give me a call. He laughs like that's a stupid idea. I just grin. I'll be hearin' from him one of these days. I just know it. Fraser and Frannie join me and we sit together for the rest of the day. Considering how this could have gone, it's pretty good. I spend most of my time talkin' with Fraser and Frannie, ignoring Stella and Vecchio. I'm better off this way. I can tell that The Stella is mad at me, but what does she want from me? She just married someone else, so what does she want from me? I'm playin' it safe. And the more I laugh with Fraser and Frannie, the more I feel sorry for Vecchio. I don't think he's got any idea what he's in for. He's got no more idea about a Gold Coast Girl than I ever did. Eventually, the party ends and I offer to drive Fraser and Frannie home. I drop Frase at the consulate and then take Frannie home. We sit in the car for a while, just talkin'. I tell her that I kinda feel sorry for her brother. She asks me why, and I tell her that he's headed for trouble with The Stella. She laughs and says that her brother is a big boy and that he can take care of himself. I grin, too and then lean in to give her a kiss. We do that for a while, then she reminds me that it's getting' late and she needs to go inside. I agree and get out, circling around to open her door for her. She still seems surprised when I do that, but I just smile at her. It's part of who I am. I take her hand and lead her up to the door. We kiss again, closed mouth, and then I wait for her to get the door open. We say good night and she goes inside and closes the door. I wait until I hear the deadbolt slide home, then I turn and go back to my car and head home. One of these days...

I've been back for almost two years, and I still sometimes forget and answer the phone with the wrong name. Everyone thinks it's funny. Except maybe Frannie. I think it pisses her off. I try to explain, but she doesn't understand, ever. She's pissed off at me now, for example. It wasn't my fault, even. I got to the scene and the uniforms were there, so were the forensics guys. I was wandering around, looking at things, thinkin'. I opened the door to the cellar and imagine my surprise to find someone standin' right there. I kinda backed up, but he jumped at me and grabbed me, tossin' me down the stairs. I yelled. Ben was right behind me, luckily. He managed to grab the guy, who turned out to be our perp. Of course, in the excitement, they forgot about me for a few minutes. Until I woke up and started yelling. Ben was the first one down the stairs, apologizing all over the place for forgetting me. He calls for help and pretty soon there's paramedics all over the place. I am so embarrassed. I not only broke my arm, but tore up a knee and got a concussion. They have to haul me up the stairs on a gurney, then cart me to the hospital, where they insist on keeping me for observation. So, my right leg's in a soft cast, and my left arm is covered in plaster and fiberglass. To add insult to the injuries, they come in every hour on the half-hour to wake me up and ask me my name...a couple of times they were pretty worried when I said Vecchio, instead of Kowalski. I thought it was funny. They kept me an extra day because of it. Now, Frannie has to pick me up in the morning to take me to work, she's still the civilian aide, thank God, 'cause I can't drive with my leg in that brace. So, here I am, stuck in the bullpen doin' paperwork. You know, except for getting' shot a couple of times, I never got hurt before I came to the two-seven. Huh. Wonder what that means? Anyway, Frannie is pissed at me, and I'm not sure why. I keep tryin' to ask, but she keeps saying that I should know. I'm about to lose it, 'cause I just can't figure out what she's talkin' about. When Fraser arrives, I ask him. He looks at me in surprise and asks me how I can't know why she's pissed at me. I practically beg him to tell me. Hey, I'm on pain meds, what d'you expect? He shakes his head and frowns at me, his 'I don't like the way you're teasing me' frown. I shake my head and tell him that I really don't know and would he please tell me. He looks surprised again and tells me it's because she's in love with me and I got hurt. And that I didn't call her. I kinda gape at him and say, 'and how was I supposed to call her? I had a concussion, remember? They wouldn't let me near a phone.' He turns the color of his uniform and apologizes. I shake my head and ask him to ask Frannie to come and talk to me. He does and we end up in interrogation one, talking, then kissing, and finally, I ask her. I am so scared, but realize that it's time for this. Time for us. She's real quiet for a long time and then asks, 'what about Stella?' I shake my head and grin. I can now honestly say that I'm over her. Yes, I still have feelings for her, but I don't want her back. I'm a lot better off without her, and I'd rather be with Frannie. I musta said it right because she has this huge smile on her face and she jumps up and throws her arms around my neck and we're kissin' like it's the end of the war or somethin'. I really like kissin' her. She puts everything she has into it. Of course, so do I. It's a good thing I'm sittin' on the table, or I'd be on the floor. When we break for air, I ask if that means yes and she punches me on the arm, the good one. I say 'ow' and she calls me a baby, and I say I want to be her baby, and she starts cryin' and huggin' and kissin' me again. Eventually, we come up for air and it's like we can't figure out what took us so long. I asked her to come to my desk with me. She kinda frowns, but agrees. She gets the door for me, 'cause of my cane and all, then she follows me back to my desk. Fraser has disappeared, probably to the deli to get us lunch, since Dief's still under my desk. I sit down and pull open my center drawer. I rummage through it, searchin'. I can't find it, so I pull open the top side drawer and go through that one, too. Then the next two, then start on the other side and there it is, right in front. I pull it out and suddenly I can't look at her. I hold the little black, velvet box out to her, scared all of a sudden. She takes it and opens it. I know what it looks like. It was my Grams'. It's a good-sized diamond, with sapphires and more little diamonds. It's not really an engagement ring, it's called a dinner ring, but I think it's perfect for Frannie. Stella would have thought it was too old-fashioned, seein' as how it's over a hundred years old, closer to a hundred and fifty, seein' as how they haven't used that 'old mine cut' since 1849. She's real quiet. Too quiet. I look up at her and see her cryin'.

"Frannie?" She looks at me, finally, and holds the box out to me. I'm thinkin' she's tellin' me no...but as I take the box, my hands are shakin' so bad, then she holds her left hand out. Oh, thank God. She wants me to put it on her! I have to take a deep breath to stop shakin' and take it out and slide it onto her finger. It fits like it was custom made for her. She stares at it for a bit, then leans down and kisses me, right there in front of the entire bullpen. All I can hear is the blood rushing in my ears, but eventually, I can hear the catcalls and cheers from the other guys in the bullpen. We pull apart and Frannie turns on the crowd. Welsh is leanin' in his doorway with a huge grin on his face, Huey and Dewey are doing somethin' from their comedy act, and the rest are laughin' and makin' noise. Frannie tosses me a wink and holds up her left hand to show off the ring. She tells them all to eat their hearts out and turns back and gives me another big kiss. When we break apart again, Fraser is back, looking extremely pleased. I grin up at him and ask him to be my best man. He readily agrees. Frannie says she's got to call her ma and set everything in motion. I'm in for it, and I don't care. Whatever she wants, anything I can get her, she'll have. And, I know that she wants kids. I can't stop grinning and my heart is so full I think it's going to burst. The guys are all congratulating me and all I want is to get Frannie alone somewhere for a while, to talk and, well, kiss and cuddle. We've been goin' together, more or less, for almost two years, and we've never...well, you know. Her ma would have killed me, and so would her brother. Geeze, now my stomach's all fluttery. What have I gotten myself into? Then I look at her and wonder what took me so long.

It's another three months and now it's our turn. Pretty much the same people are there. Fraser's my best man, and Vecchio condescended (yes, I know that word, too...hang around Fraser enough and you got no choice but to learn big words) to come and give Frannie away. He was at the party last night. For a bachelor's shindig, it was pretty tame. But then, I don't drink, much, and Fraser doesn't drink at all. Some of the guys got pretty snockered, including Vecchio. I can see him as we're gettin' ready. He's still hurtin'. At least he's not still drunk, but he's got a hell of a hangover. I don't remember him drinkin' like that, before. We've got about an hour, so I collar him and drag him out for a walk in the garden of the church. I ask him what's wrong and at first, he don't want to talk to me. I watch him for a couple of minutes. He's sittin' on a bench, head down, hands clasped between his knees, looking more miserable than just a killer hangover would warrant. Suddenly, I recognize the signs. It's weird, seein' it from the outside.

"It's The Stella, isn't it?" I ask. He looks up in surprise and finally nods.

"She's talking about leaving me. I don't know what to do. I love her so much, but I can't seem to do anything right, any more." He looks up at me, a desperate gleam in his green eyes. "You got any suggestions?"

He's askin' me for advice? How funny is that? He's serious, though. And miserable. "Do you talk to her?"

"Yeah, but I'm not sure she listens, or understands anything I say."

"Do you listen to her? Not just her words, but her body language. Does she fold her arms and shift back on one foot, the toe of the other one tapping?'

He stares at me, jaw slack. I think I shocked him. He nods and I nod back. "That's her 'I'm pissed at you and nothing you do or say is going to fix it.' stance." (Yeah, I know that word, now, too)

"So, does that mean I can't do anything to fix it?" He's desperate and hurting so much. I can't help but feel sorry for the guy. I realize that I've got it so much better than he ever will. His sister may scream and throw things, but I'm never in doubt about what she's thinking and feeling. The Stella is real good at hiding those things. I've also realized that Stella doesn't really know how to talk any more than I do. Sure, she's got the vo-vocabulary, but she doesn't know when to talk, either, or what to say half the time. She lets things fester until she blows up. Vecchio, I think he's like the rest of his family. You get mad, you yell, you make up, that's the end of it. He doesn't understand how Stella holds on to the hurts until they get so big that they can cross the Pacific Ocean in one step. This guy's about to become my relative and I'm thinking that I need to try and help him. I start talking, about me and Stella. The good things, the bad things, the things I didn't understand until it was much too late for us. He listens. Trying to absorb every word, even through his killer headache. He's nodding, kind of understanding. Then I ask him the question that killed my marriage to Stella for good.

"Did you ask her to have kids?"

He looks up at me in surprise. "No. She said from the start that she didn't want any."

I frown. "Is she practicin' law down there in Florida?"

"Yeah. She's a full partner with Sciavelli, Stockton, and Vecchio. Why?"

"What kind of law firm?"

"They specialize in civil law, lots of immigration stuff." He shrugs. Obviously, he's not real involved in it.

"Sciavelli, they do any mob work?" I have to ask. He turns pale and shivers. I can understand why. He shakes his head, then shrugs. He doesn't know. I'm frowning at him.

"How long have you been having problems?"

"Couple of months, now."

Suddenly, I get it. I can't believe her, what a bitch. I gotta fix this. It's not fair to him. "Stay here for a minute. Wait for me, okay?" He looks unsure, but I convince him. I take off to find Stell. We need to talk.

I find her outside where Frannie's gettin' ready. I grab her and drag her to another room, where we can have some privacy. I could kill her. She hasn't wanted me for a long time, but the minute I reach for a chance to be happy and she pulls this crap? I'm not feelin' very nice and I don't pull any punches.

"What the hell are you doing to Vecchio?"

"I don't know what you're talking about, Ray." She's got that 'you're an idiot and I'm not going to lower myself to speak to you' attitude going.

"Bullshit. You've been tearing him apart for about two months...just about the time Frannie and me set the date and she called to ask her brother to give her away. Do you hate me so much that you're gonna destroy your husband to make sure I stay alone and miserable?"

She looks at me in shock. She shakes her head, trying to deny it. I know I'm scowling at her.

"Bullshit. Don't give me that. He doesn't hardly drink, but he got stinkin' drunk last night. You gonna tell me that he did it out of friendship for me? Do not do that, Stella. Don't hurt him like you did me, just out of spite. He doesn't deserve that. And neither do you."

She stares at me, frowning, and I recognize that she's about to cry. "I'm pregnant, Ray." She whispers it and for just a second, I don't believe what I'm hearing.

"What?" She's shivering, now. I can't help it; I reach out and pull her against me, hugging her. It's funny, but I still have feelings for her, just not the ones I used to have. "Why haven't you told him?"

She pulls away. "It was an accident. My pills failed." She stands up to pace the room, wringing her hands together and not lookin' at me. "Sometimes, I miss a period, from the pills, so at first, I didn't think anything of it. But the third month in a row, and I was feeling sick all the time. I finally went to the doctor and he told me that I was through my first trimester and to stop taking the pill. Ray and I talked about it. He doesn't want children. I don't know what he'll do when he finds out."

She stopped talking for a minute, standing by the window, looking out. She's crying, so she doesn't see her husband sitting miserably out in the garden. "So, instead of tellin' him, you've been pushing him away, tryin' to hurt him to the point where he leaves you?" I ask. She's shakin', now.

"No! Yes. I don't know!" She's crying in earnest, now.

"Do you love him?"

"Yes." Well, that was definite.

"Do you want this kid?" I feel a momentary stab of the old scars, she didn't' want my kids. Probably afraid they'd have my learning disabilities.

"Very much." Her voice is soft and now she's cradling her belly and I can see the beginnings of the swell that indicates the new life she holds within her.

All of a sudden, I get it and start laughing. She looks up at me, hurt. I shake my head and wave my hands at her. I'm trying to talk, but I'm laughing too hard. When she gets mad and heads for the door, I stop her.

"I-I'm sorry, Stell. It's just that he's down in the garden, absolutely miserable that you don't love him any more, and when I asked him if he'd asked you to have a kid, knowing that you never wanted kids with me, well, he said you two had agreed not to have any. I could tell, though, he'd love to have kids. He comes from a big family, Stell, and if you ever see him with Tony and Maria's kids, you'd know just how much he would love to have one of his own." She's frowning at me. Her tears had dried up while I was laughing. She looks back out the window and spots her miserable husband down below. He's got his face buried in his hands and I can tell by the way his shoulders are shaking that he's crying. He thinks he's lost her, and doesn't know how to get her back.

"I think that you may just have enough time to go down there and tell him. We got at least half an hour before the ceremony. It might be nice if he could smile when he gives Frannie away, even if it is to me." She looks at me, unsure. I push her towards the door. "He deserves to know. And you need to talk to him. He's a good man, Stell. You don't want to lose him because of some stupid misconception, do you?" She's surprised I know that word, too. Like I said, you hang around Benton Fraser and you have no choice but to learn new words. "Go on. There's time." She's not sure, but she doesn't want to lose him, I can tell. She's slow to start, but once she's through the door, she's running, down the stairs and out to the garden. I stand in the window to watch. She stops as soon as she sees him, and goes slowly up to him. She touches his shoulder and he looks up. She crouches beside him and starts talking. They're looking each other in the eyes. I can tell when she makes the announcement. His face lights up like a klieg light. He grabs her hands and is excited, then they're hugging and kissing. I can't help the grin on my face as I turn away only to find Ma Vecchio standing behind me, watching, as well.

"They look happy," she says. I nod.

"It was just a misunderstanding, si?"

"Miscommunication." She's not surprised that I know that word. She smiles and pats my cheek.

"You are a good boy, Stanley Raymond Kowalski. I am proud to have you for a son-in-law."

"And I'm proud to have you for a mother," I say back to her. I been callin' her 'ma' since I met her. Now, it's gonna be permanent and official. I can't wait.

As we leave the room, she asks what the misunderstanding was about. I tell her and I feel like I've just given her the best present she can imagine. She grabs me and gives me a big hug and pulls me down for a kiss. She's talkin' in Italian, so I don't know what she's sayin, but I figure it must be good, the way she's almost dancin' as she ducks back into the room with Frannie and her bride's maids. I glance at my watch and realize I need to be elsewhere, now. I head downstairs only to meet Fraser coming up to look for me. He asks what's goin' on and I explain it quickly as we head to the alter of the church, to wait for ... oh, God. I'm gettin' married in just a few more minutes. I get a bad case of the shakes and Fraser's nattering on about something or other, but I can't breathe. I close my eyes and try to just keep the air goin' in and out of my lungs. Then, someone's got me by the shoulders and is talking to me. I manage to open my eyes and there's Stella, and all of a sudden, she pulls me close and kisses me. It's a 'I'm so happy-thank you' kiss. Vecchio has his arm around her waist and across my shoulders and is telling me how glad he is that I talked to them. I snap back into place, realizing that I'm headed for the same kind of happiness as they've got. Only difference being that Frannie wants kids right away...and lots of them. It's no longer hard to breathe, and I can smile at them. Never thought I could smile that much for someone else with Stella. But it seems that we're both going to be happy, just not with each other. I glance over at Ben. He's standing politely by, his red serge bright as ever and the brass buttons gleaming.

I say something to the Vecchios, then I'm standing there, waiting for Frannie. I can breathe just fine, now, and Vecchio...Ray, looks so proud, escorting his sister down the aisle. He hands her off to me, and when Father Behan asks who gives this woman away, Ray says her mother and he do. After that, it's all a jumble. Fraser has the rings and it feels so right to slide that gold band on her finger and to have her slide the other one onto mine. When it's time to lift her veil and kiss her, I can hardly breathe, again. I'm so happy. I never thought I could feel this way again, after Stella. This time, though, I'm more confident. Frannie and I have talked about everything under the sun. We're much better suited than Stell and I ever were. I can make her happy. She's already made me happy. As we're introduced as husband and wife to the gathered crowd, I look out at our family and friends and see Stella and Ray, kissing. I'm a little surprised that I'm happy for them. As we head for the reception in the next building, I wrap my arm around my wife's waist. As we stand in the reception line, all I can think of is where we can find a girl for Fraser...

The end

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