FOR WORSE OR FOR BETTER
"What's that?" Dana asked guardedly. She felt very wary of what might be coming next... and not at all because of anything her mother had said. Honest!
"I love you," Peter blurted out. "I never should have let you go. It was the worst mistake I ever made."
"You'll make a much worse one if you really don't intend to make it up with Egon," Dana told him dryly.
"Sorry. Go on."
"Right... well." This was hopeless. Dana's interruption had made him totally lose his momentum. "As I was saying: I love you and I love Oscar. He kinda makes me think that everything happens for a reason. You should have married me, but I can't imagine life without him. Or you. And that's why I wanted to ask you..."
Oh God. Oh Christ. Oh shit. What was she going to say? It should have been a straightforward yes, but she was wavering. Something wasn't right here.
"Will you marry me?"
"Unnnggghhh..." Dana choked as Peter held the ring out to her.
"Not quite the response I was hoping for," Peter ventured carefully.
"Ah Peter. That's really nice," Dana smiled weakly.
"Ok, you like the ring," Peter said warily. "That's a good start."
"I feel sick."
"Why?" Peter asked anxiously. He hadn't been quite sure how the evening's events were going to turn out, but he certainly hadn't expected this.
"This is so..." faltered Dana.
"Don't say 'sudden'. This has taken me almost nine years..."
"That might be the problem."
"Might be? Is it or isn't it?" demanded Peter.
"I'm not sure."
"What the hell is wrong with you? I love you! Do you want to marry me or not?"
She was going to have to answer. "I'll think about it," she told him.
"Oh Jesus." Peter snapped shut the little black box, slipped it back into his pocket and leaned dejectedly back into his chair. "That's a no."
"No it isn't," argued Dana.
"But what's to think about?" Peter asked desperately. "Do you love me?"
"Do you want to marry me?"
"I don't know!"
"Why the hell not?" demanded Peter.
"Because there's a lot to think about!" Dana shot back. "I've been married before, remember. I know what can happen. And I have a son to consider."
"You know how I feel about him," reasoned Peter.
"He feels the same way," Dana admitted. "But he has a father. What about him?"
"Ah Dana..." Peter sighed despairingly.
"The Stiff has nothing to do with you and me."
"But... oh, stop arguing!" Dana squeaked with frustration. "I've said I'll think about it and I'll think about it, ok?"
"Ah man," sighed Peter, no longer arguing simply because he suddenly lacked the energy. "Talk about a kick in the teeth. I even thought about getting down on one knee. I'm glad I didn't now."
"Why didn't you?" asked Dana.
"Why do you want to know that?" Peter frowned confusedly.
"Well if you must know, I thought that'd make it even more humiliating for me if you said no. Or 'I'll think about it'," he added dryly.
"It was sudden actually." Dana slipped back in time several sentences. "The longer you do nothing, the more sudden it seems when something finally does happen. I break up with you, marry, have a son, get divorced, move away and three years after that is when you decide to ask me - after disappearing for two months, I might add. A lot sure has to happen to make you think about what you really want."
"Don't start criticizing me, Dana," begged Peter. "I feel lousy enough as it is."
"I think we should stop this," Dana decided. "I'm exhausted. I think I'd better go to bed. You're still welcome to share," she added. "I do love you, at least enough not to make you sleep on the couch."
Peter was asleep an hour later. Dana was lying next to him, very much awake and wondering how he could sleep after an evening like that. It felt somehow right having him beside her, especially after so many nights on her own - but something was bothering her. She thought of her words to him a few hours before: "I break up with you, marry again, have a son, get divorced, move away and three years after that is when you decide to ask me." But why wait that long?
Well, that question wasn't too difficult to answer. Peter had had a full life then. The Ghostbusters meant everything to him. At any rate it obviously meant more to him than she did. And now that part of his life was gone. That was when he had started to put some real thought into this relationship. The proposal came now because Peter had nothing else in his life. Or at least that was how it seemed to Dana. She thought of his words to her: "one more shot at happiness..." He made her and Oscar sound like a last resort!
But she did love him. And she didn't doubt for a moment that he loved her. Wasn't that the important thing? And as for Oscar... Ugh - evidently "I'll think about it" had been something of an understatement.
"Come with me and Mommy to preschool," he offered smilingly.
Less than an hour later they were standing outside the school building. All around them mothers were kissing their young children goodbye, as well as the odd father.
"Bye-bye Daddy," a pretty little dark-haired girl beamed up at her father, hugging his legs before trotting happily into the school.
Oscar then took both Peter and Dana by surprise by mimicking the girl's words: "Bye-bye Daddy." He then wrapped his arms around Peter's jean-clad thighs and squeezed, accepted Dana's kiss and finally followed the pretty little girl into school.
Dana stared after her small son, absolutely gob smacked.
"Did you hear that?" Peter beamed delightedly.
"Of course I heard it," murmured Dana, her voice strangely distant.
"He called me 'Daddy'!" Peter continued to grin ecstatically.
"I know," Dana frowned thoughtfully. "Why would he do that? It's confusing him, I suppose: you suddenly being around. I said something to him about Daddy the other day. I meant Andre, obviously - but he must think I meant you."
"Sounds like three year old logic to me," remarked Peter.
"But I talked about Kate as well," Dana went on. "Who does he think I mean? You didn't bring anybody called Kate with you."
Peter smiled comically and said, "I didn't realize you wanted me to."
"Shut up Peter, this is serious," scowled Dana.
"Why? I think it's great. You know how much I love that kid. Hearing him call me 'Daddy'... I can't tell you how good that felt! And it solves it really, doesn't it. Marry me. Then no one'll think it odd him calling me that."
"But what about Andre?"
"What about Andre?" countered Peter.
"He's Oscar's father," reasoned Dana.
"Yeah, so?" shrugged Peter, his euphoric smile rapidly disappearing. "Anyone can make a baby. There's a difference between being a father and being a dad, you know. The stiff lives in London and doesn't see Oscar for months at a time. If he loved that kid half as much as I do, he couldn't do that."
"Don't start criticizing Andre, Peter," frowned Dana. "You don't even know him. Don't lash out just because you're jealous."
"Well of course I'm jealous!" Peter suddenly exclaimed. "Dana - I want Oscar and I want you. Marry me. Please!" he finished desperately.
"I've said I'll think about it," Dana returned tartly. "I have to go. Did you remember to take the spare key?"
"Of course I did," Peter sighed despairingly - as though that was the most important question to be answered right now.
The time dragged tortuously until Dana and Oscar came home, at which time the atmosphere instantly brightened and afternoon quickly turned into evening. When Oscar's bath time came around, Peter watched from his position behind the ironing board and winced. The situation looked very much like it could end in tears. Oh wait - there were already tears. But it could still get worse. With Oscar's little three-year-old fingers clutching the doorframe as tightly as they could and Dana tugging him by the waist, there was even a slight chance that it could end in a concussion.
"Nooooooooooooooooooo!" wailed Oscar. "I want Peter to do it!"
"Peter's busy," snapped Dana.
Peter looked comically at the electric iron he was wielding in his right hand. He wasn't busy by choice. He would far rather be bathing Oscar, but twenty minutes ago Dana had thrust the pile of washing (topped with the iron) into his arms and said curtly, "Since you're here, you might as well make yourself useful."
"I want Peter!" yelled Oscar, when his mother finally overpowered him and pulled him into the bathroom. "Put me down, Mommy! I WANT PETER TO DO IT!"
With the bathroom door firmly shut, Peter could still hear Oscar's yells of protest quite clearly - as well as a resounding splash when, presumably, Dana attempted to put him into the bath she had just run. You had to feel sorry for her, Peter reflected. Being rejected by her own child couldn't be much fun. Come to think of it, perhaps all the affection Oscar had been lavishing on their guest was the reason for the snide looks Dana had suddenly taken to shooting at Peter.
Twenty minutes later Dana carried Oscar, wrapped in a towel and still screaming, out of the bathroom. She took him into his bedroom and started to rub him down with the towel; but Oscar quickly escaped, performed a noisy streak into the sitting room and took refuge behind the ironing board.
Peter looked down at Oscar, cocked an eyebrow and asked dryly, "Not tired, huh?"
Oscar simply shrugged by way of reply.
"At least let Mommy dry you," Peter scolded good-naturedly, carefully putting the iron down on the board. "And put some clothes on. We don't do birthday suits in this laundry," and he cocked his head towards the washing basket full of clothes.
Oscar giggled, and then asked sweetly, "Will you read my dinosaur book to me please?"
"Of course I will." Peter turned off the iron at the mains and then stooped to take Oscar into his arms, earning himself another one of those looks from Dana. "But you have to promise to go to sleep afterwards."
"Ok," agreed Oscar, wrapping his chubby arms around Peter's neck and squeezing as hard as he could.
Nearly two hours after that Oscar had finally fallen asleep. Dana was making a feeble effort to tidy up the sitting room by picking up a few toys and throwing them into a cupboard - although most of her concentration was focused on throwing yet more dirty looks at Peter. He was back at the ironing board, currently running the iron over a pair of Oscar's miniature jeans, and pretending not to notice the looks.
"I know what you're doing," Dana said at last. She had a teddy bear in one hand and a colourful plastic dumper-truck with a smiley face in the other, which somehow took away from the disapproving glare she wore.
"Yeah," Peter grinned at her. "Ironing."
"Shut up, I'm being serious," Dana shot back.
"Ok." Peter rearranged his face to look suitably solemn. "What am I doing?"
"You're using Oscar to get to me."
The iron went drastically off-course. Peter just managed to avoid a severe burn to his left hand before asking coolly, "How d'you mean?"
"Oscar's getting used to having you around," Dana elaborated. "I think you're doing it on purpose. Soon he's going to get so attached that I'll either have to marry you or live with the guilt of breaking my son's heart."
It was no good. He'd have to put the iron down before he really hurt himself. Or better yet, turn it off. Peter did so, and then gave Dana a severe frown before saying evenly, "There are at least two things very wrong with what you just said."
"Really?" Dana rolled her eyes. "What?"
"Well, first of all: I wouldn't do that. I'd never 'use' a child for anything, and I certainly wouldn't use Oscar. And second: why are you so averse to marrying me?" he demanded. "I thought you loved me!"
"I do," Dana muttered grudgingly, before she could stop herself.
Peter, looking blank, blinked a few times before asking reasonably, "So what's the problem?"
"Well, why now?"
"Why not now?"
"Why not sooner?" Dana retaliated.
"Aw, what is this, questions only?" Peter yelled, exasperated. "Dana - what are you getting at?"
"You're only here because the Ghostbusters shut down," Dana said bluntly.
"Well... yeah," Peter admitted, finally beginning to see where this was going.
"You wouldn't be marrying me if your business hadn't shut down!"
She was suddenly shouting at him, desperate to get her point across. Peter stared at her for several seconds. He couldn't believe he was hearing this. The demise of the Ghostbusters had broken his heart. What was Dana trying to do - make it irreparable?
"OK, maybe not!" he yelled back. "But it did shut down, didn't it! And now I'm here asking to marry you! What else matters?"
"But you wouldn't be here if there was still something for you in Manhattan!" argued Dana.
"So? What do you mean 'so'? SO - Peter - doesn't that mean you loved your stupid Ghostbusters more than you love me?"
"WHAT?" screeched Peter. "Of course it doesn't!"
"So why for all that time were you there instead of here?" demanded Dana.
Peter's eyes narrowed maliciously on her face as he said acidly, "I can't believe I'm hearing this. Dana, why were you here instead of there? Because of a job! All I did was stay home with friends and a business I'd already had for years. You're the one who moved away! If you hadn't we could have married years ago, but you left me for some dumb orchestra!"
"I didn't leave you, I left New York!" Dana sounded stung.
"Peter, you told me to take the offer!" shouted Dana. "And the LA Symphony is not 'some dumb orchestra'!" she added petulantly.
"I didn't tell you to do anything," argued Peter. "We discussed it and agreed it was too good to pass up, but you knew I didn't really want you to go. I didn't want you to leave me and I certainly didn't want you to take Oscar away from me - but if I'd persuaded you to stay you would have only resented me for holding you back."
"Ooh, yes Doctor," Dana muttered, her upper lip curled sardonically.
"It's true," Peter insisted. "I notice that you don't try to contradict me."
"Don't psychoanalyze me," frowned Dana. "Let's keep this a fair fight."
Peter looked at her for a moment, and then his tone softened as he said, "I don't want us to fight. I just want you to see why I couldn't leave my job. It was important to me, just like the orchestra is important to you. Dana," he added. "It's the same thing."
"Would you be marrying me if not for the Ghostbusters shutting down?" Dana asked quietly.
"No," Peter replied evenly. "Would you have left the LA Symphony to come to New York and marry me?"
"No," Dana had to admit.
"OK then," Peter smiled at her.
"What's all the yelling?" asked a small, sleepy voice from the doorway.
"Shit," Dana mouthed at Peter, making him smile. Then she turned and said to Oscar, "Nothing, honey. We were just..."
"Debating," Peter finished for her.
"Let me take you back to bed," smiled Dana, spinning Oscar round by his shoulders and steering him back towards his bedroom.
There was a knock at the door around two o'clock. That couldn't be Peter. He just let himself in and out like he owned the place. Smiling apologetically at Oscar, Dana stood up and stepped over the plastic farm animals to answer the door.
"Andre!" she exclaimed in surprise, making a conscious effort not to gag as she was drowned in the overpowering smell of Kate's perfume. And then she remembered. This had been arranged for days. Dana quickly switched on a smile and went on, "Kate! Hi! Come in! Oscar's through there waiting for you." Ooh - what a lie!
The blank stare with which Oscar greeted his father and stepmother was most discouraging.
"Hello darling!" Kate exclaimed, rushing over to hug Oscar while Andre hung back awkwardly. "How are you?"
"Ok," Oscar answered warily.
"You remember Kate, sweetheart," Dana smiled falsely.
Oscar shook his head.
"Oh. Well - there she is. And here's Daddy!" Dana announced brightly. "They've come to play with you. Isn't that nice?"
"Yes," Oscar replied, much to his mother's relief. He might not necessarily mean it, but Oscar was a polite child and knew when tact was appropriate.
"Hello Oscar," Andre addressed his son awkwardly.
"Hello," Oscar returned blandly. He was just dying to ask for Peter, but for some reason instinct told him not to.
"I didn't have nearly as many farm animals as this when I was your age," Kate told Oscar chattily. "Can I play?"
"Yes," Oscar politely agreed.
"Brilliant!" enthused Kate, positioning herself on the floor beside her stepson. "Gosh - the sheepdog in the henhouse? I don't think that's a very good idea, darling."
Andre stared blankly at his wife as she took the little plastic dog between her forefinger and thumb and started an attack on the tiny plastic chickens. He was a little stunned; this wasn't typical Kate behaviour. However in contrast to his father, Oscar seemed to relax and started to laugh along with Kate.
"Would you two like a drink?" Dana asked politely, wishing that she had remembered to prepare for this.
"I could murder a coffee if it's not too much trouble, Dana," Kate smiled gratefully.
"I'll have one as well please," Andre put in. Then, turning to Oscar, he said uncertainly, "So... Oscar... how about we put on some music?"
"Oh! Hello!" the blonde exclaimed in a highly polished English accent, rising daintily to her feet. "You must be Peter. I'm Kate."
Peter looked blank.
"Andre's wife," Kate elaborated.
Peter, despite his best efforts, continued to look blank.
"Oscar's step-mum?" she tried uncertainly.
"Oh!" Peter slapped his forehead in self-rebuke. "Andre - right! The little guy's dad. Uh... yeah, I'm Peter. Hi," and he offered her a handshake, reminding himself that pretty blondes were no longer fair game.
"Oscar and I were just doing the ladybird floor puzzle," Kate explained smilingly as she shook Peter's hand. "He's ever so sweet, isn't he!"
"Oh yeah, he's gorgeous," Peter readily agreed. "And so friendly. A giant five-piece jigsaw puzzle and he's anyone's."
"He just popped to the loo," Kate added.
Peter thought he could just about translate this phrase, and the sound of the flushing toilet confirmed his suspicions. Moments later Oscar tottered happily into the room, caught sight of Peter and immediately adopted a wide smile of welcome.
"Kate's got three different combs in her bag!" Oscar announced excitedly, running over to Peter and wrapping his fat little arms around his legs.
"Has she?" laughed Peter. He put his hands on Oscar's shoulders and squeezed.
"I'm afraid so," Kate admitted, smiling fondly down at Oscar. "I let him look through my bag. We found all sorts of fascinating things in there - didn't we, darling!"
"Yes," Oscar agreed, still hugging Peter's thighs tightly. "Do you want to help us do the puzzle, Daddy?"
"Sure I do," Peter enthused, unable to stop himself from shooting a slightly panicked look at Kate.
"Um..." Kate ventured quietly, as she and Peter lowered themselves to the floor where Oscar was already waiting for them. "Did he just call you...?"
"Uh... yeah," Peter had to admit. "He's done that a few times now. You can't really blame him, I suppose, seeing as I've been sleeping in his mother's bed and stuff."
"I suppose so," Kate agreed. She slid a brightly coloured jigsaw piece closer to one of its fellows in the hope that Oscar would find the initiative to fit them together. "Oh dear. Andre won't like it. Oscar didn't even remember us, you know. He hasn't seen us since we came back from our honeymoon about... ooh... about six months ago. That sounds terrible, doesn't it?" she added apologetically.
"Um... not really," Peter answered uncertainly.
"Shut up, yes it does," scoffed Kate. "It's my fault for marrying him, I suppose. I've never been married before and I don't have a son on the other side of the Atlantic. It's not easy for him, having commitments in two totally separate countries."
"You don't have to make excuses to me," Peter told her. The conversation was beginning to make him feel uncomfortable, and he tried to think of a way to change the subject. "So how's married life treating you?" was the best he could do.
"Lovely. My friends are all terribly jealous," Kate laughed decorously.
"You should marry Mommy," Oscar suddenly chipped in, turning his head to look at Peter.
"Cue the awkward silence," muttered Kate. "I'm afraid I was nosey enough to ask Dana if she planned to marry you. She went a bit... well... off."
"I've asked her," Peter murmured next to Kate's ear, watching Oscar as he became involved in the puzzle once again. "She hasn't said yes or no yet. She's being weird."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Kate sympathized.
"Where are they anyway?" asked Peter.
"Dana and Andre?" Kate smiled wryly. "I wish you'd been here. I didn't know where to look or what to say. Andre suggested putting some music on and Oscar said he wanted to listen to ZZ Top. Not exactly our thing, as you probably know - nor Dana's, come to that."
"Yeah, sorry, that's my fault," Peter mumbled sheepishly.
"Don't apologize. If we all liked the same things the world would be a very dull place. But Andre went mad. I think he overreacted a bit to be perfectly honest with you. I felt like slapping him actually, but Dana started having a go at him before I really got the chance to do anything about it. And then she threw the ladybird jigsaw puzzle at Oscar and me and took Andre outside to have a row." Kate cut a quick glance at the oblivious Oscar before carrying on, "It's such a silly thing to get cross about, but I suppose Andre might feel a little bit... well... threatened. As you say, this new rock-and-roll fad is your influence. If Andre was around it'd be Renaissance symphonies or something."
Serves him right for not being around, Peter thought privately to himself. Aloud he said, "Why feel threatened by me? He married you and Dana didn't care."
"Dana was lovely about it," Kate declared dramatically. "But it's not quite the same, is it. We're living in London. You'd be living in Oscar's home. Oh gosh, listen to me," she laughed awkwardly. "You only asked where Andre and Dana were. I don't know where they went, but they shouldn't be out for much longer." Then she turned to Oscar and said brightly, "Daddy and I are taking you out for ice-cream, aren't we darling!"
Oscar blinked expressionlessly back at her.
"I mean Andre and I are taking you out for ice-cream," Kate corrected herself uncertainly.
"Oh." Oscar's expression cleared. "Yes."
"Oh dear," Kate murmured next to Peter's ear. "This is all a bit awkward, isn't it."
Thankfully Dana and Andre rescued the situation by returning from their private row, both looking a little subdued. Dana would later describe their argument to Peter as "obvious" - inevitably so even though it didn't start out that way:
"It's just music," Dana had told her ex-husband flatly. "Not everybody likes the same kind of music. Not everybody likes music, come to that. Personally I'm glad he's taking an interest."
"If you want to call that music," Andre had retorted. "If that man keeps hanging around then our son will never learn to appreciate the classics."
That was when the debate became obvious - cliche'd even - like something out of an extremely typical soap opera.
"Andre!" Dana had positively exploded. "How dare you question who I let my son associate with!"
"Whose son?" Andre shot back. "He's mine too, you know."
"Ha!" spat Dana. "Not so you'd notice."
"I do my best!" shouted Andre.
"Well it's not really good enough, is it!" Dana yelled back. "I know you don't like Peter, despite never having bothered to get to know him like I did with your wife, and I realize you and he don't exactly see eye-to-eye on most things. But if he's teaching your son anything you don't like, you have absolutely no right to object because that man has done more for him than you ever have! It was your decision to abandon him and move to London, since which time Peter has done everything for that boy that you should have been doing! Even when I took Oscar away from New York Peter didn't give up on him! You were upset that he didn't recognize you, but whose fault is that? Serves you right if you ask me!"
Dana didn't usually lose her temper to such a degree as this, but getting all of that off her chest certainly made her feel better. But the crazy thing was that she didn't even realize half of it had been on her chest - or rather her mind - in the first place. After days of wondering whether Peter really was capable of committing himself to marriage, here she was defending his virtue to her ex-husband. And it was all true, she realized. Dana had been the one to move away when Peter was happy to pursue a relationship in Manhattan, and here he was three years later still devoted to her and her son.
"Just in time!" Kate now smiled brightly at her husband and his ex-wife. "We've just finished the ladybird puzzle. Ready for ice-cream, poppet?"
"Yes," Oscar beamed happily, scrambling to his feet and then looking expectantly at Kate.
"Coming darling," smiled Kate, pulling herself up with the help of a nearby armchair. "Come on - give Mummy a big hug."
Kate then defied prejudice by lifting the three year old up into her thin, dainty arms and carried him over to Dana. Oscar wrapped his arms around his mother's neck and said pleasantly, "Bye-bye Mommy."
"Bye-bye honey," Dana returned, giving her son a squeeze and a kiss on the forehead. "Have a nice time."
"And Peter," Oscar instructed Kate.
"Ok love," his stepmother agreed, silently very relieved that Oscar had reverted to calling Peter by name - at least for the moment.
Peter smiled fondly as Oscar fastened himself to his neck, Kate holding tightly onto his waist as he tried to wriggle away. Peter patted Oscar's back and kissed his cheek, saying brightly, "I'll see you later, Short Stuff. Bye."
It had been Peter's hope that Oscar would take the hint and end the farewell hug. But he didn't. The boy's grip only tightened around Peter's neck as Kate vainly tried to prise him away.
"That's enough, Oscar," Peter said weakly, throwing an awkward look at Dana as he caught sight of Andre's disapproving frown.
"Come on darling," urged Kate. "That's it now. Finished. Ice-cream, poppet," she added desperately.
After a moment's hesitation, Oscar seemed to realize that he could hug Peter any time, but this offer of ice-cream would probably not be good for much longer. So he let go of Peter and allowed Kate to carry him through the front door with Andre in close pursuit.
"Why didn't you warn me they'd be here?" Peter asked warily, once Andre had shut the door firmly behind him.
"Would you believe I forgot?" Dana smiled ironically. "I've had a lot on my mind, Dr. Venkman. I seem to remember that somebody asked me to marry him a couple of days ago."
Glad that she had mentioned the proposal at last, Peter breathed an audible sigh of relief and said, "Are you sick of seeing me squirm? Can I have an answer now?"
"Well," shrugged Dana, "if you walked out of our lives now it'd break my son's heart. So I guess I'd better marry you."
Peter's eyes widened. "Serious?" he asked incredulously.
"Why shouldn't I be?"
"Well it's been kind of a bumpy ride. I thought maybe you'd figure I was more trouble than I'm worth."
"You are," Dana smiled at him, wrapping her arms around his waist to show that she didn't necessarily mean it. "But I still love you."
Wow. This really was like a soap opera. Dana imagined the kids at home all making sick noises and their mothers frantically shushing them as she and Peter kissed deeply. It was gripping stuff if you liked that sort of thing. And then it occurred to her to wonder just what was happening in other storylines.
"Tell me something," Dana requested.
"Ok," Peter smiled dreamily. "I love you."
"Yuh-huh. Now tell me something else. What's happening with Egon and Janine?"
Peter's face fell as he answered gravely, "I don't know. But last thing I heard it wasn't going well."
"Oh, that's not fair!" Dana exclaimed indignantly. "They were doing great the last time I visited New York, and just when you and I finally get together it all falls apart for them! What the hell happened?"
"It's Egon's fault," Peter decided, still feeling very down on his oldest friend. "He just has no idea about life."
"Well that doesn't answer my question. Be more specific."
"How can I? It's their business and Egon isn't talking to me. I just don't know."
"You're useless," scolded Dana, swatting him on the forehead. "I suppose I could call Janine. Are she and I still allowed to be friends?"
"She'll go nuts when you tell her we're getting married," Peter predicted gloomily.
"Maybe it'll help her come to her senses and get back on track with Egon," Dana suggested hopefully.
"Maybe it'll depress her so much she marries Louis Tully. Oh God," Peter flinched. "Can you imagine?"
Dana shook her head despairingly. "Stop being so damn pessimistic and kiss me."
At this point, he wasn't sure if any of his old friends were going to make it. Ray was getting established at Stanford. Winston was getting ready for flight school. And he dropped a little welcome bombshell of his own on us a couple weeks ago, after all...he might not want to either leave Kaila's side or risk her traveling...
"Oscar Wallance, come back here!!!" he heard a shout, and before he could react much a familiar four-year old bundle of energy pushed through the doorway. He was mostly dressed in the tiny suit they'd purchased for the occasion, but his tie was waving around floppy and undone.
Venkman groaned inwardly as a matronly older woman with elegant looks opened the door in pursuit of Oscar. Her name was Valerie Barrett, and in a very short time--assuming everything went according to plan--she would be Peter's mother-in-law.
Valerie spared one look--which included a wrinkling of her nose--at her son-in-law to be and turned to Oscar. "Oscar, dear, let me finish getting you dressed..."
"You're strangling me, Grandma!!!" Oscar wailed in protest. "Let Daddy do it!!!"
Valerie's face darkened, pretty sure who he meant by "Daddy", but she said it anyway. "Oscar, dear, your father is in London...I don't think he'd come across the ocean just to tie your tie"
Peter snidely remarked inwardly Andre wouldn't cross the damn street to tie your tie, Kiddo...then he reached down to the boy that would be legally his stepson very soon. "Here, turn around, Short Stuff...I usually tie these from this direction...a nip there, a tuck there...and Eureka! Master Wallance is ready to help Mommy get hitched. Now run along and do what Grandma tells you to do from now on, okay?"
"Okay..." Oscar said, hugging Peter one last time. He went over to Valerie.
"You look nice, Dear..." she complimented him. She flashed Venkman a smile through gritted teeth. "Thank you for your help, Peter."
"No problem at all, Mrs. B." Venkman responded, with almost equal insincerity. He'd figured out a long time ago that Valerie Barrett didn't care for him, that she envisioned her daughter with a more...refined kind of man. Like the dude who ditched her and their infant kid and moved to Europe...yeah, good choice there
He occasionally wondered if he should start calling her "Mom" or something, which would undoubtedly annoy her even more than the informal "Mrs. B" But he knew he wouldn't actually do that--he had a mother of his own that he missed terribly. Especially on a day like this...
Just one more person I'm missing... he mused to himself This isn't how I pictured this day...I pictured a nice little wedding at the firehouse...the guys I'd gone through hell with all at my side...the closest thing I'll ever have to a sister...hell, I'm even starting to miss the little slime ball...damn it all, damn it all to hell...damn him all to hell...
He was interrupted by a knock. "Anybody in there?" a voice that sounded much like a gravellier version of his own came through the door. "I've got some ghost repellers on clearance really cheap...real useful if you ever go hunting coatls in Mexico..."
Peter opened the door; the man standing there had green eyes and a Cheshire grin to match Peter's own. "So does this mean I have a sale?" the man cracked, stroking his pencil-thin mustache.
"Dad!!!" Venkman shouted, and embraced James Charles "Charlie" Venkman. "I can't believe it! You never RSVP'd and we didn't even know you were going to make it!!!"
"Now you know I can't RSVP Son...what if something came up?" Charlie responded.
"Yeah, I know--like a bail hearing or something..." Peter responded with semi-sarcasm. "I'm still glad you're here."
"So am I, Peter..." Charlie paused before answering further. An uncharacteristic note of sincerity came into his green eyes. "Just because I disappoint you most of the time, doesn't mean I have to disappoint you all of the time."
"You're looking great, Dad..." Peter said, looking at his father wearing a presentable suit.
"Not nearly as good as you, Son...I..." whatever Charlie was about to say was lost as his voice cracked.
"Dad?" Peter asked.
Charlie looked a little embarrassed as he wiped his eyes with a handkerchief. "I'm sorry, Peter...I just...just couldn't help but think about...about your Mom. She'd just be beside herself right now..."
Peter turned away, not wanting Charlie to see the tears forming in his eyes. "I was just thinking about her before you arrived Dad...wishing she could be here..."
"Dad...I just have to ask you something right now while I feel like I can." Peter inhaled and exhaled abruptly. "I know you didn't get along with Mom's parents...and I seem to be following suit so far with Dana's parents, particularly her Mom..."
Charlie shook his head. "Sorry to hear that..."
Peter finally turned back around. "I never asked you this, but I have to know: do you think Mom would've approved of Dana? Or would..."
Charlie put a finger over his son's mouth. "Son, never doubt it for a moment. Your Mom would've adored Dana--they probably would keep each other occupied for hours telling each other what jerks we are..."
That drew the laugh from Peter that Charlie was seeking.
"And that ankle-biter of hers?" Charlie continued. "I think Maggie May'd end up just like you: she woulda' loved the little tyke like he was her own. And let me tell you..." Charlie smiled. "I'm gettin' there too...you know I ran into him in the hall just before I got here? He ran up to me and..."
"He asked who I was, an' said I 'looked like Peter'...an' I told him that was because I'm your Dad, and that my name was Charlie. The kid lit up like a Christmas tree and hugged me. 'I'm Oscar--you're my Gran'pa Charlie!!!' "
Peter laughed hard...once more amazed by his stepson to be.
"Though I didn't think that battleaxe that was with him was nearly as impressed..." Charlie continued "I tried to introduce myself to her, but she just kind of snorted and led Oscar off..."
Peter sighed. "That's what I'm up against, Dad...that was Valerie Barrett..."
Charlie shook his head. "Oooh...Son, my condolences...it's just a first impression but she may be worse than your Grandma..."
"Well, you see where Dana gets her resistance to the Venkman charm from..." Peter grinned. "It took nine years to get her to marry me, after all..."
Both laughed deep and hard. For the moment, at least, the issues that had divided father and son were well forgotten.
He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the sign marked "BARRETT/VENKMAN 2PM". And his heart skipped a beat as he recognized two of the people standing outside the chapel, conversing in hushed but vaguely forceful tones.
One was a muscular black man, dressed in a suit. "...But I hate lying about things like that--I mean, keeping something big like that from one of my best friends? It runs counter to my nature."
The woman with short red hair nodded. She was dressed in a green and black dress that really did not flatter her. "I know I know..." she responded in a voice heavily accented with Brooklyn. "But look at it from my perspective: Peter's head would probably explode, and he'd do something rash....and I really don't want him spending his wedding night in lock-up..."
"So...uh...what's new guys?" Dr. Raymond Francis Stantz asked, coughing for emphasis.
Winston Zeddemore and Janine Melnitz looked around, stunned, then both embraced their old friend. "Ray!!! Man!!! It is so good to see you!!!"
"You too, Winston..." Ray responded. "Sorry I couldn't make it to your wedding..."
Winston shook his head. "Do not worry about that, Ray." Winston'd married his longtime girlfriend Kaila back in December, only a few scant weeks after Ghostbusters Inc. had broken up. Ray hadn't been able to attend the event--he had just been hired by Stanford, and certainly couldn't take the time off so soon. "So how are you doin', man?"
"Just fine. Survived my first semester with only a few bruises to show for it. How's Kaila?"
Winston beamed. "Mad as hell--her Mom insisted she stay home. We tried to explain about the stage of pregnancy she was in but Mrs. MacMillan wouldn't hear of it. I hated to leave her, but she insisted...'Go to your friend's wedding, Hon, or you'll regret it forever' "
"Sounds like Kaila..." Janine laughed.
Ray shook his head with amusement. "Think about it, though....the first biological second generation Ghostbuster..."
"Yeah..." Janine nodded, her expression nevertheless falling.
Ray tugged his collar and cleared his throat. "This is only a guess, now....but I take it you never patched things up with Egon?"
Her expression hardened. "No. He made his own bed, he can lie in all by himself." she spat out bitterly.
Ray was a little shocked by the anger in her words. "I can't believe you mean that..."
Winston looked away, and then walked to the chapel door. "There's a complication now, Ray. But she's gonna have to be the one to tell you about that..."
"Huh?" Ray was confused, and looked toward Janine, who was now suddenly looking quite uncomfortable. "What does he mean by that?"
She shifted nervously for a few seconds, then swiftly looked around to make sure nobody else was listening. "Not long after everything happened...I started seeing Louis again..."
Ray's face pinched like he'd developed a sudden migraine. "Oh, great..."
Janine rolled her eyes, her changeable emotions turning toward the annoyed side. "Not you too...can't anyone be happy I moved on? Kaila and Winston were the same way..."
"Well, what do you expect?" Ray answered, a little annoyed himself. "Egon's my friend, no matter how mad I am at him, and I was hoping you two would eventually settle this whole mess...and Louis Tully? Didn't you drive off that bridge already?"
"At least Louis pays attention to me...he doesn't take me for granted or pretend to ignore me...maybe I've had my fill of that..."
"This is what you and Winston were talking about when I came up, isn't it? You're right...Peter would go mental. Is Louis with you?"
"He's already in the chapel...listen, Ray..." Janine leaned in closer. "Dr. Venkman can never find out about this. Promise me that you won't tell him."
Ray nodded. "I think you're making a big mistake...I really do....but it's your life, you're right about that. And I don't want to ruin Peter's big day, not after all he went through to get here..."
"Thank you, Ray..." she kissed him on the cheek and went inside the chapel.
Ray shook his head. He adjusted his tie before entering the chapel himself.
Louis looked up at him, quite forlorn. "Oh, Hey Doctor Stantz nice seeing you it's been a few months, hey? Oh, this is where my seat was assigned....they put me with the bride's guests because I met Dana first back at Central Park West and knew her before she met Doctor Venkman or any of the Ghostbusters..."
Ray was already regretting asking, especially after the news he'd gotten in the hall. "Well, just hang in there--I, er, need to get up front..."
"Oh, okay, see you at the reception..."
Ray moved toward the front. Most of the bride's side he didn't recognize (he guessed they were mostly members of the LA Symphony, maybe a few of the New York orchestra that managed to make the trip). On the groom's side, he did a little better--Peter's Uncle Alf and Aunt Rhonda where there, of course; Ray also recognized Rick Rosen from Columbia Pictures (who had worked on their movies) and Ryan Harness, someone Peter and Egon had known before they met him. He saw a few other people from past Ghostbuster cases--most notably Boris Meely, who was taking pictures of the whole thing.
Ray had to suppress a pang of disappointment. There was one other quartet of people he'd hoped would be there. One in particular....But I guess not...
Peter, Charlie, and Winston were at the front of the guest seats talking. Janine had already taken her seat at the end of the front row--Ray did a count in his head and realized there was one more seat than they were going to need, and it was probably intentional...
"Now that is a sigh of relief!!!" Peter said excitedly upon seeing Ray. "My Best Man made it--one less thing to possibly go wrong today!"
Ray and Peter hugged, Ray not being able to help saying. "Well, no, actually he didn't make it...but I'm glad I'm an acceptable substitute."
"We are so not going to talk about that." Venkman said firmly. "Have you lost some weight?"
Ray nodded. "Yeah...smoking again...those kids at Stanford are beasts..."
Venkman laughed and pretended to hit him in the mouth.
An usher came up to Venkman. "Um...Doctor Venkman? We're ready to start."
Venkman nodded. "You heard the man--time for me to be fit for the ball and chain. Let's do it!!!" He exchanged quick last hugs with Charlie and Winston before heading to the altar.
The string quartet (a wedding gift from one Andre Wallance) began to play the familiar strains of "Here Comes the Bride" Janine looked at the empty chair next to her...and wasn't sure whether she wanted to cry or be sick. I so need a drink...Adonai what have I done...
The bridesmaids filed in (a couple of Dana's cousins and a couple of friends from the LA Symphony). Oscar came next, a little younger than the average ring bearer, perhaps, but beaming with joy; a young cousin from the Barrett side of the family beside him as flower girl.
And then Peter Venkman about swallowed his tongue.
Attached to Gerald Barrett's arm was something too beautiful for this world....surely, Peter thought, it must be an angel from the heavens above, this vision clad in satin and lace.
He barely felt Ray's encouraging pat on the shoulder. Dana was all he could see.
"Dearly beloved..." the minister began. "We are gathered here today to join this man and this woman in the spirit of holy matrimony."
Charlie dabbed tears from his eyes. Peter's the one thing I ever did right, despite myself. I know you can see this too, Maggie May...keep watching out for our boy...
Dana Barrett, for her part, had spent most of the last six hours fretting over the last minute details...fighting off an attack of cold feet...and then her mother complaining about "That horrible fellow who'll be your father-in-law"...but now none of it mattered.
She looked at Peter standing there, his eyes looking at her with such love. I've made the right choice this time. How could I have ever doubted it?
"Be there any who have just cause why this man and this woman should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever hold thy peace?" The minister continued.
"Do you Dana, take his man Peter to be thy lawfully wedded husband? To love, honor, and cherish, in sickness and in health, for rich or for poor, for better or for worse....till death do thy part?"
There was no hesitation. "I do." The right choice for me...and for Oscar...
"Do you Peter, take his woman Dana to be thy lawfully wedded wife? To love, honor, and cherish, in sickness and in health, for rich or for poor, for better or for worse....till death do thy part?"
Peter didn't hesitate either. "I do."
"The ring, please?" the minister said. Ray leaned over in front of Oscar, took the ring off the pillow, and handed it to Peter. Peter then placed it onto Dana's left ring finger.
"My friends..." the minister continued. "What we have witnessed today, here in the sight of God, let no man split asunder. By the power vested in me, I now declare you Man and Wife. You may kiss the bride..."
Peter pulled the viel over her head. "Pucker up, Mrs. Venkman..."
Dana laughed. "You just had to be sure you were the first person to call me that..."
He nodded "I feel like I earned it..."
And with that, Doctor and Mrs. Peter C. Venkman exchanged their first kiss as husband and wife. To a standing ovation.
"Peter?" Venkman turned to see Rick Rosen.
"Hey Rick....having a good time?"
"I am, actually...most of the weddings I go to are celebrity weddings, where by now we're starting a pool to see how long it'll last. No worry here, though--I helped make your movies, I know what you and Dana went through..."
"Listen...I got something for you..." Rick pulled a couple of papers out of his pocket and handed them to Venkman.
Venkman started to look through it...though the legalese made his head hurt. "Rick...I got married today so my brain is not working. What is this?"
"It's a copy of the contract your first solo prospect signed with Columbia Pictures. Catherine Bartholomew is going to be in Jon Dennison's next movie, and is getting a pretty decent amount of money for it. The other item is the 10% commission you got as her agent..." Rick smiled. "It was finalized Friday, but I wanted to save it as a kind of extra wedding present."
Venkman was shocked. The commission check had enough zeroes after it to make sure he and Dana didn't have any worry on the bills for a while. "Rick, I...thanks..."
"You did the work, Peter. Congratulations times two, my friend." Rosen slapped him over the shoulder and left him to his business.
Venkman shook the fuzz out of his head and shoved the documents into his coat pocket. After a few more minutes, he found who he was looking for--and someone he did not really care to deal with sitting next to her. That little twerp is not trying something is he? Over my dead decaying rotting corpse...
Louis looked up as Venkman approached. "Oh! Dr. Venkman! Congratulations and I hope you and Dana are real happy together and if you need any tax advise you can always call me--the way the deductions for dependents work throws everyone the first time and..."
"Thanks Louis. Now beat it--I need to talk to Janine."
"Just go, Louis..." Janine interjected, a distinct slur to her voice.
Louis looked at Venkman with more than a little bit of anger. But he did as told and left the table. "I...uh, need to go refill my cola anyway..."
Peter sat at the table; once Tully had left earshot he quipped "That little twerp wasn't trying anything was he?"
"No." Janine answered curtly, which was true--she'd made it quite clear to him on the trip over how he was to act, and any flirtation was straight out.
"Good" Peter responded. "Do you have a ride to your hotel or the airport? You sound like you may have had more to drink than you should..." Which Peter couldn't help but judge good for his immediate intentions--with her inhibitions lowered by alcohol, she was more likely to talk honestly to him.
"Don't worry about that...I took a cab..." she slurred. "Congratulations, by the way...Peter."
"Thanks. Did I just hear you call me by name?"
"It's a big day...I can afford to be generous...especially as my present was so piss poor. The fucking odd jobs I've been working the last six months don't pay real well..."
"It's the thought that counts, Janine." Peter replied. After a few more seconds, he went in for the attack. "Why haven't you called Egon?"
She slammed the wine glass on the table so hard Peter was afraid it was going to break. "Dammit, Doctor Venkman, how am I supposed to forget about him if you keep saying his name?!"
Peter couldn't help but note an eerily similar response he once got in an eerily similar circumstance. "You didn't answer my question..."
"Maybe it's none of your damn business!!!" she retorted. "Why the hell haven't you called him--you've know him ten years longer than I have!!!"
"Yeah, but I never contemplated making the sign of the double humpback whale with him!!!" Venkman counter-retorted.
"You bastard..." she snarled. She just about wanted to tell him just to shut him up for a moment. See the look on his face. But decided effectively guaranteeing a hospital stay for Louis wasn't in her best interest right now. "Maybe I've decided to move on with my life, Peter Venkman. I put up with that man's inability to deal with his feelings for eight fucking years, and I've had it. I'm sorry, Doctor Vee, just because you finally got the dream wedding with the person you love and suffered for doesn't mean everybody else does too!"
Peter shook his head and stood up. "Maybe not...but if there was anyone in the world who might deserve this more than Dana and I, it'd be you and Spengs. I'm just sorry to see you throwing it away like this."
She took another swig of her wine. "Mutual decision."
"And that's what makes it worse." Peter replied. "Promise me two things, as one old friend to another..."
"Number one, get help. You're clearly sliding into something unpleasant--you need to deal with all that anger. I say that as a friend and a trained psychologist--I don't want you doing something rash you'll regret later. Which leads me to the second thing..."
She didn't look at him, staring at the table. "Which is?"
"For the love of God if you do something stupid and rash, don't do with with an ass-tick like Louis Tully. You drove off that bridge already..."
Fuck you... is what she wanted to say. Instead, she nodded weakly, and continued to look at the table.
He kissed her gently on the right cheek. "I gotta go...looks like it's about time to wrap things up..."
When Venkman had left the table and disappeared, Louis skittered back. "What was all that about?" he asked, a suspicious edge in his voice.
"Shut the fuck up..." she snarled.
"I just asked..."
"Shut. The. Fuck. Up." she reiterated, and drained the rest of her wine glass.
"Ah, there he is..." Ray quipped as Peter walked up to the group. "We were beginning to think you'd changed your mind and bailed..."
"Oh, c'mon...what's the point now? The deed is legally done...I skip out now and she gets half of what I own..."
Dana laughed. "Oh yeah...I'm not a mathematician, but I know that fifty percent of zero is still zero..."
"You will find that is false in one of the many pleasant surprises I have planned for this evening." he responded, prompting her to roll her eyes.
Winston whistled the crowd to attention.
Ray addressed them. "Well, folks, Doctor and Mrs. Venkman are about to take their leave of this event, but first, there's one last piece of tradition to be taken care of: the bouquet toss!!! Can I have all of the eligible ladies over here please?"
As they moved into position, Peter was giving his new wife some tips. "Like this!" as he pantomimed a quarterback throwing a football.
She gave him an appropriately dirty look, and looked back to the crowd. "Okay, folks...on three..."
On three, the bouquet was sent hurling. But Dana realized almost instantly she'd overthrown it--it passed straight over the crowd of young women reaching for it...
...And landed behind them, on the table in front of a very shocked Janine Melnitz.
Venkman gave his wife a smirk. "Maybe this means things are gonna look up for them..." he whispered into her ear. "Gotta go, folks!!! Mrs. Venkman and I have a nice, quiet honeymoon all waiting for us--thank you all!!!"
Dana waved as Peter led her to the waiting limo.
Ray and Winston moved hesitantly to Janine's table. She picked up the bouquet, and it was all crashing in on her. Louis was grinning cluelessly as he walked up. "Whoa! This is cool!!! Maybe this means..."
"Shut up!!!" she shouted, throwing the bouquet, the tears pouring from her eyes. "Just shut up!!!" With that, she ran to the bathroom, and didn't come out for a very long time.
"You know he would've cried his little heart out if we left in front of him" Dana replied, still unavoidably guilty about it. "It should be a couple of hours before he realizes what's up...and by then his grandparents will have things well in hand."
"Well, yeah. Though I know your Mom was not pleased about the last minute addition to the movie trip..."
Dana smirked mischievously. "I think Oscar will have a lot more fun with Grandpa Charlie along..."
"And having your parents along will make sure Oscar doesn't learn three card monte or something." Peter replied brightly. They both laughed deep and hard.
"I love you..." Peter told her.
"I love you too." she replied.
They began kissing again, and wouldn't stop until the limo arrived at the hotel...
Peter gave one last wistful thought to the life he'd had to leave behind. He missed it terribly...he knew that he always would.
But change was inevitable. Just as one door closed on the day Vanevar Yaeger threw him, Ray, and Egon out of Columbia University on their asses, another door had opened: he had seen that so clearly then.
And just as that door had slammed shut on him...he was slower to realize the new one that opened. But he was well through it now. Dana and Oscar...a life with them was just as much a dream as the Ghostbusters...and now I'm living it at last!
He would never forget his past and the good memories attached to it. But ahead the future loomed--and it looked bright indeed.