Goren in all his angsty post-season 7 glory meets his match... in the body of a 4 year-old.
Disclaimer: I do not own Goren or LO:CI. The rest is MINE MINE MINE! Timeline: After season 7, before 8.
Outside the window, cars swerved and sloshed through the remains of the ice storm. On this side, ideas swerved and sloshed inside his head. His thoughts were much like the roads outside - the path was visible, but progress was slow. Some roads went to not-so-nice places he'd rather avoid, but the only way to turn his thoughts from them was to turn down other roads, and the scenery wasn't so nice on those roads either.
Maybe if he had enough to drink he could crash...
A young girl, around 3 or 4 years old, had appeared at the end of his table in the diner, dancing from one foot to the next, her unzipped winter coat barely clinging to her shoulders, head bobbing back and forth. She was either the youngest, twitchiest waitress in history, or..
"Joss, leave the man alone." A woman's smiling voice carried over to them. "He's busy eating."
"I'm dancing! See, people?" The little girl continued. "I shake my bottom!" And she demonstrated a disjointed movement that looked more Mick Jagger then Baryshninkov. A corner of his mouth lifted at the sight.
"Jocelyn, please be a good listener and come sit down".
"Mommy, he not eating, he just looking..."
"That doesn't matter. Please bring me your coat and sit down."
"Bye, people." The little girl entoned dramatically, then went to join her mother, sitting in the booth next to his, facing him.
"I apologize. She's overly-friendly." Joss's mother smiled as she took her coat, placed it in the booth beside her, and watched as Joss climbed into the booth seat across from her.
Goren nodded in reply, then looked back down at his food, and wondered when it had arrived. He remembered deciding to try and eat, walking into this unknown place, and ordering food, but he couldn't remember the food being placed on the table. He really must have been lost in his thoughts. Looking at the food made him realize it had been a while since he'd eaten, and he was rather hungry...
As he started to eat his less-than-hot meal, he heard Joss and her mother discuss what to order. Joss also discussed the people walking by the diner window, expounding on the benefits of red winter coats over black ones and why mittens were better than gloves before her mother tried to rein her in by producing a piece of paper and a few crayons from her purse. When the waitress arrived to take their order, a head popped over the top of the empty seat across the booth from him, and now seemed to be starting up a conversation.
"Why are you sad, people? Did your daddy go to heaven?"
A tightness gripped his chest and caused him to wince. The only reason a child that young would ask that question would be because...
"My daddy goed to heaven. But I talk to him every night so I don't feel sad. Why are you sad?"
He found he couldn't lie to her. "My mom went to heaven too. But I'm still sad."
The young girl stared at him for what seemed like an hour but must have only been a few seconds, then she inexplicably climbed over the seat back and landed in the empty seat across from him. He sat bemused as she then wiggled down to the floor, under the table, and climbed up onto the seat next to him.
Holding her arms out wide, she declared, "Give me a hug!"
He paused and thought about the wrongness of it, the negative reaction it might cause in her mother, but he quickly decided he didn't care. He turned slightly toward the little girl and opened his arms slightly. She threw herself against him, nearly choking him in a hug that must have contained all the power in her little body.
He marveled at the pure love radiating from this little body, how the innocent affection of a child unknown to him could cause him to feel both raw pain and healing joy in the same measure...
"Jocelyn Rose Stackhouse, what are you doing?" Uh-oh, Goren thought. The mother was unhappy. Joss's mother bolted to his side, eyes strained with embarrassment, and holding her hand out for the little girl to take. "I'm so sorry she bothered you. Things have been a little difficult..."
Goren shook his head as Joss clambered over him. "For me too. She wasn't bothering me..."
Joss beamed as she took her mother's hand. "Her mommy's in heaven with Daddy!" Her mother's eyes suddenly softened as she replied, "His mommy, pumpkin. Why don't you come draw him a picture, then, and let him finish eating?"
"Okay!" Joss dashed back to her seat, and began scribbling. Goren stood, needing to leave before he was rendered completely blind by the moisture welling in his eyes. He threw down enough money to cover his bill and tip, shrugged into his grey wool overcoat, and bent over the seat to murmur to Jocelyn, "I have to go now. It was a pleasure to meet you."
Turning to him with her eyebrows crinkled, she placed her tiny hand on his scratchy cheek, looked deep into his eyes, and in a smooth, comforting tone that she must have picked up from her mother, stated, "You're okay, big people."
He nodded at Joss, and then glanced at her mother before returning his attention to the youngest spiritual advisor he'd ever encountered. "I will be, little people."
Goren stood, looked again at the silent, concerned visage of Joss's mother, and quickly added, "You have a lovely daughter", before wiping a hand across his face and heading out into the slightly less hazardous streets.
A/N: My daughter and her playdates have at various times said and/or done most of the things included in this story. But, I'm proud to say, the dancing is all my little girl - and she loves to show off to the neighboring tables in any restaurant we visit. Anything for an audience!