Sunday, January 29, 2012

No. 31: Suicidal Tendencies, Part 1

One.
A handsome young man walked briskly through the hallways of the office building he worked at. He was wearing a nice dark gray suit along with a purple tie. He was carrying a blue three-ring notebook and a leather satchel. He smiled and acknowledged everyone he passed. This is Daniel Judge and right now, he is happy.

He entered his office and went behind his desk, placing the notebook and satchel on top. He sat down in his chair and prepared to pick up the receiver of his phone. “There you are Mr. Judge. Good morning,” said a short, cute brunette who just appeared in the doorway.

“Good morning Ann,” Daniel said, smiling. “I was just about to call you. Is everything set up for lunch?”

“You bet. Everybody R.S.V.P.’d and I called the International House of Waffles so they would be prepared. I-HOW is a go.” This is Ann Harper. She is Daniel’s assistant. She would do anything for Daniel and even threatened a coffee barista when Daniel’s coffee was iced and he wanted it hot. The barista’s whereabouts are still unknown.

“I can’t believe this day has finally come, Ann. I’ve looked forward to it for literally years,” Daniel smiled.

“I didn’t think you could pull it off,” she replied.

“Oh, ye Gods!” shouted a man from outside Daniel’s office. A man came in and threw his hands up in a flamboyant gesture. “Daniel, I have tried I give up.” This is Rod Kueffer, Daniel’s friend and administrative assistant to the human resources department. “I’ve worked with drag queens that have more class than our human resources department,” Rod continued.

“What happened now?” Daniel asked.

“I brought Sascha her morning coffee from The Java Bean like I do every morning since it’s on my way to work and what does do? She takes it then cocks her head to one side, smiles and says ‘thanks.’” For years, Rod had brought the HR manager, Sascha Hewitt, a coffee from an exclusive coffee shop. Sascha would then cock her head to one side, smile and say thanks.

“Isn’t that what she does every morning?” Daniel asked.

“But this time she cocked her head to the left. She usually cocks it to the right,” Rod explained.

Daniel stared at Rod then slowly turned his head toward Ann. “Is the conference room ready for my nine o’clock meeting?”

“Yep, all ready.”

“Great. I’ll see you at lunch Rod. Oh, and just remember that I don’t want Lindsay to know about my family. She thinks most of them are all dead and that is perfectly fine with me,” Daniel said as he, Rod and Ann left his office.

“You really like Lindsay don’t you Daniel?” Ann asked.

Daniel loved Lindsay. However, Daniel’s normal conversation with Lindsay usually ended up embarrassing himself and it had been like that since they met years ago at a gym. Daniel was on a stationary bike and Lindsay was one bike over. Daniel was focused on the nearby TV and chewing gum. Both are oblivious to each other. After pedaling awhile, they finally made eye contact and smiled at each other.

“I’ll race you to the top of the hill,” Lindsay said playfully.

Daniel started to say something but swallowed his gum and began choking until dislodging it and spitting it out onto the floor.

Since then, Daniel has been afraid of expressing his feelings toward Lindsay.

“No. No, no, no-no-no, no. No. We’re just friends and I’m okay with that,” Daniel tried to convince. Ann and Rod looked at each other and rolled their eyes.

“I’ll see you at lunch Daniel,” Rod said and walked off in the opposite direction.

Daniel and Ann walked quietly toward the conference room. A huge smile came across Daniel’s face. So why is Daniel so happy? Because it’s been five years since he’s spoken to his family.




It was five years ago when Daniel walked away from his family. He remembered exactly how it happened.

Grandpa Samuel Judge had been dead only four days. He lay quietly in his coffin as his family conversed around him in the funeral home. Daniel was standing with his father, Stephen, his Aunt Virginia and her son, Chris.

“Damn, Virginia,” Stephen began, “your boy is getting big!”

“Thank you,” Virginia said softly.

“Thank you Uncle Stephen,” Chris said.

“You’re not like my son. Still short and skinny…”Stephen said in a muttering tone.

“Dad, I’m 6’2”…” Daniel said.

“So how’s that husband of yours? I see he’s not here,” Stephen asked, pointing to Virginia.

“Dad…” Daniel moaned.

“My husband divorced me Stephen. Remember?” Virginia replied.

“Oh, yeah. Hooked up with that cheerleader from that college. Heh,” Stephen chuckled then cleared his throat. “You wouldn’t happen to have his phone number would you?”

Daniel scoffed then walked away. He noticed his mom, Norma, over by the casket and walked over to her. “Mom, you didn’t have to come.”

“I wanted to, son. Besides, I wanted to show off my new boyfriend to your father,” Norma said as she hugged Daniel. “Danny, this is Dr. Burt Travers, he’s a pediatrician. Burt, this is my son, Daniel.”

Burt extended his hand to Daniel. “Pleased to meet you Daniel.” They shook hands as Norma tried to stand taller and look around the room.

“Where’s your sister?” Norma asked.

“Emily?” Daniel established. He also stood taller and looked around the room. “She was just here. I’ll go find her.” Daniel walked away and over to where his Uncle Linus and Grandma Marlene were talking. “Have either of you seen Emily?”

Linus and Marlene turned toward Daniel but Linus put his arm across Daniel’s shoulders. “Danny! This is a great party!” he hollered and Daniel noticed her was holding a beer can.

“This is a wake Uncle Linus,” Daniel said.

“That’s what I tried to tell him,” said Marlene.

“A wake, huh?” Linus said and slurped some beer from the can. “Isn’t that where a dead person is in the center of the room and everyone stares at it?”

“Well, our dead person is against a wall but…” Daniel pointed to the casket.

“So this is the only beer?” Linus held the can underneath Daniel’s nose.

“You brought it from home Linus,” Marlene said.

“So neither of you has seen Emily, huh?” Daniel asked and scooted out from under Linus’ arm.

Nathan came running up to them and grabbed Daniel’s arm. “Daniel, come here I want you to meet someone.”

“This is a wake. Why are you people bringing dates?”

Nathan dragged Daniel away from the festivities to a cute blond girl who was sitting in an uncomfortable wooden bench. “Daniel, this is Crystal.”

Daniel nodded in acknowledgement and smiled. “It’s nice to meet you Crystal but this is a wake not a single’s bar. Have you seen my sister, Nathan?”

“Emily?” Nathan pointed down the hallway. “I saw her go into one of those back rooms with Benjamin.”

“Benjamin?” Daniel tilted his head, confused. “What’s she doing with our cousin?” He walked down the hall and opened one of the doors. Inside, Emily was pressed against the wall, completely naked, with her legs wrapped around Benjamin’s waist. Benjamin was holding her as they kissed and moaned in passion. Daniel screamed which caused Emily and Benjamin to scream then slammed the door. After a couple seconds, Daniel opened the door again and Emily was on the floor trying to cover herself with her hands. “What the hell are you two doing?”

“What does it look like we’re doing Danny?” Emily said and began reaching for her clothes.

“You’re cousins!” Daniel emphasized.

“It’s just sex Danny. I’m on the pill so I’m not going to get pregnant,” Emily motioned for Daniel to turn around and he obliged.

“You’re 16 and he’s our cousin,” Daniel sighed.

“Well, I’m dressed,” Benjamin said. “I’ll see you later Emily,” Benjamin quickly kissed Emily on the cheek and pushed by Daniel and went back into the hallway.

Emily pulled up her underwear and put on her bra. “I’m sorry you had to see us in this position.”

“That’s okay. I’m used to it.”

“You can turn around now,” Emily said sweetly.

“I got to hand it to you though, Emily. Even though you’re a slut, you still use protection. You wore a condom when you lost your virginity…”

“How’d you know that?”

“You lost your virginity in my bed. I found the used condom in the sheets,” Daniel smiled and walked closer to his sister.

“Sorry about that too,” Emily blushed.

“That’s okay. You first wore condoms every single time and then when you became more active, you went to Mom and got on the pill. You’ve stayed in school and you’re two years from graduating. Despite your flaws, you’re a smart, funny and obviously sexy sister,” Daniel smiled and took his sister’s hand. “Come on, Mom wants to show you her new boyfriend.” Daniel and Emily walked out of the room into the hallway. “This is the oddest wake I’ve ever been to.”

Emily headed toward Norma and Burt while Daniel heard a commotion coming from his father.

“I’ve been talking to a fag this whole time?” he shouted, which caused several people to turn their heads.

“Stephen, please, people are staring,” Virginia tried to calm him down.

“I don’t care! I want everyone here to know that Chris is a panty-waist fag,” Stephen pointed at Chris.

“Dad?” Daniel came up to them. “What’s going on?”

“Did you know that your cousin is a man-loving homo?” Stephen asked his son.

“Yes. He told me a couple months ago,” Daniel admitted.

“What? He told you before he told their own uncle?” Stephen glared at Chris. “Why didn’t you tell me this, you queer?

“Probably because he knew you’d act like this,” Daniel said.

“Act like what?” Stephen yelled.

“You’re calling him a fag and homo. And you’re yelling. People are staring,” Daniel said in a quiet voice near his father’s ear.

“Let them stare! I got a homo for a nephew!” Stephen yelled one last time and stormed away.

“I’m sorry about him Chris,” Daniel apologized to Chris.

“That’s okay, Danny. I knew Uncle Linus and Uncle Stephen would be the hardest to talk to about this. At least Linus was drunk when I told him,” Chris said.

“I’ll talk to him. Get him to apologize to you,” Daniel said and began to walk away.

“You don’t have to do that Danny,” Chris said.

No, I want to.” Daniel walked over to his father who was standing near the casket. “Dad, I want you to apologize to Chris.”

“And I want him to stop being a homo.”

“They just can’t stop being gay Dad,” said Daniel.

“I swear, it’s like everyone turning into a fag,” Stephen muttered under his breath and turned toward his dead father lying in the casket. “Things were a lot easier back then. We didn’t have any homosexuals then.”

“Homosexuals are not a new invention. There have been homosexuals since the dawn of time. The Greeks, Shakespearian theatre, Rock Hudson…” Daniel listed.

“Rock Hudson. I think a gay-defense group paid him to be a queer,” Stephen said.

“Yes, Dad, GLAAD paid Rock Hudson to admit he’s gay and infected him with AIDS, I’m sure that’s what happened,” Daniel smiled.

Stephen muttered something under his breath and got closer to his father. “What the hell?” he suddenly growled.

“What’s wrong, Dad?” Daniel asked.

“This son of a bitch is being buried with the watch,” Stephen said pointing to a gorgeous silver watch on Grandpa Judge’s right wrist.

“It’s his watch. He can be buried with it if he wants,” Daniel said.

“But he promised it to me!”

“I’ll ask Grandma about it,” Daniel began to walk off but Stephen grabbed his shoulder.

“Wait. Cover me. I’ll just take it now.”

“I’m not gonna stand guard while you steal a watch from a dead man!” Daniel objected.

“It’s not stealing if he promised it to me,” Stephen said starting to try to undo the watch from his father’s wrist. Daniel began pulling at Stephen’s arm to get him to stop.

“Hey, what the hell is going on here?” Linus asked coming over to the casket. He peered inside and saw his brother trying to remove the silver watch from their father’s wrist. “That son of a bitch promised me that watch!” Linus began pulled at the watch which angered Stephen more.

“Let go! He promised it to me first!” Stephen said.

“But I’m older!” Linus defended.

“Exactly! I’ll be able to spend more time with it.”

Daniel let go of Stephen’s arm and took a couple steps back. “Stop it you two!” he yelled. “He’s a dead man, just leave him his watch.”

Stephen and Linus began wrestling even more, causing everyone in the funeral home to turn and look. The casket was soon pulled off its table onto the floor, knocking over the two nearby candles. One of the candles immediately lit the flowers and memorial wreaths on fire. Within moments the house was ablaze and fire trucks surrounded the funeral home as the Judge family looked on.

Daniel sighed. “I don’t think this is covered by Grandpa’s life insurance.”

“At least I got the watch,” Stephen said as he held the watch out in front of his son’s face.

“That’s it. I’m out of this family,” Daniel turned around and left.





Two.
Daniel, Rod, Lindsay, Randy and Ann were sitting at a table at the International House of Waffles. They were regaling each other with stories past. Daniel and Lindsay barely spoke as they were busy making googly-eyes at one another.

“So did I tell you of the new drama between me and Dana?” Randy began.

Several months ago Randy moved in with a friend of his sister’s. Everything was fine for the first week and then Randy’s idiot chip kicked in. Randy received sexually explicit pictures of his then-girlfriend and she asked for photos of him.

Randy set up the digital camera and took his clothes off. “Oh, God!” he shivered. It was cold that day. And so Randy began posing in several cheesy and generic erotic poses. Each with a fake goofy smile. It was weird.


“So anyway, I guess I didn’t delete all the pictures off the computer and Dana found them. She sent me a scathing email and called me a pervert several times in it,” Randy said.

“I told you that you shouldn’t have taken those pictures,” Daniel said.

“It’s not like those photos caused any major damage,” Randy smiled.

Not true. Somehow the pictures wound up on an Internet pornography site. Randy had to hire a lawyer to get the photos taken off. His girlfriend then broke up with him.

“Nope. No damage at all,” Randy smiled.

Rod wiped his hands and mouth on a cloth napkin and tossed it on his plate. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom,” Rod announced.

“You don’t have to avoid the check, Rod. Everything’s on me,” Daniel said.

“I’m gonna go, too. I’ll be right back,” Randy stood up. “Do you need to go Ann?”

“No, no. I’m good,” Ann said.

“I really think you need to pee, Ann!”. Randy pulled at Ann’s arm but she refused to move.

“I don’t need to go Randy!” she pulled her arm away. Randy bent down and whispered into Ann’s ear. “Oh,” she exclaimed. “On second thought, maybe I could urinate a little.” She got up and followed Randy toward the restrooms.

“So we’re finally alone,” Daniel said and smiled at Lindsay.

“If you wanted us to be alone then why did you invite them?” asked Lindsay.

Daniel began stuttering as he created his answer. “Well, I wanted this to be a friendly get-together but I did have an ulterior motive. What are you doing tonight?”

“Watching television reruns, gorging myself on chocolate almond ice cream and shaving my legs,” she answered.

“So are these plans set in stone or…?”

“Well it has been a while since I last shaved my legs,” Lindsay laughed.

“So I guess you wouldn’t want to go to dinner with me? Maybe see a show?”

“Of course I would! I can shave my legs any night.”

“Great. How about I pick you up about eight? There’s a play at the community theatre I’ve wanted to see at 8:30. It’s supposed to be really good,” Daniel said.

“Community theatre,” Lindsay smiled, “you have a very odd way of getting into my pants Danny.”

Daniel’s cell phone began ringing. “Four out of five women can’t be wrong,” Daniel chuckled and answered his phone. “Hello?”

“Daniel?” asked the voice on the phone.

“Yes, who is this?”

“This is your grandmother.”

Daniel was now upset.

“How’d you get my number?” Daniel asked.

“Daniel, who is it?” Lindsay wondered.

“I got it from your sister,” Daniel’s grandmother, Marlene, answered. By this time, Randy, Rod and Ann returned from the restroom.

“I knew it was a mistake to give her my cell number,” Daniel muttered. “What do you want Grandma?”

“I thought his grandma was dead,” Lindsay pointed out to Randy.

“I want you to bring the family together before I die,” Marlene said.

“I would like to Grandma but I’m awfully busy and besides, don’t you remember what happened the last time the family was together? At Grandpa’s funeral?”

...The house was ablaze and fire trucks surrounded the funeral home as the Judge family looked on.

Daniel sighed. “I don’t think this is covered by Grandpa’s life insurance.”

“At least I got the watch,” Stephen said as he held the watch out in front of his son’s face.

“That’s it. I’m out of this family,” Daniel turned around and left.


“Oh you said that every time the family got together,” Marlene said over the phone. “Besides, I have a good reason for wanting to get the family together.”

“Oh, really,” Daniel smiled. “What?”

“I’m going to kill myself on my next birthday.”

Daniel slowly shut his cell phone and drank the rest of his coffee, which was cold. Trance-like, Daniel stood up and dropped an uncounted amount of money on the table. Everyone looked at one another as Daniel headed for the exit. His friends followed shortly after and caught up with him outside.

“Daniel, what’s wrong?” Lindsay asked.

“That was my Grandma. She’s threatening to kill herself.”

“Oh my God that’s horrible!” Lindsay paused for a couple of seconds before grabbing Daniel’s shoulder and stopping him. “I thought you told me she was dead.”

“I did. And she’s not.”

“Why would you lie to me about something like that?”

“Hmm, well, if you’re gonna get upset about me killing off my Grandma then I guess I should tell you that my Mom, Dad, sister, aunts, uncle and cousins are still alive also.”

“You lied to me about your whole family?” Lindsay shrieked.

“Well you’ll be happy to know that my grandfather is still dead,” Daniel smiled. Lindsay just scowled at him and stormed off to her car. “Are we still on for to—Ah, forget it.” Daniel looked at his watch then at his remaining friends. “Do you guys want to go to a bar or something?”

“Your grandma is threatening to kill herself,” Ann said. “You should probably go see her.”

“I haven’t seen her for five years,” Daniel acknowledged, “why break the streak now?”

“Look, Danny, I was never a huge fan of you completely pushing away your family but this is a chance to start anew and bring your family together again,” Randy said.

“This isn’t a Christmas special, Randy. You’ve met my family and they scared you!”

“Only a couple of them. Just your uncle and Benjamin and your aunt and your father and…okay, your whole family scares the bejeezus out of me. I hate them,” Randy started to cry.

Randy had met Daniel’s family about a year before Grandpa Sam died. It was a Fourth of July cookout and Daniel didn’t want to be alone with his family. Daniel pulled into the driveway. Grandpa Sam was at the grill barbecuing the burgers while Grandma Marlene sat on the concrete steps. Stephen was probably in the house watching sports on TV while Uncle Linus was trying once again to fix the riding lawn mower. Emily was standing behind Grandma, leaning on the railing and drinking from a Coke can. Daniel could hear Chris, Arnold, Ben and Nathan behind the house playing.

Daniel and Randy got out of the car and began walking up to the house. “Five bucks says there’s beer in that Coke can,” Daniel gambled.

“You’re on,” said Randy.

“Also my Grandpa is very deaf so talk loudly,” Daniel informed. “Grandma! How have you been doing?” Daniel said as he hugged Marlene.

“Oh, can’t complain,” she answered. “Who’s your friend?”

“This is my friend Randy Hanna,” he introduced.

“Candy?” Sam spoke up.

“Randy!” Marlene yelled.

“Oh,” he nodded.

“And this cute girl who’s enjoying her pop way too much is my little sister Emily,” Daniel smiled.

“Go suck a nut sack Danny,” Emily said then burped and blew the smell into Daniel’s face.

“Cute,” Daniel grimaced at the smell. “I’m gonna say ‘hi’ to the cousins. Entertain my friend for me Emily, I’ll be back in a couple minutes,” Daniel walked around the corner of the house leaving Randy alone with Emily.

“So what are you drinking?” Randy asked nervously. Emily rolled her eyes and showed him the Coke can. “Really? Just Coke?” Emily took another drink and again burped, blowing the smell into Randy’s face. Her breath reeked of alcohol and Randy squinted and coughed. “Cute. I’m gonna go with Danny.”

“Wait...Randy, is it? Have you ever had sex in a double piggyback position?” Emily asked and took a sip from her can.

Randy backed away and went around the corner of the house. “Daniel!” he called. He arrived in the backyard and Benjamin came charging at him, plowing into him and colliding with the ground.

“Hey, time-out! He wasn’t playing!” Daniel ran over to where Benjamin and Randy landed.

“Sorry,” Benjamin apologized as he got off Randy, “I get a little out of control while playing Judgment Ball.”

Randy struggled to get up until Daniel helped him up. “What’s Judgment Ball?” Randy asked.

“It’s a game we invited where you throw a ball and run with it. The object is to knock down as many people as possible while running to your team’s goal,” Daniel explained.

“You don’t seem like the kind of guy that would play a game like that,” said Randy.

“After I broke my third rib and my foot I hung up my jersey,” Daniel smiled. “Randy, these are my cousins Benjamin, Nathan, Chris and Arnold. Everyone, this is my friend Randy Hanna.”

“Hey losers, supper’s ready,” Emily said coming around the corner of the house. “What happened back here?” she asked, noticing the giant grass stain on Randy’s shirt.

“Ben thought Randy was playing Judgment Ball,” Daniel explained as he put his arm around his sister. She nicely got closer to him and nonchalantly smiled. “How are you doing Emily?”

“Fine. Are you hitting on me?”

“I’m your brother, Em.”

“That’s what makes it so hot and dirty,” Emily said in a sultry voice.

The family gathered around a large dinner table with hamburgers and hot dogs piled high on a pizza pan. Daniel sat between Emily and Randy. The dinner went very smoothly with everybody talking mainly about Daniel and school and his internship with the company he presently worked at. It was nearly three when Benjamin and Nathan got into a fight that pitted the family against each other. Daniel and Emily, along with Randy were able to stay out of it.

“You’re just mad because you screwed up with Eva and she came running to me,” Nathan said with a mouthful of hamburger. “I won and you can’t stand it!”

“It’s a rebound relationship and as soon as she realizes that there’s more to guys than being nice and kind she’s going to leave you,” Benjamin stated.

“I agree with Ben,” Linus said.

“Dad!” Nathan screamed. “All Ben can do with women is drink with them and have sex with them! I am at least complex and listen to the girls when they have a problem.”

“Well I’m sorry that I fall asleep when I’m bored,” Benjamin said.

“That runs in our family,” Marlene said sweetly.

“Admit it, Ben: women mean nothing to you and soon women will realize that you mean nothing to them,” Nathan said, his eyes burning in anger.

Benjamin picked up a fork and stabbed Nathan in the leg with it. The family started panicking and began running around scrambling to call 911 and help Nathan. The fork remained embedded in Nathan’s leg, pointing straight up, blood running out and dripping onto the floor.


Randy shivered as he remembered that story. “And I had almost forgotten that day,” he sighed.

“Randy, can you come with me?” Daniel asked.

“Sure Danny. Where?”

“I’m gonna go see my Grandma.”




The house had drastically changed from the last time Randy saw it. Once it was a house full of life and family but now was called The Old Judge Place. The once-bright blue paint was dingy gray and the house needed some work. Daniel pulled into the driveway and he and Randy got out of the car.

“Eee, this brings back bad memories,” Randy said.

“This place used to be so bright and full of life. I can’t believe how different it looks,” Daniel muttered. Daniel and his friend walked up the porch and found the front door unlocked. They stepped inside the house. The off-white carpet was now a sooty gray and there was trash everywhere from newspaper to magazines to dishes and pots and pans. “Grandma!” Daniel called.

They walked down the hallway and Daniel called for Marlene a couple more times. Randy opened one of the doors to a bedroom and turned his head to Daniel. “I found her, Danny.”

“Great. If I drove all the way out here and she already killed herself I’m going to be so mad,” Daniel said.

Daniel walked inside the bedroom and saw Marlene sitting in a rocking chair, reading. Her skin was deathly pale and her hair flaxen. “Danny!” she exclaimed looking up from her book. “How have you been? From the way you look you seem very successful.”

“My employment has been generous to me. Now what’s this about killing yourself?”

“Oh, yes. Well, I was thinking that I really have nothing to look forward to anymore. My children are all grown and my grandchildren aren’t cute anymore, no offense. So I figured why not end it all?” Marlene explained.

“Come on Grandma you have plenty to live for. Ben will probably knock some girl up and Emily is such a slut that she’s bound to get pregnant sooner or later,” Daniel tried to cheer up Marlene.

“My family has long-forgotten me, Daniel,” Marlene began. “I haven’t seen my family in five years. There used to be a lot of love in this family.”

“We burned down a funeral home,” Daniel said.

“There was still a lot of love.”

“And Grandpa’s corpse,” he pointed out.

“Daniel, please,” Marlene’s eyes teared up, “I want the family to get together. To reunite.”

Daniel lowered his head, closed his eyes and sighed. “I’ll try. If I at least try, will you not kill yourself?”

Marlene nodded.

“Two weeks. That’s your birthday. Give me two weeks but I’m not going to guarantee anything. I have to go now. Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” and with that Daniel left the bedroom and the house.

Randy ran after Daniel and caught him on the porch. “What are you going to do?” he asked.

“I’m gonna go home, open a bottle of Smirnoff and go to sleep. Then, I’m going to work then I’m gonna see my sister at the hotel because I am not going to bring this crazy-ass family together by myself,” Daniel said and walked toward the car.




Three
Daniel was in his office, working hard so he would have less to do during the upcoming week while he talked to his family. He was almost finished with the mid-month budgetary report when Ann came in, sat down on the couch in his office and began talking, forgetting to insert periods in her sentences.

“I was talking to Lindsay last night, hoping to kind of pave over some of the rough spots caused by lunch yesterday and Lindsay said that it is your life and you can handle it anyway that you want but she thinks that you shouldn’t have cut off your entire family, just the bad apples.”

“And which bad apples would she suggest? My Mom, the neurotic woman who, for some reason, needs a man to be happy. Or my Dad, the angry bigot who hates everyone—everyone—different from him. How about one of my cousins, just take your pick: the over-sexed high school dropout, the oddly normal high school sophomore or the twins who live in a gated community? My uncle is an alcoholic and my aunt is a chain-smoking gold digger,” Daniel said, going through his entire family but purposely leaving out his sister, Emily and cousin Nathan. “The only two I don’t have a problem with is my sister and cousin Nathan but don’t get me wrong, they have problems, too.”

“Your grandma threatened to kill herself, Lindsay refuses to talk to you and you seem just a tad cold-hearted through all of this. Is something wrong?” Ann asked.

“Nothing is wrong and I appreciate your concern. You’ve heard the stories of my family and burning down the funeral home was the last straw after a long line of straws through twenty years. Hopefully Grandma will see how much this is hurting me and will be able to look past her own selfishness and call this off.”

“That’s what we’re talking about. Rod and Randy brought up your own selfishness and me and Lindsay agreed that you are not treating your Grandma with the concern and respect she deserves. In fact, Rod thinks…”

“Is there some sort of chat room that you guys…”

“Rod thinks,” Ann interrupted, “that your hatred of the family is stemmed from only one or two members. I said that I know you hate your father and your cousin but he wonders if those are really the two you truly hate.”

“Rod is a secretary so what exactly does he know about this?” Daniel stood up and left the office.

“I believe,” Ann followed and Daniel rolled his eyes, “that you are the sole reason the family split up. You were the glue that held the family together and when you finally left, so did everyone else,” Ann explained.

Daniel sighed. “You print off a degree from I’m-so-smart.com and suddenly everyone is Freud,” he muttered.




The Ramada could’ve been a nicer hotel. The Ramada was in a nice area of the city but was not a top hotel. Emily had worked at the Ramada since she was 18. A pretty girl with dark brown curly hair, wide brown eyes and cute freckles dotting her cheeks. Currently she was manning the front desk, something she loved to do. Daniel approached the desk and smiled at Emily when their eyes made contact.

“Oh my God I thought you were dead!” she said.

“You wish.”

“Oh, yeah and then the Great Judge Fortune would be all mine,” she said sarcastically.

“Why did you give Grandma my cell number?” Daniel asked.

“She asked for it and I didn’t want to talk to her. Why? What did she want?”

“She wants to kill herself.”

Emily just looked at Daniel.

“Unless I can get the family back together.”

Emily gasped.

“Funny, I would’ve expected that after ‘She wants to kill herself.’ Anyway, I agreed to try for two weeks but I refuse to do it alone and I was wondering if you would like to help me.”

“No.”

“What? At least think about it. It could be fun.”

“No.”

“Why not?” Daniel whined.

“After you abandoned the family after Grandpa’s wake, everybody went their own way. We lost contact with each other and I think everybody’s happier that way,” Emily explained.

“I don’t know. There used to be a lot of love in this family,” Daniel used his grandma’s exact words.

“When? Between the fighting and bickering or the drinking and smoking?” she asked.

“Come on, Emily. You have to admit that we sometimes had fun,” Daniel leaned in close to Emily.

She smiled and nodded. “Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ll help you. It’ll be fun working together again.”

“It will. Call me and we’ll go to dinner tonight. We’ll figure out what to do about the family. I’ll see you tonight,” Daniel said.

“Yeah,” Emily nodded. “Oh, and Daniel?”

He turned back toward his sister. “Yeah?”

“I’ve missed you..."

“Same here,” he smiled. Daniel left the hotel and walked down the sidewalk which was crowded with mobs of people.

Daniel and Emily had always been close. They were each other’s rock and nothing could come between them. Even at a time when Emily was at her lowest, Daniel knew just what to say.

Emily, then 12, was standing on a chair in her room, tying a belt to one of the ceiling rafters. She made it into a makeshift noose and stuck her head through.

“Hey, Emily,” Daniel came through the door. “You have a phone ca—Oh my God!”

“Daniel!” Emily shrieked.

“Next time you want to commit suicide, lock the door,” Daniel said and helped Emily down off the chair. “Now tell big brother what’s wrong.”

Emily and Daniel sat down on her bed as she wiped away a tear. “Venable broke up with me.”

Daniel bit his lip and nodded apologetically. “Who’s Venable?”

“My boyfriend! Tommy? He came to dinner one time,” Emily described.

“The white kid with the afro?”

“No, that was Hunter.”

“The skinny one with the buggy eyes?”

“That was Barney.”

“The fat kid from
Stand By Me?”

“Be serious, Danny. The short kid with curly hair.”

“His name was Tommy? I kept calling him Johnny!”

“Anyway,” Emily interrupted, “he broke up with me.”

“And? You’ve had a dozen boyfriends and those break ups never bothered you. Come on Emily, you know you can tell me anything,” Daniel hugged his sister with his arm and nudged her cheek with his nose.

Emily rubbed her eyes and, again, smiled. “I let him sleep with me.”

“Again: And?” Daniel questioned.

“After we had sex he said he loved me. He said that after every time and I believed it,” Emily cried.

“I’m sorry Emily but first of all, you’re twelve. You’re not going to find love this early and with your type of lifestyle, guys are going to say a lot of things and most, if not all, are going to lie to you,” Daniel explained.

“Really?”

Daniel nodded. “What you need to do now is sleep with Tommy’s best friend to get even.”

“I already have,” Emily sighed.

“Brother?”

Emily nodded.

“Cousin?”

She nodded.

“Father?” Daniel asked reluctantly.

“That’s a great idea!” she jumped up and hugged her brother. “I’ll call Mr. Venable after dinner.” Emily left her bedroom.

“Well, I think I helped.”





At dinner, Daniel realized how much Emily had grown up. Emily took a big bite of her hamburger, noisily chewed it as grease and ketchup dribbled down her chin. She swallowed, leaned to one side and farted. “Ah, there it goes.”

Daniel nonchalantly covered his face with his hand. “So you’re doing all right? Where are you living now?” he asked.

“I’m living at the hotel. Not supposed to but it’s a lot cheaper than renting a place in this city. I just shift the visitors around if I need to. I’ve been living there for about a year now. Room 233.”

“I’m glad you’ve been doing okay all these years. I’ve been a little worried about you but figured you could take care of yourself.”

“I’m a big girl now,” she giggled. “So how are we going to get the family together?”

“I figured that we’d start small. Get Nathan, Chris and Arnold to come aboard because I thought that they would be easier to persuade than our aunts and uncle.”

“Which one are we going to hit first?” Emily asked.
“I thought we’d split up. I’d go see Chris and Arnold while you talk with Nathan,” Daniel
sipped his drink.

“I thought that we were going to work together like in the good ol’ days,” Emily seemed disappointed.

“We will be working together because I am not going to see Dad by myself and you should know that I wouldn’t have even contacted you unless I had intentions of keeping you in my life from now on, Emily,” Daniel smiled.

“Aw, that’s so sweet, bro,” Emily smiled coyly and raised her eyebrow. “Do you want to have sex?”

“You wish! But I think I’ll pass.”




Four
Daniel was in a board meeting explaining about his company’s present state of things and was having trouble coming up with an analogy to fit the situation. “It’s like…” Daniel looked up at the ceiling and circled his hands as he looked for the words, “…when an author has a good idea for a book but only enough plot for a short story,” Daniel smiled.

“That was the worst analogy I’ve ever heard…” said a board member.

The smile left Daniel’s face. “Yes, well…What I’m trying to say is that we have a good project but not enough good ideas.”

“Then why didn’t you just say that before?” asked another board member.

“Anyway!” Daniel ignored and went on. “We need more ideas from the people who are on this contract which means we need to give this contract more money but we don’t exactly know how much would be sufficient,” Daniel finally explained.

Before anyone on the Board could answer, Ann came into the room and handed Daniel a folder.
“Daniel, here are those budgetary reports you wanted and Emily called. She is going to Nathan’s place this afternoon to talk to him.”

“Nathan? I wanted us to go to Chris and Arnold’s today and she goes to Nathan’s later in the week. Did she say why she was going to Nathan’s?” Daniel asked.

“Just that if Nathan was on board, everyone else would be easy,” Ann said dismissively.

“But I’m the linchpin of this whole fiasco,” Daniel said.

Ann shrugged. “Also, Randy called and is going to talk to Lindsay later. He feels that he can offer some insight for her that the rest of us can’t.”

“I thought I told you people to stay out of that area of my life.”

Ann shrugged again.

“When are you people going to learn that I can handle things with Lindsay by myself?” Daniel sighed. “Anything else?”

“Just the directions to Chris and Arnold’s gated community,” Ann handed Daniel a slip of paper.

“I still wish that Emily would’ve waited so we could talk to Chris and Arnold together. She better not try to take credit for this either,” Daniel threatened. “Do you want to come with me?”

“No, I better not. Every time I’m around gay people the situation somehow becomes a grotesque misadventure,” Ann chuckled.

“You do okay around Rod,” Daniel pointed out.

“One or two gays guys I can handle but any more and I start hyperventilating and things go black and…” Ann trailed off. “My doctor is trying to get it recognized as a medical condition.”

“That’s interesting. Look, try to get Randy to not talk to Lindsay but tell Lindsay I want to talk to her after I get back from Chris and Arnold’s. Okay? When you get that worked out, call Emily and have her meet me at Chris and Arnold's,” Daniel instructed. “It’s going to take a lot of work to get Chris and Arnold back into this family.”

“What happened that caused them to desert the Judge family?” asked Ann.

“First of all, we’re not deserters. It was more of a preemptive strike to keep our innocent names out of the court system and off the five o’clock news. Secondly..."

“...Of all.”

“Yes. I have no idea what went on between my father and Chris and Arnold but I know it wasn’t good. Words were said, lifestyles were offended,” Daniel explained.

"Do you have a phone number for Emily or…?” Ann asked.

“I…Damn, she doesn’t have a cell phone. Leave a message at her hotel. Um...This whole Grandma going to commit suicide thing is really getting complicated,” Daniel exhaled sharply.

“I’ll get right to work,” Ann said and left the conference room.

A board member cleared his throat. “Can we leave or…?” he asked.

Daniel looked at the board member, realizing that they were still in the room. “Oh. Yeah, we’re done here. Thank you for coming.”

The board got up and began leaving the room.




Nathan lived in an upscale suburban area with his girlfriend Tania. Emily drove out there and was surprised to see Nathan’s lifestyle. His house was three stories and had more windows than she had teeth. She went up to the door and rang the doorbell. A beautiful Indian girl answered the door. “My God you’re hot!” Emily said unconsciously.

“What?” asked Tania.

“Nothing! Is Nathan here?”

“No but he should be home in half an hour or so. Who shall I say came by?”

“I’m his cousin Emily. Could I just wait here? It’s kind of important,” Emily asked.

“I guess,” Tania let Emily in and she marveled at the spacious mini-mansion Nathan lived in.

“I’m Tania, I’m Nathan’s girlfriend.”

“This place is a palace!” Emily shouted. “I live in a hotel…that I don’t even pay for!”

“Yes,” Tania giggled, “Nathan does very well.”

“I’m sorry. Like I said, I’m Nathan’s cousin, Emily Judge,” Emily offered Tania her hand. “And you’re Tania…?”

“I’ve learned,” Tania began as she accepted Emily’s hand, “that for Americans to pronounce any name from my country they’d have to cut out their tongue so it’s just Tania.”

“Right. Tania,” Emily began getting nervous.

“Can I get you something?” Tania offered.

“No thanks. Drinks make me burp and food makes me fart,” Emily said then quickly covered her eyes. “Oh, God, I’m sorry, I’m not normally like this but this type of swanky lifestyle really flamingoes me up.”

“I understand. It used to be overwhelming for me too but you get used to having money,” Tania said. “Please sit down.”

Emily uneasily sat down in an overstuffed chair as Tania sat on the couch. “So how long have you and Nathan been together?” she asked.

“Almost two years. We met in Nepal while he was doing some business there,” Tania smiled.

“So he buys and sells drugs?” Emily motioned around the house. “That explains everything.”

“No. He works for a multi-national corporation and one of their branches is in Katmandu,” Tania explained. “I lost my scholarship to UCLA but after going out with Nathan a couple times, he paid my over here and, amazed over his generosity, agreed and soon fell in love with him. I can’t see my life without him.”

“Apparently I latched onto the wrong relative,” Emily muttered.

“What?”

“Nothing. Thinking of my brother,” Emily smiled.

“So why do you want to see Nathan?” Tania asked.

“It’s a family thing. You see, Daniel, my brother, received a call from our Grandma threatening to commit suicide unless the family can get together again,” Emily explained.

“That’s terrible!” Tania was shocked.

“I know. She just automatically assumes that Daniel doesn’t have a life or a job. She is so selfish!”

“Your grandma is wanting to commit suicide and you call her selfish? I just don’t understand why Americans don’t value their elders like other parts of the world do,” Tania sighed.

“You never met our grandmother, have you?” The two young women sat awkwardly and uneasily for a while. “Maybe I well take something to drink,” Emily said.

“Are you sure? You might burp,” Tania stood up.

“Yeah, just some water should be fine. Thanks,” Emily said and turned to look out the window while Tania went into the kitchen.

Tania returned and handed Emily a bottle of water. “Here you go, I got you just plain water, none of the bubbly kind.”

“Thanks,” Emily took the bottle, twisted open the top and took a swig. She took the bottle from her mouth and swallowed the water. She immediately hiccupped and burped. “Damn!”

“It’s okay, I do it too.”

“Yeah but when you do it it’s probably cute.”

Finally, Nathan came home and called for Tania. “I’m home, sweetie. Do we have company?” he asked.

Tania bounded toward Nathan and gave him a hug and a kiss. “You cousin Emily is here.”

“Doesn’t coming out here violate her parole conditions?” Nathan joked.

“You’re confusing me with your brother Benjamin,” Emily said, walking toward them. “I see you’ve been doing very well.”

“I...get by…” Nathan said. “What are you doing here Emily?”

“Well, Daniel received a call from Grandma saying that she was going to kill herself unless he got the family back together again,” Emily again explained.

“And?” questioned Nathan.

“Nathan! Your grandmother wants to kill herself. How can your family be so uncaring?” Tania asked.

Nathan was about to graduate from college as the valedictorian. The whole family, minus Daniel, was gearing up for Nathan being the second family member to graduate from college.

“What do you mean you can’t come to my graduation?” asked Nathan.

“It’s the same day as Benjamin’s first court hearing. It’s very important for his family to encourage him during this,” Linus said.

“I’m going to graduate from college, Benjamin’s going to jail. You should be celebrating my success not celebrating Benjamin becoming currency!” Nathan argued.

“We’ve already seen you graduate,” Marlene said.

“That was high school! College is just a little bit harder,” Nathan said.

“Daniel didn’t whine this much when he graduated from college,” Linus scoffed.

“That’s because he didn’t tell you. He hasn’t been seen near this family in over a year,” said Nathan. “Look, it would really mean a lot to me if my Dad and Grandma were there to cheer me on. It starts at 2:45. I would really appreciate it,” Nathan sighed and left the house.

Graduation was over and Nathan stormed into the courtroom to hear Benjamin’s verdict.“...$1,000 and 90 days in county jail,” the judge said and banged down her gavel.

The family all converged on Benjamin who was being led away by deputies. “Congratulation son,” Linus hollered, “an offense like this usually gets six months in jail! You did good!”

“What?” Nathan shouted.

“Nathan! I’m glad you came to support your brother,” Linus said.

“I didn’t come here to support him! I graduated. At the top of my class at the best college in the state! I can’t believe that my own family would rather watch Benjamin get fined $1,000 and three months in jail…”

“90 days,” Amy, Nathan’s sister, said.

“Daniel was right to toss you out of his life. I’m done. Good-bye!” Nathan said and left the courtroom.


“And I never looked back,” Nathan explained.

“I understand. Our family does tend to have its priorities mixed up but Daniel wants us to get back together again. And even if the adults are too stupid to realize how important family is then maybe the younger ones could start over,” Emily pitched, looking at both Nathan and Tania.

Nathan sighed. “That sounds nice Emily but I have a good life, a good career and a good girlfriend and I don’t want to see that somehow ruined because of them.”

“Again, I understand,” Emily handed Nathan a business card. “Here’s one of Daniel’s cards. If you change your mind, give him a call. It was really nice meeting you Tania.”

“Same here, Emily,” Tania smiled.

“Bye, Nathan.”

“Bye, Emily,” Nathan sighed again.




Five
Chris and Arnold’s gated community was a planned neighborhood founded in 1996. It currently had a population of 226 and offered most of the amenities of an actual city. Daniel pulled up to the gate and read the sign posted near a keypad.

For Entrance, Dial Resident’s Number
(ex. *9-0-1)
Wait for Response
For Assistance, Dial #1-0-0

Daniel reached for the keypad and dialed #1-0-0 and waited. “Hello, this is Carlton, your gate-man. How can I help you?”

“I’m Daniel Judge and I’m here to see Chris and Arnold Harrison but I don’t know their number.”
After a couple of seconds, Carlton came back on. “They live in number 307 so just dial Star-3-0-7 and you’ll talk right to them. Can I help you with anything else?” Carlton asked.

“No, thank you,” Daniel heard Carlton click off and Daniel dialed *3-0-7 and waited.

“Hello?” answered someone.

“Hi, is this Chris or Arnold?”

“No, this is Avery.”

“Oh, I thought I dialed 3-0-7. I must’ve…” stammered Daniel.

“This is 307 and Chris and Arnold are here but couldn’t answer the intercom. I’m Avery, Chris’ boyfriend. Who’s this?” Avery asked.

“I’m Daniel Judge. I’m Chris and Arnold’s cousin.”

A silence echoed from the speaker until another voice came on. “Come on in, Daniel,” and the gate swung open. Daniel parked and walked the short distance to number 307. All the residences were spacious one-story townhouses all painted a tannish color. All the lawns were neatly manicured and there was not a crack in any driveway or sidewalk. He knocked on the door and Arnold answered the door. “Daniel! Long time, no see,” he smiled.

“Hi, Arnold. Look, I am sorry for bothering you and Chris but I have been burdened with the unfortunate task of reuniting the family,” Daniel said.

“What?” shrieked Chris coming out of the bedroom. “You don’t actually believe that this so-called family deserves to be together, do you?”

“No,” Daniel shook his head. It had been five years since he last saw Chris and Arnold and was amazed at how alike they still looked. Chris and Arnold were twins and bore a striking resemblance to their father, a man their mother, Virginia, despised and that has not been seen since that fateful night when Virginia got knocked-up.

“Then what are you doing?” Chris demanded.

“Grandma called me and she says that she is going to commit suicide unless I can arrange a sort of family reunion. I don’t want to do it either but as long as we don’t end up in the paper or in front of a judge, it’d be a good reunion,” Daniel explained.

“Well, that sounds all comfy and cozy but I’m afraid we’ll have to decline,” Chris angrily said.

“Chris, it’s our family. And not all of them are bad. Look at Nathan or Daniel. Nathan is a successful international business training manager and Daniel…” Arnold halted and looked at Daniel. “Daniel, what do you do?”

Daniel looked from Arnold to Chris. “Arnold wants to do it, Chris. Come on, one weekend. That’s all it is.”

“Arnold has obviously forgotten the altercation between us and Stephen,” Chris said.

“My Dad?” Daniel was confused. “What did he do?”

“It was reprehensible!” Chris spat. “It was something that should’ve been punished to the fullest extent of the law but this is America and apparently do that sort of thing is okay!”

“What did he do?” Daniel asked.

“When we get a full apology, then we’ll consider going to a reunion,” Chris said.

“What did he do?” Daniel again asked as Chris led him to the front door.

“Maybe you should ask Stephen and his fags!” Chris pushed Daniel outside and slammed the door.

“Stephen and his fags? This is getting weird,” he sighed.




Daniel arrived back at his apartment to find Lindsay sitting on the top step outside the door. They smiled at each other and Lindsay stood up. “I was wondering how much longer you were going to be,” she said. “I wanted to know if we’re still on for our jog tomorrow.” Every month Daniel and Lindsay went for a jog along the river levee. Every jog ended with Daniel and Lindsay tired and sweaty in her apartment; unfortunately it was from the running.

“You could’ve just called me instead of waiting in a stuffy hallway,” Daniel said and unlocked his apartment.

“I could’ve but I wanted to talk to you,” Lindsay said as Daniel invited her in. “I wanted to talk to you about this family thing you’re doing.”

“That’s a valid topic of discussion. Before we start, do you want anything to drink?”

“Soda, if you have it. I want to tell you that I am proud at how mature you are handling this. When all this started I was afraid you were going to act like a child but you’ve shown remarkable initiative.”

“This sounds like a meeting with human resources,” Daniel said and handed Lindsay a can of Pepsi. “You’re not going to fire me are you?”

“So who all have you talked to?” Lindsay asked.

“Just Nathan and Chris and Arnold and Emily talked to Nathan. I’m wondering what my father did to Chris and Arnold. Neither one of them would tell me.”

“I don’t know. Did your father ever molest them?”

“Bite your tongue!” Daniel ordered. “My Dad was too busy having extramarital affairs to molest children.”

“Oh. Sorry, I just figured…”

“Well, I take that back. There was that one year where he was too busy marketing and selling Judge’s Own Brand Skin Lotion.”

“Judge’s Own?”

“It was basically a miracle lotion that did really well in treating eczema and psoriasis and Dad did make a little profit from it but then someone drank the lotion and died. The family sued and normal companies would pull the product, offer an out-of-court settlement and run tests to see what happened but Dad went on national TV during the trial arguing that if you’re stupid enough to drink it, you deserve to die,” Daniel explained.

“Oh my,” Lindsay gasped.

“We lost the lotion profit and a lot more. Dark times for the Judge family,” sighed Daniel.

“Having only known about your family just a few days, I am really starting to understand why you stayed away from them all these years,” Lindsay smiled.

“Thank you. That means a lot.”

“But don’t think that only your family is dysfunctional. My family can get pretty troublesome too.”

“Really? What happened, your aunt severely burn the pumpkin pie once at Thanksgiving?” Daniel laughed. Lindsay looked down and away from Daniel. “That was my joke guess!”

“Okay, fine! I have the perfect family! Last time I try to bring myself closer to you,” Lindsay huffed.

“I think we’re as close as we’re gonna get,” Daniel assured. “Without sleeping together of course.”

“Maybe someday,” Lindsay sighed dreamily.

“Well, I’m not doing anything tonight if you…” Daniel was interrupted by his cell phone ringing. “Dammit!” he pulled out his phone. “Hello?”

“Daniel, it’s Emily. I’m at Mom’s and you should get here as soon as possible!”

“Can’t this wait? I’m trying to take advantage of one of my friends.”

“You can do that with Randy some other time. Mom’s about to shoot her boyfriend.”

To be continued...

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