Friday, February 10, 2012

No. 32: Suicidal Tendencies, Part 2

Six
Daniel and Lindsay ran into Norma Judge’s house. Norma turned around, startled, and pointed the gun at the two. Daniel threw himself down on the ground while Lindsay screamed, turned away and covered her face.

“Oh!” Norma exclaimed, “I’m sorry Lindsay-dear. You startled me. Daniel, get up off the floor. I haven’t swept in weeks.”

Daniel stood up and looked at Lindsay against the open door and Emily sitting on the stairs and Norma pointing the gun at Burt, who was tied to a chair with neckties.

Daniel held out his hand, “What are you doing, Mom?”

“I finally got tired of it, dear. Burt has hurt me repeatedly and I’m getting even with him,” Norma said in an almost crazy tone.

“Now, whatever he’s done does not warrant you shooting him,” Daniel said calmly.

“He’s been hitting me, Danny. In the face, in the stomach, in the back. Besides, I’m not going to kill him, just wound him,” Norma explained.

Daniel looked from his mother to Burt. “He’s been hitting you…?” Daniel turned to Emily who was slowly walking over. “Did you know about this?”

“She told me after I called you.”

“Well now I’m in a quandary. As much as I hate gun violence, I also hate people who hit women!” Daniel said and stormed over to Burt. “What the hell’s your problem?” he asked, slapping Burt in his temple.

“Daniel...” Lindsay said softly. This had been the very first time she had seen Daniel angry and losing his cool.

“When did all this start Mom? Why did he start beating you?”

“It was a couple months ago after I finished writing my book,” Norma began.

“Mom, you wrote a book?” Daniel smiled.

“Yes, it is about our family.”

“Oh, Mom...” Daniel frowned.

“Exactly what I thought,” Burt said, “it was horrible.”

“Shut up!” Daniel ordered. “Where is it, Mom? I would love to read it.”

“It’s upstairs in the guest room,” Norma directed.

“Can one of you girls get it for me, please?” he requested.

“Untie me!” Burt yelled, pulling at his restraints.

“Hold your horses, it’s not like you’re going anywhere anyway,” Daniel said. Emily came downstairs and handed a stack of letter-sized papers, held together by a large binder clip, to him. “Thank you. Wow, this is really thick!”

“781 pages. That’ll probably be scaled back when the book is actually published,” Norma smiled. Daniel began reading the first chapter while everybody was silent. He finished the first page and looked at his Mom, grinning. “Like it?”

“Love it.”

“You only read one page!” Burt hollered.

Daniel smacked the 781 pages on the top of Burt’s head. “I am very proud of you, Mom. It’s a whole new future for you. You don’t need Burt anymore. Give me the gun, Mom.”

“Okay, Danny,” Norma turned away from Burt and lowered the gun. She suddenly raised it again, pulling the trigger and hitting Burt in the shoulder.

“Mom!” Daniel yelled.

“AAAaaauugghh!” Burt screamed.

“EEeee!!” Emily and Lindsay shrieked.

“Why did you do that?” Daniel asked.

"He hit me, Danny. He beat me. He said I was stupid. He needed to be punished.”

“Then take him to court,” he sighed, “you don’t shoot him.”

“Hello?” Burt spoke up. “I’m bleeding here and have a bullet lodged in my shoulder blade.”

“Emily, call an ambulance,” Daniel took the gun from his Mom and began to untie Burt. The doorbell suddenly rang. “Could you get that Lindsay?”

Lindsay obliged and opened the door. A policeman stood on the porch. “Emily, cancel 911...” Lindsay said. Everyone turned toward the front door.




Daniel, Emily and Norma walked out of the office of the investigating officer. “I can’t believe how they treated me like a criminal in there,” Norma complained.

“You shot a man, Mom so you’re lucky Burt’s not pressing charges. You won’t go to jail but you will have to go to therapy. Now come on, let’s go home, I’m meeting Lindsay in the morning,” Daniel said. “I’ll see you two later.”

Emily and Norma left the police station and Daniel glanced at the front desk. His Uncle Linus was standing beside the desk and filling out a form.

“Uncle Linus?” Daniel walked over to him. “What are you doing here?”

“Filling out a police report. Why are you here?” Linus questioned.

“I was just...” Daniel pointed toward where the offices were but then realized why he was there and went to scratching his head. “So were you robbed or in a car accident?”

“No, my idiot son over there,” Linus pointed toward one of the five holding cells across the room, one of which currently housed Benjamin, “and his two idiot friends broke into my house and proceeded to try and steal my home entertainment system.”

“Doesn’t Benjamin still live with you?”

“That’s why he’s my idiot son.”

“How’d you catch him?”

“Why don’t you go over and ask him?”

Daniel walked over to the holding cell and Benjamin walked to the door. “Benjamin?” Daniel suddenly smiled upon seeing his troublemaking cousin finally behind bars. “What happened?”

“Well, it’s not all my fault. My friends talked me into it,” Benjamin admitted.

Linus lived out in the country in a spacious ranch house. Even though Nathan moved out a couple of years ago, Benjamin remained at his father’s house, unemployed and broke. He spent most of his time hanging out with his friends Dolph and Roger. All three were really good-for-nothing and had their own separate quirks that tested the confines of the law.

Dolph had a serious anger problem and would attack and beat up anyone who aggravated him. His latest victim was the former mayor of the small town they live in. Dolph was driving 60 in a 20 and proceeded to run a stop sign; unfortunately the former mayor decided to stop at the stop sign. Roger had six illegitimate children scattered around a five-county area. He owed thousands in child support and only worked at places that paid him in cash—which were few and far between. Benjamin had the uncanny ability to get any girl to sleep with him. His age-range of choice: 13-16.

“We need a way to get some money,” Dolph said.

“We could get jobs,” Benjamin suggested.

“This is serious, Ben,” Roger snapped. “I’ve been thinking. You know that new entertainment system your dad bought, Ben?”

“Yes.”

“I have a cousin who sell stuff on that eBay thing and if we could get ahold of all of that equipment, we could sell it on eBay and make a fortune!” Roger explained.

“Awesome!” Dolph exclaimed.

“I don’t know guys…” Benjamin said uneasily.

“It’ll be so easy,” Roger answered. “We break in while your dad is out at the bar, load all the stuff in Dolph’s truck and take it to my cousins and wait for the money.”

“That sounds so easy,” Dolph said.

“But then my Dad wouldn’t have his entertainment system.”

“But it is insured, right? The insurance company will pay for new equipment and we get the money from eBay,” Roger said.

That night, Benjamin waited an hour after Linus left for the bar to call Roger and Dolph so they could drive out to the house. Benjamin locked up the house and met them in the back driveway. They got the truck ready and Dolph broke the back door down.

Once inside, the three proceeded to load up the smaller equipment: the DVD player, VCR, gaming console and stereo. They then went to work trying to get the plasma screen television off the wall. That was when Linus came home from the bar with a woman on his arm.

“What the hell are you doing?” Linus asked.

“Dad! What are you doing home?” Benjamin questioned nervously.

“It was a good night. I was going to get lucky early,” Linus answered. “But now I would much rather see you rot in jail!”

“And that’s what happened,” Benjamin said to Daniel.

“Come on Uncle Linus. Ben’s done a lot worse than this and no one has pressed charges.”

“This criminal act was against me! His father. His father who has let him live for free in my house for 27 years, sleep with underage girls—no questions asked, and loan him money knowing he’ll never pay it back,” Linus complained.

“I see your point. Look, Uncle Linus, if Benjamin gets a job and starts paying some rent, will you not press charges?”

“What kind of job?” asked Linus.

“My company is hiring for new janitors,” Daniel said. “He can apply there and I can guarantee he’ll get hired.”

Linus thought a moment then nodded. “Okay. Deal,” he and Daniel shook hands. “Why are you doing this Danny?”

“Grandma wants us to have a family reunion or she’s going to kill herself,” Daniel explained.

“Count us in. Give me a call with the details,” Linus smiled and walked back up to the front desk to have Benjamin released.




Seven
Daniel met Lindsay at the river levee entrance at 8th and Walnut. She was in a tank top, sports bra and tight shorts while Daniel was in a plain white shirt and baggy shorts.

“So how did everything go after everyone was asked to go down to the police station?” she smiled.

“It all went well,” Daniel began as they started jogging down the levee, “Burt’s not going to press charges and all Mom has to do is go the therapy. Despite the bloodshed, it was a pretty enjoyable night.”

“I’m glad you’re doing this Daniel.”

“We do this every month. Besides, I don’t think I’m in that bad of shape…”

“No, not jogging. Your family. A lot of people would’ve given up or not even tried. You’re really a noble guy.”

“Stop. You had me at hello.”

“I...I never said hello.”

“I also ran into my Uncle Linus and his son Benjamin at the police station and they agreed to come to a family reunion,” Daniel said as the two picked up their pace.

“Great! But what was Linus and Benjamin doing at the police station?”

“Linus was having Benjamin arrested but I was able to stop that by guaranteeing Ben a job at my company,” Daniel paused for a couple of seconds. “So what’d you do last night?”

“I got home, watched a movie—which I fell asleep in the middle of—and slept on the couch all night,” Lindsay revealed. “I lead a very scandalous life.”

“What movie did you watch?”

The Three Amigos. Chevy Chase, Steve Martin,” Lindsay coughed and aggressively cleared her throat.

“I like National Lampoon’s Vacation,” Daniel said. “’Sit down and shut up! Move out of that seat and I’ll split your lip!’ Classic,” Daniel chuckled.

“Well, that’s not very nice,” said Lindsay.

“Come on! It’s Beverly D’Angelo threatening Imogene Coca! It’s hilarious!”

“I like The Long, Long Trailer.”

“With Lucille Ball?”

“No, Julia Roberts. Of course Lucille Ball! It’s such a simple and romantic plot.”

“I’ve always wondered why the Mertzes never had kids.”

“What? Who?”

“The Mertzes--Fred and Ethel--off of I Love Lucy. In the show they were married for, like, thirty years but never even mention children.”

“Maybe Fred was a little slow in that department,” she suggested.

“How come it’s always the guy’s fault in these circumstances?” Daniel asked. “For all we know, Ethel had a barren uterus.”

“You always gotta go for the uterus, don’t you Daniel? Besides, we know that Fred and Ethel hated each other off set so maybe that translated to the scripts,” Lindsay explained.

“Why did it take Lucy and Ricky fifteen years to have their first child. You know Lucy had to love that Latin sex Ricky offered.”

“Well, this conversation suddenly fell into the toilet,” Lindsay sighed. “What are you doing the rest of the day?”

“I was gonna get some work done at the office. I have a team meeting tomorrow because we’re starting phase three development and we need to have a strategy.”

“’Phase three development?’ What the hell do you do at that company?” asked Lindsay.

“Oh, please...” Daniel smiled and motioned with his hand to change the conversation. “So I will be at my office playing catch-up. Why?”

“I was thinking that we could go to my place, I could fix us a fancy lunch then watch a movie—preferably one that doesn’t require much attention,” she smiled coyly.

“Wow, you’re going all out. I was just going to suggest we go back to my place, have hot, dirty sex, take a shower then have more hot, dirty sex and then I’m off to work.”

“For someone who is infatuated with me, you sure don’t try to get very romantic.”

“It’s funnier this way,” Daniel smiled. “And you love it.”

“Sometimes but I want you to be upfront with me about this.”

“You lo-o-o-o-o-ove it.”

“Whatever,” Lindsay rolled her eyes, “are you coming over or not?”

“I would love to but I need to get this work done. We need to start pha…”

“Phase three development, I remember,” Lindsay said disappointedly.




Daniel and Lindsay arrived back at their cars, bodies dripping with sweat. They stood by Daniel’s car and tried to fill in the awkward silence. “So maybe I can…come over for a couple minutes…” Daniel shrugged.

“You could take a shower!” Lindsay said loudly.

“Calm down, girl! If you want to see me naked, we can do that here,” a soft ringing came from inside the car. Daniel groaned, opened the door and grabbed his cell phone. “Hello?”

“Bandito!!” someone screamed.

“Oh, God I forgot…” Daniel moaned.

“What is it?”

“It’s Rod and Randy. It’s our bi-weekly jaunt to Gringo Bandito where we make rude jokes and comments while pigging out on an all-you-can-eat taco bar. I completely forgot about it,” Daniel said and tossed the phone back to his ear. “Give me thirty minutes, I have to shower but I’m coming,” he hung up his phone and looked at Lindsay. “Guess I better meet up with them.”

“You’re gonna go with them and eat your weight in Mexican food while I am offering a top-notch sexual encounter and free lunch!” Lindsay complained.

“Well, you know…they’re my friends and…”

Lindsay interrupted Daniel by pressing her lips to his. Their eyes slowly closed and Daniel wrapped his arms around her. Their mouths opened and began massaging each others tongues. They pressed their bodies close and she began running her hands through Daniel’s hair. Their breathing became harsher and small moans escaped from Lindsay’s throat. They pulled away simultaneously, still in each others arms, and looked into each other’s eyes.

Daniel spoke first, “I…”

“Yeah,” Lindsay gasped slightly.

“I’ll…”

They pulled away and both cleared their throats and looked down.

Lindsay muttered something and returned her gaze to Daniel.

“Yeah,” Daniel stammered and ran his hand on the back of his neck, “I’ll…I’ll see you around…” Daniel got in his car and started it up. He took a look at Lindsay, smiled and drove away.

Lindsay slowly walked to her car and got in. She paused and looked over at where Daniel drove. She softly touched her lips and a smile came across her face.




Eight
Daniel was in the conference room with his team working on phase three development. He was standing next to an overhead projector pointing out the key elements to his team. “Now I know this is all overwhelming but if we all keep our heads down and power through, then we can complete phase three and release some of this tension,” Daniel explained and took a box from the overhead cart. “That is why I installed this complaint box outside my office so we can…”

“Hey, Daniel,” Benjamin came into the conference room, “I’m ready for my job interview,” Daniel angrily looked at his cousin and Ann when she came in.

“I’m sorry Daniel. He walked right by and I didn’t realize where he was going until it was too late,” Ann apologized.

“That’s okay, Ann. I was just going to go through the complaint box. I would actually like you to join us,” Daniel turned off the projector and wheeled it away from the table. Daniel sat down with Ann next to him. Benjamin sat down in the corner. “Now, I put up the complaint box so that valid problems could be aired and discussed but it turns out that it’s being used as a joke machine.”

“A complaint about the complaint box?” Benjamin smiled. “Delicious."

Daniel glanced at Benjamin then back the employees. “Anyway, here’s some of the quote-unquote complaints that have been lodged: ‘You’re stupid’, ‘Save Arrested Development’, 'Hey, Boo’, which I can only imagine is a reference to To Kill a Mockingbird, ‘I can’t see me loving nobody but you for all my life’, a reference to the Turtles song ‘So Happy Together’, ‘Donald has been staring at me all day…and I love it’, You got chocolate in my peanut butter’, You got peanut butter in my chocolate’, ‘Together they taste like crap’, ‘Who’s the black private dick who’s a hit with all the chicks?’”

“Shaft!” everybody said.

“I thought we’d all enjoy that,” Ann chuckled.

“’One free kiss from Daniel if you’re a girl,’” Daniel read.

“Aww,” the girls sighed.

“’One free kiss from Daniel if you’re a boy.’ Thanks, guys. And this is my favorite: ‘Help, I’m being held hostage in a complaint box’ which is kind of funny,” Daniel smiled. “I am going to take down the complaint box. We’ll figure out some other way to air our grievances. Meeting adjourned,” Daniel said and everybody got up to leave. “Okay, Benjamin, let’s go up to human resources. Ann, hold my calls for the next half hour or so.”




Daniel and Benjamin sat outside of Sascha Hewitt’s office for fifteen minutes while Rod sat at his desk sorting through papers, filing some and shredding others. Daniel leaned back and looked into Sascha’s office where she was bent over, writing on a sheet of paper.

“Rod?” Daniel asked, “you do realize that Sascha is not on a telephone conference, right?”

“I know,” Rod answered.

“I just wanted to make sure because I can see her through the window and it looks likes she’s just been doodling the last fifteen minutes,” Daniel pointed out.

“I understand but I have to do what she tells me even when it’s so obvious that she’s lying,” Rod shrugged. A noise came from Sascha’s door. “Here she comes.”

“Daniel? I’m ready to see you now,” Sascha invited both Daniel and Benjamin in. Daniel sat close to the wall, Sascha closed the door and sat behind her desk. “Now what are we here for?”

Daniel sighed. “I want my cousin here to be hired as once of the new janitors,” Daniel explained.

“Well, I’ll see what I can do. Have him fill out an application and leave it with Rod,” Sascha said.

“He has already filled out an application, attached is a letter of recommendation from me. I have already looked up the nepotism clause of our company’s handbook and as long as he doesn’t get promoted beyond supervising janitor, it is not in violation,” Daniel hammered out while Sascha just stared blankly at them with a smile.

“I will look over his application and get back to him early next week,” Sascha said, taking Benjamin’s application.

“No you won’t because I have already spoken with the managing custodian and he can immediately hire Benjamin and train him tomorrow. I’m gonna give Benjamin’s application to Rod out front. Benjamin, training begins tomorrow at nine in the morning. Sascha, thank you for seeing us,” Daniel spelled out.

Benjamin shook Sascha’s hand and he and Daniel left the office. They stopped at Rod’s desk and Daniel handed the application to him.

“Did he get hired?” Rod asked.

“Yep. Stayed two steps ahead of her the whole time,” Daniel said. “I don’t see how you can stand working with her for eight hours. She is a complete imbecile.”

“Kind of hot, though,” Benjamin said.

Daniel and Rod looked at him. Daniel bit his bottom lip and turned back toward Rod. “If you like soulless surfboards, I guess,” Daniel smiled.

“Wouldn’t be the worst I’ve had,” Benjamin said. “Remember that sophomore I was dating?”

Daniel crinkled his nose and inhaled deeply. “When you were 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22 or 23?”

“20.”

“Yes,” Daniel exhaled sharply.

“Well, I was cheating on her with her next door neighbor, a hot divorced woman…”

“Such a gallant young man,” Daniel said to Rod.

“…and she was starting to catch on.”

The sophomore’s name was Jenni and the divorcee was Tammy. Jenni was a pretty girl whose face was dotted with dark freckles, framed by a long, curly brown hair. She was a nice girl and deserved better than Benjamin. What drove her boyfriends away were two things that were very distinguishable. Jenni was finishing getting ready for her date with Benjamin when she casually looked out the window.

“That looks like Ben’s car,” Jenni muttered to herself as she looked at the beat-up Chevy Cavalier in Tammy’s driveway. She finished getting dressed and went outside. She stood behind the car and called Benjamin on her cell phone.

Benjamin was with Tammy in bed, plowing away at her, when his cell phone rang. He took it off the bedside table and saw who it was and answered it. “Hello?”

“Ben, I was wondering, what’s your license plate number?” Jenni asked.

“WXX 314. Why?”

She looked down at the car’s license plate that read WXX 314. “No reason. Are you still coming by?”

“Yeah, but I’m running a little late. I should be there within an hour,” and he hung up the phone.

Jenni walked up to Tammy’s house and found the front door unlocked. Jenni went inside and into the kitchen where she grabbed a large steak knife and began walking up the stairs. She heard the moaning coming from the bedroom and slowly opened the door. Neither one noticed her so Jenni took a couple steps toward the bed.

Tammy crinkled her nose. “I smell tuna fish,” she said.

Benjamin bent his head down and smelled Tammy. “No, I just smell hard-boiled eggs.” Jenni took a couple more steps. Benjamin nodded, “Now I smell the tuna fish.” Benjamin slowly stopped thrusting as two and two finally equaled four. “Jenni!” Benjamin shrieked and barely got out of the way before the knife sliced into the upper part of his left leg.

“So that’s how you really got that scar,” Daniel said. “Although I don’t really get the significance of tuna fish and hard-boiled eggs.”

“Let’s just say that Jenni needed better genital hygiene and a doctor to look at her gastrointestinal tract,” Rod explained.

“Aah,” Daniel finally got the picture, “that’s enough story time for today. I’ll see you tomorrow, Ben. See you, Rod.”

“See you, Daniel. And Ben? Thanks for reminding me of a good reason of why I’m gay,” Rod said.




Daniel arrived back at his office but Ann stopped him. “While you were gone, you got a phone call from Principal Jason Shore at Riverside High School. He wants you to call him back immediately,” Ann handed Daniel a piece of paper with a phone number on it.

“But I already turned in my past-due social studies homework. Did he say what this was about?” Daniel asked.

“Your niece, Amy,” Ann answered.




Nine
Daniel parked in front of Riverside High in the parking lot and got out of his car. He uncomfortably walked toward the school, tightening his tie and rebuttoning his jacket. He walked into the school and toward the office. He approached the secretary and nervously began to speak. “I’m here to see Principal Shore about Amy Harrison,” he said quietly.

“Oh, yes. Mr. Shore’s office is around the corner at the end of the hall,” she pointed around the desk.

“Thanks,” Daniel smiled and headed toward the principal’s office. The door was closed and Daniel quietly knocked.

“Come on in,” a voice said from the other side. Daniel slowly opened the door and saw Mr. Shore behind a huge mahogany desk and Amy, with her mom Virginia and step-dad Tran Dong sitting in the three chairs. “Who are you?” asked Mr. Shore.

“I’m Daniel Judge, I’m Amy’s uncle—sort of,” Daniel answered.

“Ah, yes. Ms. Harrison had me call you but you were unavailable so I called her parents,” Mr. Shore explained.

“What’s going on? I have to get back to work,” Daniel said impatiently.

“Well, it’s Amy’s involvement in school. The last few months it’s been steadily going downhill,” Mr. Shore handed Virginia a stack of papers with the top one marked ‘C+’ in red. Virginia began flipping through the papers and the grades decreased from C+ to C to C- to D+ to D to D- to F to a sad face to a face with Xs in the eyes to a skull and crossbones. “We feel that she needs more parental involvement,” Mr. Shore concluded.

Virginia scoffed. “I swear, how come it’s always the parents fault now whenever a child gets a mark under a C?” she asked.

“You do realize that a skull and crossbones is not a valid grade, right?” asked Daniel.

“Then it’s the teacher’s fault for not using a legitimate form of grading,” Virginia tossed the papers on the desk.

“Mrs. Harrison, I think that even spending one extra hour a night helping Amy with her homework would increase her grades remarkably,” Mr. Shore suggested.

“You know how hard it is to find an extra hour in the day? With our volunteerism, charity fundraising and careers it’s a little hard to find the time to spend with our daughter,” Virginia explained.

“Well, it’s times like this that the children should come first,” said Mr. Shore. “She really needs more involvement.”

“You’re talking to a brick wall, Mr. Shore. Virginia was never one to spend quality time with her kids,” Daniel explained. “Although she’s gotten better since she left her first husband.”

“Said the boy who abandoned his family for five years,” Virginia brought up.

“We burned down a funeral home!” Daniel reminded.

Mr. Shore uneasily looked at Daniel then back to Virginia and Amy. “Amy is an incredibly smart girl with loads of potential but if she doesn’t adequate adult supervision then she could be headed down a troubled path. Amy? What do you want to do after you finish school?”

“Circus roustabout,” Amy answered seriously.

“See? She wants to work in the entertainment industry. And there’ll always be circuses,” Virginia said.

“Aunt Virginia, would it be so hard to spend one evening at home with your daughter then at another anti-circumcision rally?” Daniel asked.

“That’s easy for you to say. What have you done for the family lately?” Virginia stood up and came face-to-face with Daniel.

“Grandma called me and threatened to commit suicide if I don’t get the family back together. I’ve spent the last week getting in touch with family members so we can organize a family reunion. Maybe instead of satisfying yourselves, you should focus more time on your daughter or at least find someone who will,” Daniel scolded.

“How ‘bout you?” Tran finally spoke as he stood up.

“You’re the only one in this family who’s actually liked by everyone, Daniel. Why don’t you tutor our daughter?” Virginia suggested.

“I am overburdened at work as it is and coupled with everything I’m doing for this ridiculous family and trying to take my relationship with Lindsay to the next level, I don’t have time to take care of someone else’s kid!” Daniel explained.

“Well, it’s times like this that the children should come first,” Virginia said mockingly.

“Yeah, my children. Not someone’s else’s,” Daniel said.

“Uncle...Uncle Daniel,” Amy stood up and pushed herself between Daniel and her mom. “I want to live with you.”

“What?” shouted Daniel, Virginia and Tran.

“Why?” asked Daniel.

“You’re, like, the perfect role model in this family. You were always my favorite relative. Who do you think told Mr. Shore to call you instead of my parents?” Amy said, looking at Daniel in the eyes. “I always thought you’d make a damn good dad,” Amy suddenly hugged Daniel and he reciprocated.

Daniel hesitated then slowly pushed Amy away to arm’s length. “We’ll give it a trial run. Your grades have to start improving and you have to respect me like a father.”

“I already do,” Amy smiled.

“Don’t we get a say in this?” Virginia asked. “I am the girl’s mother.”

“Only in the eyes of the state,” Amy responded.

“I feel this could be a good change for Amy,” Mr. Shore spoke up. “If Mr. Judge cannot raise Amy’s grades then we’ll know something more needs to be done. I want to thank you all for coming in. Amy can have the rest of the day off to get settled in at Mr. Judge’s but I expect her here in the morning with her homework complete.”

“It will Mr. Shore,” Amy said. “I promise.”

“Whatever,” Virginia said. “Have fun, Daniel. And congratulations, it’s a girl.”




At his apartment, Daniel was sitting on the couch reading while Amy was at the kitchen table doing her homework. She shut her textbook, leaned back to stretch and got up. “Whatcha reading?” Amy asked Daniel.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens. It’s one of my favorites.”

“What’s it about?”

“A bunch of things: a court case, romance, long-lost daughters, murder and other things,” Daniel explained and turned the page.

“So is this what you do every night? Just read?”

“If you want to join me, you can grab one of my books. I recommend a Steinbeck for you,” Daniel suggested.

“Can I watch TV?” Amy asked.

“Or you can do that. Did you finish your homework?”

“Yeah, you can check it if you want,” Amy pointed, grabbed the remote control and turned on the television.

Daniel, not able to concentrate with the TV on, slid the bookmark into the novel and laid the book on the coffee table. He got up and went over to the table to check Amy’s homework. After going through the homework, Daniel was amazed. “You got everything right. You showed your work and you used footnotes where applicable. How in the hell did you receive a skull and crossbones?”

It was all part of a plan Amy hatched while talking with Nathan over the phone. “What’s it called when you want to divorce your parents?” Amy asked Nathan.

“Emancipation. Why?” Nathan answered.

“I’m just tired of my Mom. She doesn’t pay attention to me and all she does is work and go to those stupid fundraisers. I’m getting sick of it,” Amy complained.

“Well, if you can prove that you’re living in an unstable environment, you can get a lawyer and be separated from your parents,” Nathan explained.

Virginia walked up behind Amy dressed in a fancy suit-skirt combo. “Come on, Amy, we have to get to the ball room. We’re expected to save enough penis skins to make 20 new boys.”

“Would what she just said be enough?” Amy asked Nathan.

“That’s nice that you wanted to live with me but why not Nathan? His house is huge and he makes a lot more money,” Daniel said.

“Nathan hates moochers. If he does you a favor, he will hold it over your head for the rest of your life, even if you do pay it back,” Amy explained. “By the way, what is your job?”

“So I’m guessing the emancipation didn’t work out?” Daniel avoided.

“No, I couldn’t afford a lawyer so I did the next best thing.”

A knock came from the front door. “Nearly ruined your education to get attention from people who may not of cared about you in the first place?”

“At least Mom doesn’t care about Chris or Arnold either,” Amy sighed.

Daniel opened the door and found Emily standing on the doorstep with a duffel bag. “Emily! What are you doing here?” Daniel asked, glancing at the bag.

“I need a place to stay. I was kicked out of my hotel room tonight,” Emily said.

“That’s too bad. How’d it happen?”

Emily was at the Ramada flirting with a handsome businessman who checked into the hotel. “You’re in room 315, which is only seven rooms down from mine. I get off work at eight and if you want you can stop by my room for some…room service,” Emily offered.

“You live in a hotel?” the man asked. “I thought that was something only on TV shows.”

“Nope. I’ve lived in the hotel for the past year or so. So, see you later?”

“I’ll be there,” the man winked.

He walked away and over to the elevator. Emily’s shift manager came over to her. “Emily, I—I couldn’t help overhearing. Are you living in a hotel room and not paying for it?”

Emily looked at her manager. “I don’t think so.”

“Luckily they didn’t fire me,” Emily said as she sat down on the couch.

“Well, I guess you can stay here for a while but I’ve already given the guest bedroom to Amy. Would you mind sleeping on the couch?” Daniel asked.

“I guess not. Why is Amy living here?”

“Long story. Just read the first half of the chapter,” Daniel said.

“What?”

“The one stipulation I have, Emily, is you act like an adult. No drinking, no drugs, no men and no women. I’ve agreed to be a father figure to Amy so you have to be a mother figure, okay?” Daniel ordered.

“Understood,” Emily agreed.

“I’m gonna go to bed. You ladies have a good night. Amy, get to bed early. You have school,” said Daniel.

“Oh, and I sleep naked. Hope that doesn’t bother anyone…” Emily said, stopping Daniel in his tracks.




Ten
Ann gathered a stack of papers and took them into Daniel’s office where he was on the phone. Daniel’s hair was uncombed and a thin layer of beard stubble lined his jaw. “Okay, Amy. Have fun in math but don’t let that Kim Choi cheat off you again. I’ll see you this evening,” Daniel said and hung up the phone.

“Wow, you’ve really gotten the hang of being the father of a teenage girl,” Ann said.

Daniel looked up at Ann and uneasily smiled, “I don’t like it.”

“Why not?”

“Everything I’ve ever heard about living with a girl is true. And mine is double thanks to Emily. And it’s only been one night. This morning we all had to get ready for work and school at the same time. I only have one bathroom!”

“Which explains the hair and disheveled look…”

“Yeah. And to make matters worse, the girls were up half up the night talking about girl-stuff.”

“Well that’s not bad. Amy now has a kind of older sister who can tell her things may be too embarrassing for you to answer,” Ann acknowledged.

“I think Emily taught Amy to use a vibrator but I didn’t want to get up and check.”

“Hmm. Anyway, here are those papers you wanted to look over and sign,” Ann rested her hand on the stack of papers. “Is Emily going to start immediately looking for an apartment?”

“I don’t know. I hope so because I can’t stand living with two girls until Amy graduates in two years. I’ll help her look so maybe she can find something in a month or so,” Daniel explained. “But this weekend I’m gonna plan for that family reunion and relive God-awful memories with help from our famous Judge-family barbecues.”

“So you got everyone to agree to come?” Ann was surprised.

“No…there are still the holdouts of Chris, Arnold and Nathan and I didn’t ask Amy’s mom Virginia but she’ll probably come if I can make it seem like a charitable event.”

“Daniel! Daniel!” Benjamin came running into the office with his mop and bucket.

“Benjamin! How’s the training going?” Daniel asked.

“Oh, that’s already over. I was worried early on in the session when what was supposed to be a dry run, I pulled out too quickly, ended up spilling my suds and I wound up with a bit of a mess on my hand,” Benjamin explained.

Daniel looked at Ann then back to Benjamin. “Wow! There are just...so many poorly chosen words in that sentence. What are you doing here Ben?”

“I have an idea for a project,” he admitted.

“This should be good,” Ann muttered.

Daniel smiled. “What is it, Ben?”

“52 percent of this country is single. That’s a market that’s been dominated by apartment rentals. We should take some of that market. Modest houses for a single occupant: one bedroom, one bath, full appliances, phone, Internet, television along with an athletic club and swimming pool. It gives young people the chance to own a house.”

“That is actually a good idea, Ben. You do realize, however, that we’re not a housing company,” Daniel revealed.

“Oh,” said Benjamin, dejectedly, “then what is it that you do?”

Daniel slowly turned from Benjamin back to Ann. “So how’s phase three coming?” he asked.

“Good. Everyone was wondering if for this weekend’s overtime, they could order a pizza with two toppings.”

“Actually, I’m hoping to speak to management about canceling this weekend’s overtime because of the family reunion. I’m gonna need all the energy I have.”

“Family reunion? This weekend?” Ben spoke up. “I don’t want to go to that.”

“Sorry but that’s the stipulation of you getting hired here. You have to go to the reunion,” Daniel explained.

Benjamin did an odd movement with the mop and groaned loudly.

“So if anyone asks, just say that it’s a possibility but not a definite ‘no,’” Daniel said. Daniel looked over and saw Benjamin standing and leaning against the mop in the bucket. “Don’t you have vomit to mop up or something?” asked Daniel.

“That’s a school janitor, Daniel. The biggest thing I’ll ever have to mop up is spilled Pepsi in the break room.”

Daniel raised his eyebrows to suggest Benjamin to go but Benjamin remained. “So maybe you should go and mop up the Pepsi in the break room,” Daniel said, standing up and walking over to Benjamin. “So for the goodness of the company and the nation, you should probably get right to the break room,” Daniel put his arm around Benjamin and led him and his mop and bucket out of the office. Daniel turned back to Ann. “Your top priority is keeping unwanted people out of my office,” Daniel said.

“Sorry, Daniel,” Ann apologized and went back to her desk.

After a couple minutes, Daniel came back out and spoke to Ann. “I’m going up to see Rod in HR because he needs sign these papers, too.”

“Okay, Daniel,” Ann acknowledged.

Daniel walked up to the HR floor and headed over to Rod’s desk. “I need you to sign these,” Daniel handed the stack of papers to him.

“No,” Rod said taking the papers. “Haven’t been able to talk to you much this week. Heard you have a couple of girls living with you now.”

“Yeah...my niece and my sister so it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. How are you doing?” Daniel asked.

“Didn’t exactly have the best weekend on record. I had a scheduled colonoscopy on Saturday so the night before I had to take this powerful laxative to basically clean out my system so for most of the evening I was on the toilet trying to balance myself with the sink on one side and the bathtub edge on the other,” Rod explained. “The first wave came and just immediately knocked all the energy out of me so when the second wave came, I almost fell off the toilet. The third wave wasn’t much better and when it was all over, I could barely stand up.

“At the doctor’s, his nurse was trying to make me feel better so she showed me what they were going to use. It was a small tube-like camera surrounded by small little arms which made it look like a spider and she says: ‘these are for ripping out any polyps we find.’ Finally, they put me under and…” Rod took a good look at Daniel who had a disturbed look on his face and what probably used to be a smile. “Are you okay?”

“I suddenly don’t feel so good, no,” Daniel quickly answered. “Rod, I respect your lifestyle and whatever you want to put up your ass is fine with me but I just asked how you were doing. A simple ‘fine’ will suffice.”

“Okay.”

“So how are you doing, Rod?” Daniel asked.

“Fine,” Rod answered and began signing the papers.

Daniel was back at his desk talking on the telephone. “So you’ll come? Great! I really appreciate this Aunt Virginia. This is going to be the best Judge family barbecue ever,” Daniel smiled as Randy walked in. “Okay, I’ll see you Saturday,” and Daniel hung up the phone.

“Judge family barbecue?” asked Randy, “Can I come?”

“The Judge family barbecue is a special occasion, Randy. It’s no place for a law-abiding citizen.”

“So you got everyone to come?”

“No, Chris and Arnold are the only holdouts and I’m gonna have Tania trick Nathan into going so it should be a rousing good time. Are you ready to go to lunch?”

“Yep, let’s go,” Randy motioned but Daniel’s office phone rang.

“I’m sorry, it’ll be just a moment,” Daniel said and answered the phone. “Hello? Aunt Virginia, what are you…? Oh my God! Yes, yes. I’ll be right there,” Daniel hung up the phone and began running out of the office.

“Daniel! What’s wrong?” Randy asked.

“My Grandma’s in the hospital. She had a massive heart attack!”




Eleven
Daniel arrived at the hospital and into the ER. He ran into his mother, Norma. “Mom, what are you doing here?”

“It’s my mother-in-law. Of course I’d come,” Norma said.

“Ex-mother-in-law but I appreciate you being here,” Daniel said and walked into the room where Marlene was lying, unconscious, while nurses were trying to keep her breathing. Emily was holding her grandma’s hand with tears in her eyes. “How’s it going?”

“It’s going great!” Emily smiled as a tear rolled down her cheek. “She’s going to be fine and make it out of this and be better than ever!” Emily said, obviously emphasizing more toward Marlene. She then shook her head and mouthed ‘no.’

Daniel carefully took Marlene’s other hand and leaned in next to her ear. “You’re gonna be all right, Grandma. I was able to set up a family reunion and it wouldn’t be fair to me if you died before you followed through on your end of the deal,” he growled. Daniel looked over and saw Benjamin and Amy standing in the doorway. “You got down here fast…”

“I was caught speeding but Amy lied and said she was going into labor so the officer let us follow his police car with the siren on,” Benjamin explained.

“Hmm. Where’s everybody else?” Daniel looked over to Emily.

“Virginia, Linus and Arnold are in the cafeteria. Dad is on his way, Chris can’t get away from work and neither can Nathan but they will be here as soon as possible.”

“Good…” Daniel sighed and let go of Marlene’s hand. “Who’s the doctor here?” he asked.

“I am,” responded a man coming into the room. “Dr. Jeffrey Sweeney. And you are?”

“I’m Daniel Judge, the patient is my grandmother.”

“Ah, you’re Daniel. Everybody was telling me that you were the responsible one. Well, as you can see it’s kind of touch-and-go but we’re pretty sure that she’ll pull through but she’ll need to stay for observation, of course. We also think she had a stroke but we can’t check that until we stabilize her and get her breathing on her own,” explained Dr. Sweeney.

“Okay. So what do we do?” Daniel asked.

“You can hang around for moral support but until we get her stable, there’s not much you can do. The nurse out front does have a form for you to fill out,” Dr. Sweeney smiled.

Daniel went out front and talked to the administrative nurse and she handed him the form on a clipboard. He walked over to the waiting room where Virginia, Linus, Arnold and Benjamin were sitting. He sat down and began filling out the form.

“Dad should be here. He’s Grandma’s power of attorney,” Daniel said angrily. “He’s never around when I need him.”

“He’ll be here,” Linus said. “Your dad’s a lot of things but he loves his mom. I can probably help you with some of the information.”

“Where’s Amy?” asked Virginia.

“She’s in the ER with Emily,” Daniel answered. “What year was Grandma born?”

“1927,” Linus replied. “You know, this really makes you think. Five years ago we all basically went our separate ways because Daniel abandoned the family…”

“Thanks for reminded everyone, Uncle Linus,” Daniel said quickly.

“…And just when we’re all getting ready for a family reunion Mom winds up in the hospital.”

“Yep,” Virginia said reminiscently, “protect what you have today because it may be gone tomorrow.”

“No, I was thinking that this is another reason you don’t make plans,” Linus corrected.

Emily and Amy approached the family. “She’s breathing on her own now so they are going to do a CAT scan,” Emily walked over to Daniel and he stood up to hug her. “She looks really bad,” she cried.

“It’s going to be okay, Emily,” Benjamin tried to comfort Emily. “Nothing can kill that ol’ horse.”

“Hey!” Daniel interjected.

“That’s right,” Benjamin laughed while starting to cry, “that ol’ horse will live on to eat her hay.”

“I didn’t even know we were calling Grandma Ol’ Horse,” Amy said and fell into the pseudo-group hug.

“Mr. Judge?” Dr. Sweeney called, heading toward the family.

“Yes, Doctor? What’s going on? How is she?” Daniel pushed away from his family.

“I’m afraid there’s nothing more I can do for your grandma,” Dr. Sweeney said solemnly.

The family began to cry and Emily took Daniel’s arm to hold her balance.

“But here’s your new doctor, Brett Georges. Don’t worry, he’s the best!” Dr. Sweeney continued.

Everyone groaned and complained about Dr. Sweeney’s phrasing as Dr. Georges approached Daniel. “I’m only the best in the city.”

“Okay, Doctor, what’s going on?” Daniel asked.

“Marlene had a massive heart attack and more than likely a stroke. When she is stabilized she will have to undergo bypass surgery. After she has her scans and X-rays I’ll be able to tell you more but it’ll be a couple of hours,” Dr. Georges explained.

“All right, Doctor. You are apparently the best,” Daniel said.

“Only in the county,” Dr. George said as he walked off.

“I’m gonna go to the cafeteria to fill this out. If something happens, get a hold of me,” Daniel said, holding up the form.

He turned around and began to walk away when Emily grabbed his arm. “Can I come with you?”

“Sure,” he shrugged. He and Emily walked down the corridor together and round the corner. Once out of view, the automatic doors near the waiting room slid open and Stephen walked in. Daniel shivered, “Did it just get colder in here?”




Daniel and Emily were sitting at a table in the cafeteria as Daniel finally finished filling out the insurance forms. “What’s Grandma’s shoe size?” he asked.

“Is that really a question on the form?” Emily leaned over and Daniel turned the paper and pointed to the space. “I’ll be damned,” she said and leaned back. “I think it’s a seven.”

Daniel filled in the space and sighed. “Well, that was fun,” he said and rubbed his face in his hands.

“You okay?” asked Emily.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m a little hungry. I missed lunch,” Daniel looked back to the form then laid it down and slid it away from him. “This is not how I planned to spend my week. I’ll be glad when Dad gets here and he can handle all this petty crap,” he said.

Stephen, however, was already there and getting filled in on what’s been going on. “So she’s all right?” Stephen asked Linus and Virginia.

“Stephen, she’s had a massive heart attack and possibly a stroke but we won’t know until her lab results are complete. In any case, she’s probably going to be here a while and need special care at home,” Virginia explained.

“Okay, okay. Isn’t there a form someone has to fill out for insurance purposes?” Stephen asked.

“Daniel is in the cafeteria and he’s filling out the form. He’ll handle it,” Linus comforted. “Just sit here and wait for Daniel or a doctor. Everything’ll be fine.”

Back in the cafeteria, Daniel rubbed his face into his hands again and sighed loudly. He then lowered his head to the table.

“You okay?” asked Emily.

Daniel raised his head and glared at her. “You already asked me that. Are you okay?” he smiled.

“I’m handling it better than I thought I would,” Emily uneasily chuckled.

“This coming from a girl who slept with our cousin during our Grandpa’s funeral,” Daniel pointed out.

“I’m a changed girl.”

“Grandfather inside the casket; cousin Benjamin inside you.”

“Just keep dredging up the past, Daniel.”

Daniel grabbed the form and stood up. “I say, to top that, you and I need to be caught having sex here, on a gurney, in front of the whole family,” Daniel walked away leaving Emily at the table.

She thought for a moment then quickly stood up and ran after him. “Wait! Really? Are you serious?”

Daniel and Emily arrived back at the ER to find Stephen brutally yelling at Dr. Georges. “I don’t care what the hospital’s policy is but that’s my Mom in there and I want to see her!” he screamed.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Dr. Georges replied, “but you weren’t authorized by Mr. Judge so you can’t go in after hours!”

“Mr. Judge is my son! Just get him down here and he’ll…”

Daniel came between his father and the doctor, “Hey-hey-hey! What’s going on?”

“This so-called doctor won’t let me see my own mother until you authorize me!” Stephen angrily explained.

“Dad, this doctor is the best…”

“Only in the state,” Dr. Georges interjected.

“…Just go back there, Dad. I authorize him,” he said to Dr. Georges. Stephen muttered something under his breath and was buzzed through to the emergency room. “So what’s going on, Doctor?” asked Daniel.

“Well, she’s going to need bypass surgery and she did have a stroke. Right now, it doesn’t look good. She’s unconscious and shows no indication of response. We’re going to move her to ICU in a couple of hours but it’ll still be touch-and-go for the next 48 hours,” Dr. Georges explained.

“Hmm,” Daniel looked over to Emily who was tearing up again. “Well, thank you, Doctor.”

Daniel went over to his sister and hugged her. “She’s going to die, isn’t she?” Emily asked.

“Yes,” Daniel answered immediately, “some day but no matter when that is, I will always be here for you.”




Hours later, Marlene had been moved to a room in ICU and the Judge family had practically taken over the intensive care waiting room. Presently, only Amy, Stephen and Emily were waiting.

“Where have you been?” asked Stephen.

Daniel held up Bleak House and sat down on the couch. “I went home to check my email and grab a book to read. I’m just gonna stay here tonight.”

“You don’t need to do that, Danny,” said Stephen.

“No, you three go on home. I’ll call if anything changes. I’ll be okay—I have my book and a TV,” Daniel said.

“Well, I’m staying at Mom’s tonight so you can reach me there,” Stephen said and bent down to put his hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “Danny? I’m kind of sorry that we had to reunite under these circumstances but son? You make me proud.”

“Thanks, Dad…” Daniel said, stunned as he watched his father leave the waiting room.

“Wow!” Emily breathed. “Should turn on the TV and watch the news, I think Hell just froze over.”

“He complimented me. I new to this, what should I do?” Daniel asked.

“Amy and I are going to head home. Can I have your car keys?” Emily asked.

“Sure,” Daniel fished the keys out of his pocket and handed them to his sister. “I’ll call if anything changes.”

Emily and Amy left the waiting room and Daniel alone. He settled in on the couch and opened up Bleak House. He read for several minutes when Lindsay walked into the room.

“What are you doing all alone?” she asked.

“I sent my family away. They all didn’t need to be here getting in the way. Besides, nothing ever happens at a hospital in the middle of the night,” Daniel said.

“Then what are you doing here?” Lindsay asked.

Daniel was quiet and went back to reading his book.

“Can I sit with you?”

“Of course,” Daniel invited.

Lindsay sat down and cuddled next to Daniel as he read. They sat in silence and within a couple of hours, he was asleep. She marked his place in the book and placed it on the side table. She rested his head on her shoulder and half-cradled him.

“I love you, Daniel,” Lindsay whispered.

And a slight smile came over Daniel’s face.




Twelve
Dr. Georges, along with the entire Judge family and Lindsay, were standing in the ICU waiting room. “She has woken up but she is very disoriented and her speech is slightly slurred. I wouldn’t recommend all of you going to see her but maybe two or three at a time,” Dr. Georges suggested.

“Dad, you, Linus and Virginia go in to see her first. Then me and Emily, then Benjamin, Nathan and Amy then Chris and Arnold,” Daniel sorted out. Stephen, Linus and Virginia left the waiting room and headed to Marlene’s room. “So what happens next?” Daniel asked.

“We’re going to keep her in ICU for a couple more days then prep her for her bypass surgery. However this going to be a long period of pain and recovery and she’ll probably never be the same again,” Dr. Georges explained.

“Hmm. Wow, well, this’ll take a lot of family discussion. But thank you for explaining it, Doctor,” acknowledged Daniel.

“Well, I’m only the best in the region…” Dr. Georges said and left the waiting room.

Over the course of the next hour, the family went in by teams to talk to Marlene, who was overly quiet. As the doctor said, her speech was quite slurred and she said her vision was blurry. Her memory was also very in-and-out. She called Daniel Nathan and got Chris and Arnold confused and thought and the grandchildren were still in high school. Afterward, they all met back in the waiting room where they gathered around Daniel.

“Okay, well as you could probably all tell, Grandma is not at one hundred percent anymore. Grandma is going to need months, possibly years of rehabilitation and long-term care and she’s going to need her family to be with her twenty-four hours…”

Everyone gasped sharply.

“That’s funny. I would’ve expected that after the needing months of rehab part. Anyway, we’re going to have to figure out who will stay at her house during what part of the day,” Daniel said.

“I could probably stay with her in the evening,” Stephen said.

“I could maybe watch an hour an day,” Virginia said.

“Aunt Virginia, you’re the one who’s always doing those stupid charity events and you won’t even do anything for your own mother? Emily,” Daniel turned toward his sister, “you need a place to live so you can take of Grandma after work from eight at night until the next morning.”

“I’d rather live with you,” Emily confessed.

“I’m already housing Amy and I can’t tolerate living with two girls,” Daniel complained.

“Why can’t we just hire a nurse?” asked Linus.

“We will but the nurse will only do the bare minimum or the insurance won’t pay for it. Besides, why pay a nurse when her loving family can get her that glass of chocolate milk? Besides, Grandma will be immobile and incommunicado for probably the first month of her rehab.”

“Just put her in a nursing home or something,” Benjamin suggested.

“We want to help her, Ben, not kill her. She needs to be around people who love her--her family. A nursing home would be the worst thing for her right now,” Daniel said. Daniel paused and looked at his family then his gaze lingered on Lindsay. “Fine. If no one wants to move into her house then maybe Grandma can move in with someone,” Daniel looked at the family members who owned their own houses. “Linus?”

“I have enough problems with Benjamin living there,” complained Linus.

“Nathan,” Daniel whipped around, “you have a five bedroom house for two people. How about Grandma move in with you?” he asked.

Nathan was noticeably hesitant. “I don’t want her to,” he admitted.

Daniel glared at Nathan. “You’re my fourth least-favorite cousin.”

Nathan thought for a moment, “I can live with that.”

Daniel turned toward his fifth least-favorite cousin. “Benjamin, I thought you’d be jumping at the chance to move out on your own. Get away from Uncle Linus.”

“Yeah but I didn’t want it to include taking care of a decrepit old woman,” Benjamin shrugged.

“Neither one of us would mind moving in with Grandma,” Chris spoke up, motioning to himself and Arnold.

“What about Avery? Would he mind?” Daniel asked.

“We will have to talk about it but I’m sure we can come to some sort of an agreement about this,” said Arnold. “If he doesn’t agree to move, I don’t mind living there. Give Chris and Avery their space,” Arnold smiled at his brother.

“No!” Stephen shouted. “No homos are going to live in my Mom’s house while I’m still alive!”

“Well that can be easily arranged,” Chris threatened.

“The little fruit is threatening me?” Stephen laughed.

“Dad, stop it! I am getting so sick of you three fighting! Besides being gay, what is your problem with Chris and Arnold?” Daniel demanded.

“I don’t think it’s him per se, I think it’s the fags he hangs out with,” Chris scoffed.

“Okay, what the hell is he talking about Dad? What fags?” Daniel scowled at his father and Stephen became very hesitant.

“It’s a...it’s a group I belong to. It’s People Hard-core Against Gays—P.H.A.G.s—and right now I’m one of their top-ranked members,” Stephen explained. “Any type of protest or demonstration against homosexuals, I typically plan.”

“Chris, not that I condone any form of racial or bigoted protesting but it’s a first amendment right as long as he doesn’t physically hurt anybody,” Daniel said.

“Think back two years ago. We didn’t always have that huge brick wall or the security system. It made the news,” Chris said ominously.

Daniel thought for a minute then a shocked look came across his face. He turned to his father who was trying to hide his face. “P.H.A.G.s. You’re a member of that group that bombed their neighborhood community. I knew you were a homophobe but I never knew you were a violent protest group!”

“It wasn’t violent until Stephen joined,” Arnold calmly noted.

“You planned it, Dad?” Daniel gasped and began backing away from his father. “How come you’re not in jail?”

“There wasn’t enough evidence to convict Stephen, only the two who entered the neighborhood and left the car,” Chris concluded.

“I can’t believe it. None of you have changed in five years! You still have all that pettiness and selfishness. And apparently only Emily and Amy have changed but that still remains to be seen. I can’t believe I agreed to put this family back together. I’m done,” Daniel threw up his hands and walked away from his family. “All of you can work this out by yourselves. I’m out of this family,” Daniel left the waiting room and headed for the elevator.

Lindsay ran after him and grabbed his arm in front of the elevator. “Daniel, wait. What are you doing?”

“You heard them in there! Our Grandma is in the hospital and none of them want to disrupt their fragile little lives to help her! I’m sick of all the petty bitching and moaning, the selfishness and just the horribleness of this ridiculous family!”

“They need you, Daniel! They can’t handle this without you,” Lindsay said.

“Then they can find me and tell me,” Daniel pressed the down button. “But their damn pride won’t let them. But, Lindsay, this opens a new door for us. I still have a week and a half of vacation I took. Let’s go somewhere together.”

“What?”

“Hawaii. We’ve always joked about running away to Hawaii. Let’s do it!”

“Daniel,” Lindsay sighed as the elevator arrived and the doors dinged open. Daniel stepped inside and held the door open, “are you really just going to leave your family to fend for themselves?”

“They managed five years without me so I think they’ll do just fine,” he pressed the lobby button. “You coming?”

“I can’t believe that you would abandon your family for a second time, especially with your Grandma in the hospital. This isn’t you, Daniel. The Daniel I love wouldn’t do this.”

“What are you saying?”

“If you let that elevator door close, then it’s over. Everything between us is gone.”

Daniel looked lovingly at Lindsay and sighed. “I’m sorry you feel that way. I really enjoyed our monthly jogs,” and Daniel let the elevator doors close.

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