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Gratitude / Episode Guide

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To everyone who played along with Notes From The Avalon, THANK YOU!!  You made it all worthwhile.  I’d also like to thank the cast and crew of Fifteen, as well as the entire nation of Canada for a bottomless supply of inspiration.  Although this officially marks the end of my run as a blogger, I do not intend to remove NFTA from the internet or sully its purity by utilizing it for writing aboot other topics– it is nothing less than my gift to humanity and my online legacy.

For anyone coming late to the party, below is a handy-dandy chronological guide to all of the episode posts.  Long live Fifteen!

Season 1

Intro – Deadpool: The High School Years

S.1 E.1 – The Nightmare Commences

S.1 E.2 – Freaks, Faggots, Drunks & Junkies

Intermission (Go For A Soda)

S.1 E.3 – Jag ar en javla nord

S.1 E.4 – Purgatorio

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

S.1 E.5 – No Exit

S.1 E.6 – Hinterlands

Season 1 Promo Trailer

S.1 E.7 – The Grapes

Six Hours On Facebook

S.1 E.8 – Sturm und Drang

S.1 E.9 – Revolving Doors To Hell

Mama Says Be Glad

S.1 E.10 – Party Till The World Obeys

S.1 E.11 – The Sorrow & The Pity

Fuck You (for Jake)

S.1 E.12 – Kiss of Death

S.1 E.13 – Nevermore

Season 2

Intro – Deadpool 2: Sophomore Year

S.2 E.1 – I Don’t Know You People…

S.2 E.2 – The Pariah

Happy Victoria Day!

S.2 E.3 – An Awkward Pause

S.2 E.4 – Return of the Phantom

S.2 E.5 – Hell Is For Children

Dear Jake

S.2 E.6 – Entropy Storm!

Baguette Battle

Janice: A Psychological Profile

S.2 E.7 – Boiling Point

S.2 E.8 – Breaking The Band

S.2 E.9 – Sanitarium

NFTA Wins An Award!

S.2 E.10 – Crime & Punishment

Conform Or Be Cast Oot

S.2 E.11 – That Scar Loo’s Nii

S.2 E.12 – Lollapalooza

S.2 E.13 – Chinese Foods

Season 3

Intro – Deadpool 3: Junior Year

S.3 E.1 – Danse Macabre

We’re Back!

S.3 E.2 – Rage Against The Machine

Friends of The Avalon

Miscellany (Feeding Your A.D.D.)

S.3 E.3 – Hair of the Dog

S.3 E.4 – Some Hospital Place

Ashley & Chris: A Reader Poll

S.3 E.5 – Sister Margaret’s Home For Wayward Girls

S.3 E.6 – Get Cool, Daddy-O

S.3 E.7 – Blue Velvet

An E-Mail From Deadpool

S.3 E.8 – TV Party

S.3 E.9 – JoJo Siwa On Infinite Repeat

Dreamline

S.3 E.10 – Wild Sex In The Working Class

S.3 E.11 – Joe Superstar

S.3 E.12 – Yoko

S.3 E.13 – Red Wedding

Season 4

Season 4: Deadpool Goes To Hell

Pre-Reunion Miscellany

Post Script: Vindication!

Boxing Day Eve: Recognizing Recognition

Happy New Year & T.T.F.N.

Fifty: The Reunion

Reunion Teaser!

Ep. 1, Pt. 1: Coming Home To Roost

Ep. 1, Pt. 2: Old Ghosts

Ep. 1, Pt. 3: YYZ

Ep. 2, Pt. 1: Karma Calling

Corrections, Retractions & Apologies

Ep. 2, Pt. 2: The Gathering Storm

Ep. 2, Pt. 3: Dog Days

Ep. 3, Pt. 1: Manifesting Destiny

Ep. 3, Pt. 2: Taking A Stand

Ep. 3, Pt. 3: Old Friends

Ep. 4, Pt. 1: Deviant Fates

Ep. 4, Pt. 2: Original Sin

Ep. 4, Pt. 3: Collateral Damage

Halftime

Ep. 5, Pt. 1: Bars & Bistros

Ep. 5, Pt. 2: Belated Betrayals

Ep. 6, Pt. 1: Reckonings

Ep. 6, Pt. 2: Morning Headlines

Ep. 7, Pt. 1: Lopun Alku

Ep. 7, Pt. 2: Interventions

Ep. 8, Finale: Requiem

The Credits!

That’s A Wrap

That’s A Wrap

brooke and kelly

If there’s one thing I’ve learned aboot the modern animal we call “the blogger”, it’s that most of them never know when to shut the hell up.

Illustrative of this point: Notes From The Avalon came to its official conclusion a few days ago with the final post of the reunion story (and for those who thought Requiem was the final post, you ain’t done until you’ve sat through the credits, like any good discriminating viewer). And yet, here I am again, blabbing away. See what I mean?

So what comes next? Well, for one thing, I’m just going to keep on paying my annual URL fees to ensure that NFTA lives on for the betterment of future generations. As far as my next writing venture is concerned, I haven’t a clue what (or when) it shall be, nor do I particularly care at the moment. But whatever it is, I’m certain it will have a WordPress destination of its own and I’ll make sure to get the word oot whenever that comes to fruition.

The real reason I’m choosing to tie NFTA up in a nice little bow with this gratuitous epilogue is that I noticed something kind of interesting within a Ryan Reynolds promotional video on YouTube this morning. While researching various cast members throughoot NFTA’s run, I got the distinct impression that Mr. Reynolds isn’t very keen on reminiscing aboot the very show that enabled him to break into show biz. Why did I have this impression? Well, because he just doesn’t talk aboot it. Ever. Until today, albeit with great subtlety. Normally, I would post the whole video here, since Ryan’s stuff is always hysterical, but this one was just a little promo for some company or another, so it contained fewer jokes than most. Just take a close look at this screen shot of Ryan’s PC desktop, especially where my artistically-rendered arrow is pointing:

ryan desktop

Yup. Right there in the upper right hand corner for all to see is an icon named ‘Best of FIFTEEN.mov’.

And if it’s good enough for Deadpool, it’s sure as shit good enough for you. Now stop reading this nonsense and go watch Fifteen. That’s an order.

It’s truly humbling how kind and supportive of this silly little venture of mine you’ve all been. With that in mind, I have just one more favor to ask: please take that kindness and spread it around. A lot of people could really use it right now.

Happy trails.

 

The Credits!

credit deadpool

Phew! That was one hell of a ride, wasn’t it, Kids?

At the conclusion of this magnum opus, it occurs to me that I am a 50 year old man who spent the better part of the last four months channeling his inner Tina Belcher, though I doubt I could ever match the sheer titillation of her criminally misunderstood erotic fan fiction.

fan fiction

And since you’ve come this far, why not stick around for the credits, eh? If you read all the way to the end, you might just be pleasantly surprised. You might also be in serious need of a social life, but who am I to judge?

Some Douchebag’s Miniseries

Starring God’s Perfect Idiot

A Few Hot Chicks

A Moody Teen

More Gratuitous Cameos Than I Can Count

Produced by:
Asshats

Written by:
The Real Hero Here

Directed by:
An Overpaid Tool

The Cast

Dylan Blackwell……….Christopher Martin

Ashley Walker……….Laura Harris

Matt Walker……….Todd Talbot

Chris McDonald……….Andrew Baskin

Roxane Lee……….Roxane Alexander

Brooke Morgan-Hoffman……….Robyn Ross

Courtney Simpson……….Sarah Nakatsuka (Douglas)

Bill Simpson……….Ryan Reynolds Hugh Jackman

Arseman Harrell……….Arseman Yohannes

Jake Deosdade……….Ken Angel

Stacy Collins……….Lisa Warner

Janice Patel……….Rekha Shah

Theresa Morgan-Reid……….Janine Cox

Kelly Lavoie……….Enuka Okuma

Jerry Dalla-Vecchia……….Randy Dalla-Vecchia

Tabitha Hoffman……….Cree Cicchino

Elliot Hoffman……….Chris Parnell

Isabelle Simpson……….Blake Lively

Valerie Lavoie……….Lisa Bonet

Nia Lavoie……….A Baby with Shitty Parents

Sister Regina……….Kristin Schaal

Craig……….Kevin Connolly

Leslie……….Aubrey Plaza

Olaf Koskinen……….Aubrey Nealon

Anna Koskinen……….Emily Ratajkowski

Barbara……….Miranda Cosgrove

Tony……….Jed Carpenter

Ben……….Bill Burr

Marjorie……….Allison Janney

Judge……….Ryan Stiles

James……….Patton Oswalt

Cindy……….Ahnee Boyce

John……….John Boyd

Marvel……….Marvel

Merci Beaucoup: David Makowski, Suzanne Craig-Whytock, Dave Cline, Tom C., and of course, Randy Dalla-Vecchia and Robyn Ross.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                

 

 

 

Fifty: Requiem

cemetary

Episode 8: Finale

Lonsdale Quay Market
North Vancouver, B.C.

“Arseman, you’ve been scouring that goddamn rack of sunglasses for 20 minutes.”

“I don’t remember bitching aboot your 45-minute quest for the perfect feather boa, Jake.  Like you said, this will be the first time most of these people have seen us in over 25 years – we’ve gotta look fabulous, Babe!”

“It’s a nighttime concert.  In a club.  Nobody understands the importance of accessorizing more than I do, Hon, but sunglasses?”

“Good point.  Let’s go grab an Orange Julius and plot our next move.”

They strolled over to the mall directory and scanned the food court choices.

No Orange Julius? Pfft. How aboot ‘Muffin Delight’?”

“That might work as your new stage name back in The Village, Jake, but I think I’ll pass on lunch today if our only option is mall muffins.”

“Oh, you’re such a little princess, Arseman.”

“Don’t you forget it.”

“Cocktail lounge?”

“Attagirl!”

They weaved their way between the kiosks to the bar near the main entrance and sat down at a small table in the back.

“So…do you think Courtney will show up tomorrow night?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, Jake.  I know she apologized, but I honestly don’t know what got into her.”

“I do.”

“You do?”

“Arseman, what do you think happens to a person when they enter a convent directly oot of high school?”

“Hmm…I guess the world has kind of passed her by, huh?”

“Right.  She’s not exactly experienced in dealing with unpredictability.  Imagine a sudden taste of romance going south so quickly for such a…?”

“Such an ‘adult’ reason?”

“Well stated.”

A waitress came by and took their drink orders.

“I’m gonna have to detox for a week after we get back home.”

“That makes two of us.  Hey, Jake, speaking of the concert, I was wondering if Ashley might show up.”

“I think it’s a given.  She’s in town, Matt’s in rehab, Janice probably sent invites to the whole class and…”

“…and Dylan’s the opening act.”

“I feel like we’ve fallen down some fucked up rabbit hole, Arseman, where everything we thought was done and over with is returning in a zombified form to punish us for daring to break the centrifugal pull of Vancouver.”

“Drama Queen.  Besides, you don’t escape to New York, Jake…you get banished there.”

*************************

Cascade Southeast
Vancouver, B.C.

Janice struck a profile pose in front of the floor length mirror and leveled a threatening eye at the imaginary crowd assembled in front of her.

She’d rehearsed her mid-show polemic so many times that she had it committed to memory, but the bitterness she’d harbored for the past quarter of a century had grown like a tapeworm, feeding lustily upon her steady success and starving for the day it could at last spew its toxic contents upon those who had conjured it in the first place.

Humiliating Dylan would be easy.  Amanda and Courtney had yet to RSVP but Janice was fairly confident that any no-shows from her list of special invitees would at least watch the TV broadcast. Brooke…to Janice, she represented the very embodiment of cruelty.  Inhumanity. Nothing less than a dose of her own inhuman medicine would do.

Tomorrow, Janice would finally be triumphant.

*************************

Whistler, B.C.

Courtney skipped down the stairs and called oot for Billy.

“In here, Courtney.”

She walked into the kitchen and found Billy leaning against the counter smoking a joint.

“Oops…sorry, Sis.”

He waved his arms exaggeratedly through the cloud of smoke he’d just exhaled, causing Courtney to chuckle.

“It’s no problem, Billy, I’ve smelled pot before.  But um…do you think I can borrow the car again today?”

“Sure. Where you headed?”

“To the convent.  I called Mother Judy this morning and asked her if there was any way I could return to the Order.”

“Oh yeah? Have a little chat with the Big Guy, did you?”

“Something like that. It’s so weird and exhilarating at the same time, Billy!  That faith – that unshakable and unquestionable faith I prayed so hard to feel all those years just came to me in a flash of light. I know it sounds ridiculous, but—”

“Courtney, give me a little credit.  I don’t think it sounds ridiculous at all. Will they take you back?”

“Well, yeah, but it’s a little complicated. The Church never actually considers a person free from their original ordination, but some paperwork has to go back and forth between the parish and Rome for me to return to my full sisterhood duties.”

Full Sisterhood Duties. That gives me a pretty creepy idea to pitch to the studio heads.”

Courtney burst oot laughing.

“Stop it, Billy! Can I please have the car keys?”

“On the hook in the garage.”

“Thanks, Billy! I love you!”

Courtney trotted oot of the kitchen with as much enthusiasm as Marvel when he knows he’s going for a ride. A few moments later, Isabelle appeared at the kitchen door with her arms folded.

Billy?

“Izzy?”

“Whatever that UFO-looking monstrosity is that you have sitting in the yard frightening the neighbors and decimating our property value, Marvel just pissed on it.”

Goddammit, Marvel! I better not have to pay for that thing. It’s surprisingly expensive for a UFO-looking monstrosity.”

“Uh, stupid question here but what the hell is it?”

“It’s a special effects device I, um…‘borrowed’ from the studio.”

Isabelle rolled her eyes.

“Okay, you’re gonna make me play 20 questions, right?”

“Alright, I’ll spill it. I knew Courtney wouldn’t be able to handle what happened with Matt and I knew it was only a matter of time until she found oot. Besides, even if she hadn’t, my sister just isn’t equipped for, well…life in the twenty-first century, I guess.  I don’t mean to sound so condescending.”

“No, you’re right and it makes sense, all things considered. But I’m still not any clearer on the purpose of the fucking Death Star in the backyard.”

“Up until the last few months before she left the convent, Courtney might not have led what you and I would consider a terribly exciting life, but she always sounded content when we talked.  Whatever it was that caused her to question her religious beliefs in the first place, I had a feeling it wouldn’t take much to overpower it.”

“What did you do, Bill?”

“Well, the Millennium Falcon oot there — thank you very much – is what they use when they need to have a ghost grow from a speck of light to a room-filling specter, for instance. Or, say, if one of those insufferable Kirk Cameron movies needs an angel to dramatically appear to one of his D-list cast as they’re at the bedside deep in prayer.”

“Bill, you didn’t!”

“I lugged it against the back of the house this morning, but I had to have it way oot in the yard last night so the projection would reach her room.  I think I killed a big circle of lawn.”

“You may be a lawn murderer, but you’re still the sweetest man on Earth. Do you realize you actually gave your sister a miracle, you wonderful son of a bitch?”

“I’ll take the sweetest man on Earth and wonderful son of a bitch, but I didn’t give her a miracle, Babe. No such thing. I helped her get her illusion back. That’s all anything is that makes us feel our lives have meaning and sadly, I think that’s what most of us have lost. But Courtney hasn’t. And I just think something that rare…should be preserved. Don’t you?”

“Absolutely.”

*************************

Vancouver International Airport

“Tabitha!”

Theresa waved an arm at the crowd of passengers spilling oot of the gate until Tabitha spotted her.

“Hi, Aunt Theresa!”

“It’s so great to see you! This is Stacy, a friend of your mom’s.”

“I know, we met at the awards ceremony. Thanks for coming oot here with Mom.”

“It’s my pleasure, Sweetheart. Your mom is an amazing person.”

“Do you need to go down to the baggage claim?”

“No, this is all I brought.”

They walked oot to the parking deck and silently piled into Theresa’s SUV. As they pulled onto Grant McConachie Way, Tabitha twisted around to face Stacy in the backseat.

“I want you to level with me. How bad is she?”

Taken by surprise, Stacy paused hoping that Theresa would cut into the conversation, but she was distractedly singing along to a song by The Tragically Hip playing on The Peak.

“Honey, it’s not good. But your mother is strong and if anyone can beat this—”

Tears were streaming down Tabitha’s cheeks and Stacy’s words caught in her throat. They rode on to the hospital in silence.

************************* 

Options Vancouver Treatment Centre
North Vancouver, B.C.

Ashley sat on the stone steps at the rear of the clinic reading Brooke’s letter for the sixth time since it had arrived in the morning mail. Try as she might, she couldn’t square the beautiful words of regret and admiration it contained from what she remembered of its author. The door opened behind her and Matt stepped ootside carrying two Styrofoam cups.

“Good morning, Ashley. I brought you a coffee.”

“hi, matt. thanks.”

“What are you reading?  Am I interrupting?”

“no. you’re not going to believe this, but it’s a letter from brooke.”

“Brooke? Brooke Morgan?!”

“the one and only.”

“Holy shit! What does it say?”

“well, for starters…brooke has cancer.”

The smile slowly faded from Matt’s face.

“Oh.”

“but then…she goes on to apologize for how she treated me in high school and for never taking the time to get to know me. she sounds so sincere, matt. this letter might be the most beautiful thing anyone has ever written to me.”

“Wow. I’ve gotta be honest, even being back in Vancouver all this time, Brooke just never crossed my mind. How did she know you were here?”

“i don’t know. but she seems to know you’re here, too. she said that any love that could last as long as ours has is worth fighting for and that maybe fate put us here for a reason.”

“Huh. She might just have a point. Don’t you think?”

Ashley sighed and looked at Matt for a long moment.

“yeah. but what if it’s too late for that?”

“Why would it be too late?”

“come on, matt. just look at what both of us did in only one month apart.”

“Maybe that was the problem. Being apart. Look, Ashley, I know you’ll probably always have some feelings for Dylan just like I always will for Courtney. But there’s a big difference between infatuation, sexual tension, drunken hook-ups…and true love. I think we have that, Ashley. Don’t you?”

“of course. but we need to have trust, too, matt…and i’m not sure i’m ready to take that risk again.”

Matt made a sweeping gesture of the hospital grounds.

“That’s what this is all aboot, Ashley. I might not have what it takes to be a TV star, but I know a thing or two aboot recovery. We’re here to rebuild trust – in ourselves and each other. It won’t happen overnight, but if we really try, Ashley – I think you’ll find that Brooke’s words were very wise. I’m up for the fight if you are.”

A solitary tear ran down Ashley’s cheek as she took Matt’s hand between hers.

“how aboot we start with a date?”

“A date?”

“yeah. i hear there’s a concert being broadcast tomorrow night at 8:00 in the ward 3 lounge. it would be a shame to have to watch it alone.”

Matt put his arm around Ashley’s shoulder as they sat on the steps staring oot at the woods beyond the fence wishing this moment would never end.

*************************

The Venue – Downtown
Vancouver, B.C.
April 23, 2022

Dylan sat on the stage restringing his guitar when Jerry bumbled through the door carrying three bulky cases of liquor.

“Don’t get up, Dylan. I wouldn’t want you to hurt your precious little fingers.”

Dylan jumped off the stage to lend a hand but Jerry had already made his way behind the bar where he began to unpack the boxes.

“So, Jerry, when do you expect The New Pornographers will get here?”

“Some time between now and 8:30, I guess. Why? Don’t even think aboot harassing the band with stupid fanboy shit, Dylan. You’re a professional now.”

Dylan’s cell phone rang, so he turned from the bar to take the call as Jerry eavesdropped.

“Hey, Baby! How are you making oot?”

Jerry watched as Dylan’s expression slowly transformed from happy to pensive to despondent.

“No, Ashley…don’t apologize. I’m the one who should be sorry. Matt is your husband and I had no right to come between you.”

With a look of mild concern, Jerry turned and walked back into the kitchen so Dylan could finish his phone call in private.

“Say hi to Matt for me, okay? I love you, Ashley.”

Dylan stood dazed in the middle of the empty dance floor when Jerry reappeared and called oot to him.

“It’s gonna be okay, you know.”

“What is?”

“Everything. You’re a rock star now, Dylan. There’ll be other women – hell, more than you can handle, if that’s your thing.”

“No, Jerry. That’s not my thing. And there won’t be another woman like Ashley.”

“You’re gonna be okay tonight, right?”

“Of course, Jerry.”

“I hope so. Don’t fuck this up, Dylan.”

“Hey, you know what they say – the show must go on.

*************************

Broadband TV Corporate Headquarters
Vancouver, B.C.

Janice was lost in thought at her desk when she was startled by Barbara’s voice from the intercom.

“What is it, Barb?”

“There’s a visitor waiting in the lobby for you.”

“Who is it?”

“Her name is Stacy Collins. She says she’s an old friend of yours from high school.”

“Send her in, Barb.”

A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door. Stacy entered and took a seat across from Janice.

“Stacy! What a surprise! I guess you got my invite to the show?”

“Hi, Janice. Yeah, I got your e-mail. Do you have a minute to talk?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

“You remember Brooke from Hillside, right?”

“Of course. I sent her an invitation, too. I’m really hoping she makes it to the concert tonight.”

“She won’t be there.”

Janice furrowed her brow in annoyance.

“That’s too bad. I actually had something…special planned for Brooke. Why can’t she make it?”

Stacy paused to gather herself.

“Janice…Brooke passed away last night.”

They sat in silence while Stacy waited for Janice to react, but she just stared blankly ahead. Stacy opened her purse and pulled oot a folded piece of paper.

“She was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago, so she asked me to drive oot here with her from Toronto so she could…make things right with a few people.”

For the first time since Stacy had arrived, Janice’s countenance began to soften.

“And I suppose that I was one of those people?”

“Yes. Brooke wanted to do so much more, Janice, but the cancer just got so bad so fast that there wasn’t even a point in starting chemo.” She unfolded the piece of paper and pushed it across the desk. “So she asked me to do her a favor. Brooke gave me a wad of cash to donate to Hillside.”

“To Hillside? Why?”

“She asked them to refurbish the entire athletic wing, install modernized volleyball courts…and dedicate it to you.”

Janice’s hands began to shake as she read the dedication to be engraved on a plaque at the entrance to the gymnasium.

This Athletic Complex is dedicated to Janice Patel, Class of 1992, who exhibited the virtues of humility, honesty and teamwork in all she did and served as an inspiration to all who met her.

“Stacy?”

“Mm hm?”

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“I almost did something really stupid and…”

“And?”

“Just…thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Janice.”

*************************

The Venue – Downtown

The club was packed from wall to wall as the cameramen from Broadband jockeyed for prime positions. A small area a few rows back from the stage was cordoned off with placards indicating “VIP Section”. Scattered among the four tables within the velvet ropes were Arseman, Jake, Billy, Isabelle, Courtney, Sister Regina, Roxane, Cindy, John and Stacy. Dual spotlights danced across the empty stage.

The house music stopped and Dylan along with the rest of the band appeared from backstage. He strapped on his guitar and stepped up to the mic.

“Hey, thanks for coming oot tonight, Everyone! We’re Black Well and…well, if you dig us half as much as you’re gonna dig The New Pornographers, then I guess we’re doing something right.  We’re gonna play you some brand new material tonight, but first, I’d like to revisit and hopefully breathe some new life into an old classic. This one’s for all my friends from Hillside.”

1 – 2- 3- 4!

Well, I’m too tired to try but I’m too young to die
But Mama ain’t around no more
to hear me cry

‘Cause I’m fifty! And now the shit has come down
yeah, when you’re fifty years old,
behind every smile is a frown

By the time the band reached the bridge, the entire VIP section was dancing on the tabletops, even Courtney and Regina whose clumsy, self-conscious foot tapping was oddly juxtaposed with Jake’s full-on “Miss Jacqueline” shimmy.

After aboot a half hour, Black Well finished their set and the house lights came on for the intermission.  As Dylan was putting his equipment away, Roxane approached the stage.

“Damn, Dylan…you guys were on fire.”

“Thanks, Roxane.”

“So, uh…what are you doing after the show?”

“I hadn’t really thought aboot it.”

“Where’s Ashley?”

“I think you know the answer to that, Roxane.”

“Whatever it is you’re implying, Dylan…oh, the hell with it. You’re right. I’m a fucking cunt and I tried to screw up your little romance, okay?”

“Yeah. I know. And no, to tell you the truth, it’s not okay.”

“I’m sorry, Dylan. I don’t know what else to say. I hope you have a lot of success.”

Roxane turned and started walking towards the exit.

“Roxane!”

She turned around and saw Dylan hurriedly descending the stage.

“Wait. If you, uh, want to stick around for the second half of the show, I wouldn’t mind going for coffee afterwards. If you’re up for that.”

Roxane grasped his hand and smiled.

All of a sudden, the house lights dimmed and a single spotlight shone at center stage. Janice strolled oot and positioned herself in front of Dylan’s microphone stand.

“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen! My name is Janice and on behalf of Broadband TV, I’d like to thank all of you for being here tonight for this special premier concert event. The New Pornographers will be coming on shortly, but in the meantime, I’d like to say a few words. I had what I guess you could say was a radically different speech planned for tonight, but thankfully, I received some new inspiration from an old friend.”

She caught Stacy’s eye and smiled.

“So now I have a different, much shorter speech to give. I would like to dedicate tonight’s show and all future broadcasts of Live From The Venue to Brooke Morgan, who passed away last night after a long battle with cancer. One of Brooke’s last acts was to resurrect an old high school acquaintance’s faith in humanity…probably the best gift a person can receive. That acquaintance is me. For anyone who remembers Brooke, I hope that you will allow her to live on as an inspiration and a reminder that it’s never too late to change things for the better. I know I always will.”

Janice waved at the audience and walked off stage. The VIP Section broke into hushed murmurs.

“Sister Courtney, did you know this Brooke?”

“Yeah, Regina, I did.”

“God rest her soul.”

“To be honest, she was a bit of a thorn in my side…in everyone’s really. But something tells me that’s not how she died. I mean, if Janice was moved to say all that aboot a person who used to treat her so terribly, then she was probably trying to make amends…before it was too late.”

“How sad!”

“No, Regina. It’s tragic.”

*************************

Empowering Women, B.C. Headquarters
Vancouver, B.C.

Six Months Later

Kelly unlocked her office door, took off her coat and booted up the PC. A few moments later, she looked up and saw Theresa standing in the doorway.

“Good morning, Kel.”

“Oh, hey, Theresa. Good morning.”

“How was your weekend?”

“Full of shitty diapers, as usual. Yours?”

“Not bad. Tabitha sent me a package…she wanted me to give something to you.”

Theresa reached into her purse and pulled oot a Polaroid photo with yellowing edges. She handed it to Kelly.

“Oh my God. This is me and Brooke right before the school dance.”

“Can you believe the god-awful shit we wore back then?”

“Hey, at least Brooke and I tried to make the most of it, Garanimals Gal!”

“Shut up! I liked my Garanimals.”

Kelly laughed. “Maybe I’ll give Tabitha a call after work to see how she’s doing.”

“I’m sure she’d love to hear from you.”

Theresa turned to leave.

“Hey, Theresa?”

“Yeah, Kel?”

“Thank you.”

As Theresa walked back towards the elevators, Kelly grabbed the framed photo of Denzel Washington she kept on her desk and removed the backing. She pulled the picture from the frame and held it up.

“Sorry, Denzel. I love you, Baby, but you’ve been demoted.”

She took the photo Theresa had given her and placed it carefully in the center of the frame before positioning it prominently at the front of her desk.

“And I love you, too, Brooke. I promise I won’t ever let you down.”

 

-Finis-

 

Fifty: Interventions

As seen on a Sussex Directories Inc site

Episode 7, Part 2

Whistler, B.C.

Courtney entered through the back door and took the rear stairwell straight up to her bedroom.  She slipped off her shoes and tiptoed around the room in order to prevent Billy and Isabelle from hearing her as she changed into her bed clothes.

She had cried her tear ducts dry on the drive home, unable to process the oppressive mixture of shame and embarrassment in which her mind was shrouded.  Sitting in the driveway, she shot off a quick apology text to Arseman and Jake, knowing full well that this feeble gesture was pathetically inadequate in the wake of the childish tantrum to which she’d treated them.

With shaking hands, she made the sign of the cross and knelt at the bedside.

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.

Courtney’s mind took over at the conclusion of the prayer.

God, why did you make me like this?  Why would you give a grown woman a child’s mind and then take her faith away?  Please give me guidance, Lord.  I’m lost and scared.

She knelt in silence for a few more moments when she noticed a dim ray of light beaming through the window above the bed.  The ray terminated in a small circle of illumination on the hardwood floor.  From the corner of her eye, Courtney thought she saw movement within the circle of light, so she got up close to investigate.

Starting as a golden pinpoint of brilliance in the center of the circle, the image moved and grew, expanding the beam’s circumference until it filled the entire room with stunning white light.  Courtney was momentarily blinded, but as her vision began to return she was startled by an image of a large dove resting in mid-flight with an occasional gentle flapping of its wings to stay aloft at eye level.  Just as suddenly, she felt overcome with rapturous joy as tears streamed down her face.

Courtney knew she had seen the Holy Spirit.  With a fresh resolve and rejuvenated heart, she made the sign of the cross one last time before going downstairs.

*************************

Ridge Meadows Hospital
Maple Ridge, B.C.

Brooke’s eyes fluttered open on Theresa and Stacy sitting on either side of the railed hospital bed.  She tried to speak, but the most she could manage was a barely perceptible smile.

“Don’t try to talk if you’re not feeling up to it, Brooke.”

She felt some strength return to her limbs at the sight of her sister and her friend, so with considerable effort, she raised herself up on her elbows and leaned back against the headboard.

“Thanks for coming, guys.”

“We had a talk with the doctor before we came in.  It sounds like they sure put you through the wringer today.”

“That’s how it works, right?  The worse you feel, the more invasive they are.  Was that all she told you?”

Theresa nervously cleared her throat.

“No.  They told us that the cancer has metastasized.”

“It’s in my spinal cord, Theresa.  Do you really need me to spell oot the prognosis?”

Stacy attempted to stifle a sob.

“You better get that all oot right now, Stace, because you’ve got work to do.”

“I know, Brooke.”

“This is my fight, Stacy, and we all knew it was coming.  I just wanted to be…a little further along before it came to this.”

Stacy bit her lip and dabbed a tear from the corner of her eye.

“The papers from the CRA came back today.  Empowering Women, B.C. is officially incorporated.”

“Oh, thank goodness.  Okay, you know what to do when it comes to Kelly.  Any luck tracking down Ashley?  Or Janice?”

“Actually, yeah.  I was just gonna bring you up to speed on those two.  Janice is the programming director for Broadband TV in Vancouver.  As far as Ashley’s concerned…you’re not gonna believe this.”

“Try me.”

“Would you believe that for the next 28 days, she’ll be living in a drug rehab?”

“Excuse me?”

“No joke.  I can’t help but wonder how you would have reacted to news like this back in high school.”

“Who says I’m not laughing on the inside, Stace?  Making amends doesn’t mean you have to lose your sense of humor, you know.  But this is good…I can work with this.  You didn’t happen to bring your laptop, did you?”

“No, I left it at Theresa’s.”

“Okay, then grab a pen and paper.  I hope you know shorthand because you’re aboot to transcribe a pretty lengthy letter for me.”

“To Ashley?”

“No, to Justin Trudeau.  Of course, to Ashley!  Don’t ask stupid questions, Stacy.”

A smile spread across Stacy’s face.

“Now that’s my Brooke!”

*************************

North Vancouver, B.C.

Kelly was watching TV when Valerie came back in holding a stack of mail.

“Hey, Sis?”

“Yeah.”

“There’s some mail for you here, I think.”

“You think?”

“Well, it’s your name on the envelope, but then it further identifies you as the Chief Operating Officer of some place called Empowering Women, B.C.”

What?

Valerie tossed the envelope at her sister.  Kelly opened it with her fingernail and pulled oot the form letter from the Non-Profit Division of the Canadian Revenue Agency.

“You’re not gonna believe this.”

“What does it say?”

“It says that I’m the COO of a charity for battered women.”

“Boy, your drunken blackoots are sure a lot more productive than mine.”

“Funny.  I’m not in the habit of drunk-incorporating, Val.  Whatever this is, Brooke is behind it.”

“Brooke?  You think it’s a gag?”

“I’m not sure.  I doubt it.  She was really different than I remembered her when we got together a few weeks ago.  This is either a naïve gesture to repair her image, or…”

“Or what?”

“Or a motherfucking miracle, Valerie.”

*************************

Options Vancouver Treatment Centre
North Vancouver, B.C.

The group of new admissions sat silently in folding chairs arranged in a circle when the Hospital Intake Director entered and walked to the front of the conference room.  She handed a stack of pamphlets with the facility regulations to the man sitting closest to her and asked him to pass them around.

“Good afternoon, Everyone.  Welcome to the Options Vancouver Treatment Centre.  My name is Marjorie. Today, you’ve made the choice to change your lives for the better and I think you all deserve a hand for that.  Come on, give yourselves a round of applause!”

After a smattering of half-hearted hand claps, she resumed the orientation.

“For the next 28 days, you will be working with our incredible team of counselors, psychologists and, of course, each other in your journey to recovery.  You’ll learn to live with dignity and honesty as you rebuild your lives and forge new, healthy relationships with people who are on the same path.  We subscribe to the twelve-step recovery program, so you’ll be able to network with other recovering addicts and alcoholics while receiving personalized counseling from members of our staff.  I know this is an intimidating time, but it’s also the beginning of your life free from the shame, fear and insecurity that are part and parcel to the disease of addiction.   I’d like to begin by going around the room and having everyone introduce themselves.”

She motioned to the man on her right.

“My name is James.  I’m an alcoholic.”

“Hi, James.”

The group’s eyes turned to the woman sitting next to James.  She sat with her head down and her hands folded in her lap.

“Ma’am?”

“oh, sorry.  ashley.  i’m…a drug addict.”

“Hi, Ashley.”

They continued going around the circle until a man walked into the room and apologized to Marjorie for arriving late.

“That’s alright, Sir.  Please take a seat.  We were all just going around introducing ourselves.”

“Ah, right.  My name is Matt and I’m an alcoholic.”

The quiet woman sitting next to James let oot an audible gasp.

Ashley??”

Marjorie looked at Matt with confusion.

“I’m sorry, do you two know each other?”

“You could say that.”

“Oh?”

“We’re married.”

Matt glanced over at Ashley, who was staring at him with her mouth agape.

“Hiya, Hon.  So what have you been up to lately?”

Fifty: Lopun Alku

porvoo

Episode 7, Part 1

Porvoo, Finland

Anna walked into the den and found Olaf staring wistfully oot the window in the direction of the grain silo at the far end of the property.

“Please tell me you’re not contemplating another useless overhaul of that decrepit silo, Olaf.  I don’t think I can stand another summer watching you toil the afternoons away on that eyesore.”

“Don’t worry, I wasn’t planning any new projects, just…thinking.”

“What aboot?”

“I got a very curious e-mail this morning from someone named Janice.”

Anna shot Olaf a look of mock suspicion.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes, she lives in Vancouver and went to the same high school that I attended as an exchange student when I was 15.”

“Was she a friend of yours?”

“No.  She says she enrolled at Hillside the year after I left.  I never met her.”

“So what does she want?”

“Take a look.”

Olaf positioned his laptop so she could read over his shoulder.

Dear Mr. Koskinen,

My name is Janice Patel and I am the programming director at Broadband TV in Vancouver, British Columbia.  I understand that you attended Hillside High School as an exchange student for a semester in 1991, just before I transferred there.  My classmates spoke of you often and fondly.

My network will be premiering a new show featuring live music broadcast from a local club in Vancouver.  I am writing to cordially invite you to the performance, which will feature Canadian alternative supergroup The New Pornographers as well as a special guest performance by Black Well, a rock and roll ensemble fronted by one of your former classmates, Dylan Blackwell.

I know this is very short notice, especially considering the travel involved, but if you can possibly attend this special premier concert event, Broadband will pay for your airfare and lodging expenses.  If possible, please RSVP by April 16th so that I have time to make the arrangements for your stay.  I look forward to seeing you there!

Sincerely,

Janice Patel
Programming Director
Broadband TV Corp.

“That sounds exciting.  Are you planning to go?”

Olaf let oot a pronounced guffaw.

“Anna, I think I would rather sleep in that damn silo every night than travel halfway around the world to see those people again.”

“Oh?  This Janice made it sound like they were your friends.”

“That’s what I don’t understand.  I mean, there were one or two people who were nice to me…or at least they refrained from mocking me every time I opened my mouth…but I never really got close to anyone.  I have a feeling there’s more to this than meets the eye.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if Janice is anything like the rest of her former classmates, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to find oot that she’s held a grudge aboot something for over a quarter of a century and intends to exact some kind of revenge at this concert.”

“On live TV?”

“You’ve never met anyone more addicted to melodrama and self-pity than these people, Anna.  I’ve always suspected it had something to do with the Vancouver water supply. If one of them has a chance to humiliate her former tormentors on live TV, I bet she’s going to take it, even if it comes 25 years after the fact and jeopardizes her entire career.”

“I see.  Well, if nothing else, it should be interesting…can we at least watch it on TV?”

“You know me, Anna – I love to see a good train wreck.  I wouldn’t miss it for the world!”

*************************

Echo Café
North Vancouver, B.C.

Courtney tapped the excess moisture from her umbrella and walked inside, scanning the café for a familiar face.

“Courtney!  Over here!”

Jake stood up and waved his arms until Courtney spotted him and made her way to the table where he was waiting with Arseman.

“Oh my God, it’s so great to see both of you!!  I can’t believe you’re really here!”

After exchanging hugs, Courtney took a seat across from her old friends.

“We really owe you an apology, Courtney.  Arseman and I have been in town for a couple of weeks, but we just assumed—”

“—that hanging around with a nun probably wouldn’t be a whole lot of fun?”

“No, no…we just thought that maybe you wouldn’t be interested in hearing from the old crowd.  You know, until we heard that you’d left the convent.”

“Well, you were wrong.  I would have been thrilled to hear from you no matter what!  But how did you know I left the convent?”

Arseman nervously twirled a strand of hair between her fingers.

“Matt told us.”

“Oh, you guys saw Matt?”

“Yeah, we did…um, when did you last speak to him, Courtney?”

“Friday.  We went oot to dinner.”

Jake and Arseman fell silent as Courtney tried in vain to understand their ambivalent reaction.

“Courtney…you remember Matt’s problem with…”

Arseman interrupted, deciding it would be best to rip this band-aid off as quickly as possible.

“His alcoholism.”

Courtney looked at her with surprise.

“Well, sure, but that didn’t seem to be an issue anymore.  I asked him aboot it and he told me that he’s been drinking moderately withoot any problems for quite a few years now.”

While Courtney was speaking, Jake pulled up the article from The Sun on his cell phone and passed it across the table.  As she read, her eyes welled up with tears.

“Courtney, I’m so sorry…we didn’t know how else to tell you.  Matt had some drinks with us, too, and it seemed like he had it under control but I still didn’t like it.  Alcoholism doesn’t just disappear with age.”

“Oh, Arseman…he was so kind and romantic…I guess I just didn’t want to face reality, so I took Matt at his word when he said it wasn’t a problem.  Why can’t anything ever…”

Courtney’s voice trailed off as Arseman reached across the table and grasped her hand.

“Courtney, it’s okay.  I’m sure Matt’s feelings for you are genuine…remember, he has an illness.”

Courtney wiped away a tear and sat up resolutely in her seat.

“No, Arseman!  His illness isn’t the problem.  The problem is that Matt Walker is a selfish, lying…asshole – just like everyone else!!”

She got up and grabbed her umbrella from beneath the table.

“Courtney, please, just sit down and let’s—”

“Forget it, Jake!  There’s nothing you can say.  Maybe becoming a nun wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever made, but at least it kept me far away from all this bullshit.  I know this isn’t your fault and I know you’re both just trying to help, but please…do me a favor and don’t ever call me again.”

She stormed oot of the café leaving Jake and Arseman in dumbstruck silence.

*************************

Vancouver, B.C.

Dylan walked into the bedroom where Ashley was packing her suitcase.

“How’s it going, Babe?”

“okay, i guess.  this is the first time I’ve ever had to pack for a monthlong stay in a mental institution.”

“It’s a rehab facility, Ashley.  You’re gonna be fine.”

“yeah.  i still don’t think you needed to skip rehearsal. i could have driven myself to the clinic. the show is just two weeks away, dylan.”

“Some things are more important than rock and roll.  Besides, the band is tight.  Jerry set me up with some first-rate musicians.  I just wish you could be there.”

“i’ll be glued to the tv.  if one of those drug addicts tries to change the channel, there’ll be hell to pay.”

Dylan smiled and put his arm around Ashley’s shoulder.

“I’ll visit you every weekend.”

“thanks.  dylan…?”

“Yeah?”

“i know this might sound silly but it’s been bothering me and i really have to ask. where were you last week when i called you?  you know, when you came home and i was…”

“Ashley, I already told you, I stopped by The Venue to have a talk with Jerry and I just lost track of the time.”

“are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.  I swear that’s what happened, Ashley.”

“okay.  i’m sorry, dylan.”

Ashley glanced at her watch.

“we better get going.”

*************************

Provincial Court of British Columbia
Vancouver District

Matt and Craig exited the courthouse and made their way to the parking garage.

“Craig, thanks again for showing up today.”

“No sweat, Matt.  It was the least I could do.  So…28 days in rehab? That’s kind of a drag. Think you’ll get through it okay?”

“Rehab?  Please. I’m an old pro at that one, Craig.  It’s what happens when I get oot that worries me.”

“These judges are suckers for dedicated Twelve Steppers, Matt.  You’ll be fine.”

“I hope so.”

Options Vancouver…it kinda sounds like a gay dating app.”

“Well, I sure hope the name’s deceiving, Craig, because for the next month of my life, it’s home.”

*************************

Maple Ridge, B.C.

Brooke woke up in a cold sweat, the bedsheets clinging to her burning limbs.  Her temples throbbed mercilessly as she tried to sit up but found herself too weak to move.  Theresa and Eddie slept in the adjacent bedroom, but when she tried to call oot, her voice was too weak for them to hear.

She thought of Tabitha and garnered every ounce of strength she could muster to grab her cell phone from the nightstand and shoot off a quick text.

No matter what happens, I am always with you.  I love you with all my heart. 

Before she could send the message, Brooke was overcome with dizziness and the phone dropped from her hand.  Her eyes glazed over as she rolled off the edge of the bed and fell to the hardwood floor with a sickening thud.

 

Fifty: Morning Headlines

paper

Episode 6, Part 2

Broadband TV Corporate Headquarters
Vancouver, B.C.

“Up for another extracurricular project, Barbara?”

“Sure, Ms. Patel.”

“Well, you really earned your afternoon off by finding me Jerry’s contact information last month, so I’d like to make you a similar deal.”

Janice pushed a sheet of paper across the desk.

“If you can do the same for every person on this list, then consider next week a paid vacation.  They’re all Hillside alumni, too, though I’m not sure who might be married or just using a different name.  You know the drill: e-mails, phone numbers, home or work addresses – anything I can use to make contact.”

“Consider it done!”

“You’re the best, Barb.”

*************************

Provincial Court of British Columbia
Vancouver District

The judge’s sober baritone permeated the cramped courtroom like the tolling of a funeral bell.

“Ashley Walker!  Please approach the bench.”

Dylan gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze as she rose to face the judge.

“Mrs. Walker, in accordance with the Controlled Drugs & Substances Act, your case has been remanded from the Ontario Court of Justice to the Drug Treatment Court of Vancouver.  You are currently in my courtroom for violating the original warrant issued to you by the provincial authorities of Ontario and failing to appear at your initial appearance to face a charge of driving under the influence causing property damage.  Further charges that may be pursued by the local authorities will constitute a separate issue and are not pertinent to these proceedings.   Once these charges have been read, you have the right to retain counsel to represent you throughoot the case.  So again, Mrs. Walker, I am informing you that you have been charged with dishonor of a duly issued criminal warrant and failure to appear at a scheduled hearing.  Do you understand the charges?”

“yes, your honor.”

“Mrs. Walker, after reviewing the case history along with your prescription information from multiple medical practices forwarded as evidentiary material from the originating court, it is my opinion that before facing the criminal charges read to you today, you will need to complete a 28 day inpatient program at the Options Vancouver Treatment Center.  You will not be taken into custody today, but it is your responsibility to contact the facility within the next 48 hours, at which time the facility will confirm your scheduled check-in date with the Court.  Your admission date shall be no later than one week from today.  Do you understand this ruling and what is expected of you, Mrs. Walker?”

“yes, your honor.”

“Are you currently under the influence of any alcohol or drugs, prescription or otherwise?”

“no, your honor.”

“Then you are free to go under the conditions set by the Court.”

“thank you, your honor.”

Ashley walked back to her seat and collapsed into Dylan’s arms until the bailiff appeared, tugged lightly at her sleeve and directed them to leave the courtroom.

*************************

ARIA TV Studio
North Vancouver, B.C.

Matt tried to pull himself together before entering the studio, but he knew there was no hiding the fact that W Network’s up-and-coming celebrity realtor was a shaky, sweaty mess just two days ahead of the show’s scheduled premiere.  He took a deep breath and went inside where Craig was waiting in the lobby.

“Oh, hey.  Good morning, Craig.”

“Hi, Matt.  Let’s take a walk to the donut shop so we can talk for a few minutes.”

Craig’s usual boisterous energy was worrisomely subdued and Matt steeled himself for the worst as they strolled silently down the block to The Harmony Donut Shop.  They ordered coffees and took them ootside to the empty patio area.

“Listen, Matt, I’m not gonna beat around the bush.  I read in The Sun this morning aboot the little incident you were involved in over the weekend.”

“Craig, I don’t know what to say.  I mean, you know how it goes sometimes…when the drinks, the whole night…just sort of goes off the rails.”

“Yeah…of course, I do, Matt.  But there’s a dead hooker involved in this one…that’s gonna be a little tough for our P.R. department to spin.”

“I swear, Craig, I had no idea she was so high when we…”

“Matt, you don’t need to explain this to me.  I tried to go to bat for you, but their minds were already made up. They’re going to can the show.”

Matt bit his lip and stared at the traffic whizzing by on Lonsdale Ave.

“What aboot the premiere?”

“Sorry.  The station will just re-air a sitcom or something in its place.  I know this would have been something great, Matt, and I was really looking forward to working with you, but this…is just a bit too much.  This is the kind of thing that can end the careers of even the biggest celebrities.  You’re talented, Matt…but you’re not a celebrity and the network just doesn’t know what to do with this.”

“Right.  I understand, Craig.  Thanks for trying.”

“Do you think you’ll be heading back to The Six?”

“Probably…I mean, it’s the only place where I’ve established any sort of a reputation.  Well, a good reputation, anyway.  But uh…I’ve gotta stick around long enough to face the charges.”

“When’s your court date?”

“A week from today.”

“Call me.  I’ll be there.”

“Thanks, Craig.  I appreciate that.”

Craig got up and shook Matt’s hand.  For a long moment, Matt stared after him as he walked back toward the studios. With unblinking bloodshot eyes, he watched the opportunity of a lifetime disappear into a faceless throng of pedestrians.

*************************

Lonsdale Quay Hotel
North Vancouver, B.C.

Arseman and Jake sat in adjacent chaise lounges on the deck of the indoor pool.  Suddenly, Arseman gasped and handed Jake the copy of The Sun she’d been perusing, open to the Metro Crime section.

“Um, Jake?  Brace yourself, then read the second article from the top.”

Jake’s brow furrowed as he read.

“Oh fuck.”

“Yeah.”

“I knew something like this would happen.”

“You knew Matt would be picked up for DUI with a dead prostitute in tow?”

“I knew he’d fuck up royally.  Jesus, Arseman, why didn’t we say more to him at the bar?”

“And what do you think that would have accomplished?  You know how this works.  If Matt doesn’t want to throw his life away, he’s got to make that choice on his own.”

“We should get in touch with Ashley.  I mean, Matt said she was in town, right?”

“Yeah, but the last number I had for her is from over a decade ago.  I guess it’s worth a shot.  This is some seriously fucked up déjà vu.”

“Who says you can’t live your high school years again, right?”

“Sure, and then maybe we can even go back a little further and revisit our salad days of diaper rash and colic.”

“Well, this homecoming is sure shaping up to be one hell of a bummer.”

“We can always look at the bright side, Jake.”

“What bright side?”

“At least Brooke isn’t here.”

“Thank God for small mercies, eh?”

*************************

Vancouver, B.C.

Brooke and Stacy rounded the corner and immediately stopped in their tracks.

“The Venue?”

“Huh.  Well, I guess that’s no surprise.  I mean, The Avalon was a shithole.”

“True, but it was our shithole.  Doesn’t it make you a little sad that it’s gone?”

“I’m playing the world’s smallest violin, Stace.”

“But you were the one who wanted to come here.”

“Yes, but not for a trip down Bad Memory Lane.  I was hoping I might run into someone who could get me in touch with Ashley.”

“Ashley Fraser?”

“Yeah.”

“Really?  I didn’t think you were very fond of her.”

“Exactly.  And I sure went oot of my way to make that abundantly clear, which is what cements her place on my…”

“…bucket list?”

“Right.  I appreciate the pains you take to express things delicately, Stace.”

“I’m sorry…but do we really need to mince words here, Brooke?  You’re the one who’s been talking like cancer’s already won the battle ever since we left Toronto, but you don’t exactly fit my mental image of someone who’s dying.  Have the doctors told you something I should know?”

“No.  I guess I’ve just been bracing for the worst by treating it as a foregone conclusion.  But some days are really bad.”

A tear sliced through the mascara on Brooke’s cheek as she took Stacy’s hand between hers.

“I need you to make me a promise, Stacy.”

“Sure, Brooke.  Anything.”

“If I don’t make it long enough to accomplish what I’ve come here to do, I need you to make sure it gets done.  All of it.”

“Of course.”

“Do you think you can pull it off?”

“No.”

“No?”

“I think you can pull it off.  But I’ll be right by your side, no matter how long it takes.  That much I can promise.”