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-

 

5 thoughts on “Fifty: Requiem

  1. This was glorious and beautiful and so well-written, and you might not believe me, but I cried when Janice read that note. I’m thoroughly sad that it’s over–for now–and I even got my Tragically Hip reference. Can’t wait to see what you do next:-)

    Liked by 2 people

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