Fifty: Original Sin

hotel

Episode 4, Part 2

Lonsdale Quay Hotel
North Vancouver, B.C.

A bitter wind whistled through the doors like an angry specter as Jake and Arseman lugged their bags into the opulent lobby of the Lonsdale Quay.

“Um…Arseman, Dear?  Is this seriously where you booked us for a three week stay?  Exactly how much money do you think guys shove down my Speedos every night?”

“Relax, Jake.  Whatever your Speedos can’t cover is coming right oot of my corporate travel account.”

“And since you’re the CEO, CFO and co-owner of the business, that means it’s coming right oot of your pocket.  Don’t patronize me, Babe.”

Arseman smiled as she ceremoniously pulled a business Gold Card from her wallet and waved it dismissively in the air.  She checked in with the concierge and got keys for their adjoining rooms on the third floor overlooking Vancouver Harbour.

“Alright, let’s unpack so we can get down to business.”

“Down to business?”

“Hammered.”

“Fabulous! I had a suspicion you’d be a great travel companion, Arseman, and now that’s confirmed.  But give me a few extra minutes – I should probably call Matt and let him know we’re here before I’m too wasted to talk.”

“Yeah, I guess we need to keep our collective alcoholism to ourselves when it comes to Matt.”

“Hey, at least we’re cosmopolitan alcoholics.  There’s a certain dignity to that.  But yeah…even though it’s been a long time, Matt’s still a recovering alcoholic.”

“Are you planning to tell him what you’ve been up to for the last 20 years?”

“In due time.  Now let’s go unpack and get down to business!”

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

Vancouver, B.C.

A dusty beam of early morning sunlight fell upon Ashley’s face, rousing her from a restless sleep.  Dylan was snoring softly with his arm draped over her breasts, so she slid quietly oot of bed to avoid waking him.

She grabbed her bathrobe from the floor at the foot of the bed and wrapped it around her body before padding into the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee.  She settled down at the table and pulled oot her phone when Dylan trudged in yawning and rubbing his eyes.

“Hey, Baby.”

“good morning, dylan.”

“Early riser, huh?”

“not always…i woke up a few hours ago and couldn’t get back to sleep.”

“That’s good to hear.  If I end up having to take some 9 to 5 gig, it’s gonna be a pretty big shock to my system.”

“i’m surprised they were even willing to lease you this place withoot a job.”

“I had some money saved from Vegas, so I paid three months rent right off the bat.  They kinda look the other way aboot employment when you do shit like that.”

“what are you doing today?”

“I don’t know.  I was thinking it might be fun if you and I go visit the old café – a little nostalgia trip.  What do you think?”

“the avalon?  absolutely!  god, it’ll be so weird to see it again.”

“Great, then that’s the plan.  But uh…are you gonna try to talk to anyone in Toronto first?  A lawyer or something?”

“dylan, i already missed my court date.  what can a lawyer do now?”

“Talk some sense into you, maybe?”

“excuse me?”

“Ashley, this isn’t going away by itself.  Trust me.  It’s only a matter of time before someone here in Vancouver runs your info through a database and finds oot there’s an open warrant.”

“are you worried you’ll get in trouble?”

“It’s a DUI, Ashley.  I’m not harboring a most wanted felon.  The real question is why aren’t you worried aboot getting in trouble?”

“i don’t know.  maybe…i just don’t care what happens to me anymore.”

“Bullshit.  If that were true, you wouldn’t have flown halfway across the country to dodge your legal troubles.”

“i came here to be with you.”

“Okay.  I’m sorry.  We’ll figure this oot together.  Now what do you say we get dressed and go pay a visit to the old shithole?”

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

ARIA TV Studio
North Vancouver, B.C.

Matt sat in the lobby waiting for Craig to arrive, periodically wiping his sweaty hands on the underside of his slacks while tiny pebbles of condensed toxicity crawled their way through the throbbing blood vessels in his head.  Checking his watch, he got up and walked ootside.

The cold air evaporated Matt’s nervous perspiration as he glanced up and down the block for a clandestine spot.  He noticed a small alleyway between the studio and the hair salon next door, so he walked down it far enough to be invisible from the sidewalk and pulled a flask from the inside pocket of his blazer.  He twisted off the top and greedily gulped down the last of the vodka, then walked back to the lobby where Craig and another executive from W were already waiting.

“Morning, Matt!”

“Hey, Craig, good morning.”

“Sorry aboot the commute, Man. Our headquarters is all the way back in your neck of the woods, so we have to use this place for our Vancouver productions.”

“No problem at all.”

“It’s gonna be a long one today, so if you need to do anything before we hit the sound stage and get rolling, now’s the time.”

“Oh, okay.  Then I’ll just make a quick phone call and meet you…”

“…in Studio C, around that corner.”

Matt walked back ootside and pulled oot his phone.

“Hello, Jake?”

“Matt!  How’s it going, Buddy?”

“Great!  I was so surprised to get your message last night.  What the hell are you doing in Vancouver?”

“I’m here with Arseman.”

“Arseman?  Really?  Wow!  Okay, so what the hell are you and Arseman doing in Vancouver?”

“Taking a trip down Memory Lane, I suppose.  When will you be free to get together?”

“I’m pretty booked all week but Friday night’s looking good – does that work for you guys?”

“Perfect!  I’ll call you later in the week to work oot the details.  Can’t wait to see you, Big Guy!”

“Right back at ya, Jake.  Take care.”

The hair of the dog effects had taken sufficient hold, so Matt strode confidently back into the studio feeling more like a television celebrity than a relapsing realtor.

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

Whistler, B.C.

Courtney had been living alone in Billy’s enormous home just ootside Garibaldi Provincial Park for over two weeks.  While looking after Marvel was a pleasure, the isolation was beginning to wear on her.  For the past two decades, every day had started with communal prayers, daily mass and a group rosary recitation.  For the past two weeks, every day had started with a lonely mixture of anxiety and regret.

She wandered from room to room, Marvel tailing closely at her side, and quietly prayed for guidance.

“Dear Lord, please forgive me for failing in my vocation.  Please guide my hand to—”

Courtney abruptly ceased her whispered entreaties and hung her head in shame while Marvel licked at her ankle.

Feeling that she no longer had the luxury of beseeching divine intervention, she walked into her room and grabbed the scrap of paper upon which Matt had written his phone number from the night stand.  She pulled oot her phone and dialed.  It rang three times before going to voice mail.

“Hello, Matt?  It’s Courtney!  I was just hoping that we could…get together sometime soon?”

Fifty: Deviant Fates

tower

Episode 4, Part 1

Granville Island
Vancouver, B.C.

Kelly pulled into the Martello Tower parking garage and wound her way up to the top level.  She eased into a spot next to the elevators, cut the engine and sat behind the steering wheel sobbing until she had no tears left to cry.

She took the elevator up to the thirtieth floor and stood at her apartment door jiggling the key in the lock, but the dead bolt wouldn’t unlatch.  Kelly glanced up and saw the notice that had been affixed to her door:

NOTICE TO EVICT PREMISES

Payment of rent in arrears in the amount of $1,150 is due and payable immediately.  If this back rent is not received in full within 7 days from the date of this notice, the premises will be cleared of all personal items and listed as vacant.  You will not be able to reclaim your personal property at that time.  Remit payment to the Leasing Office immediately to regain access to the premises.  Failure to do so in the required time will result in forfeiture of the unit.

“Oh, fuck.  Not now.  Jesus.”

She pulled oot her phone and called her sister.

“Hey.  I’m in a little bit of a jam.  Can Nia stay there with you tonight?”

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

Maple Ridge, B.C.

“Brooke!!!”

Theresa threw her arms around her sister and held her in a long embrace.

“Hi, Stacy!  It’s so great to see you!  Thanks so much for driving oot here with Brooke.  Eddie, come help us with the bags!”

They stepped into the foyer of Theresa’s spacious split-level home while her husband dutifully fetched their luggage from the trunk.

“So how was the trip?”

“Long.”

“In that case, what do you say we kick back in the kitchen with a bottle of wine?”

“Sounds perfect.”

They settled down at the table as Theresa uncorked a bottle of Chardonnay and poured three generous glasses.

“So, Brooke, what’s this ‘little project’ you have for me?”

“Sorry for being so vague aboot it on the phone, Theresa, but it seems cell phone towers in Manitoba are few and far between.  Before I left Toronto, I scoured all the social networks for anything I could find aboot Kelly – you remember Kelly, right?”

“How could I forget?”

“Of course.  Anyway, I don’t know if she’s married and using a different name or what, but my detective work was a bust.  You know I would never ask you to do anything unethical, but—”

“—but you’re going to anyway, right?  Listen, Brooke, I get so few benefits from the cheapskates at ICBC that sometimes I feel compelled to invent my own.  Usually, that comes in the form of extra copy paper for my home office, but maybe this time, I’ll access the driver database for…extracurricular purposes?”

That’s my baby sister!”

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

Monk’s Grill
Vancouver International Airport

“Ashley, I don’t understand.  Why didn’t you tell me aboot this on the phone?”

Ashley stared down at the table and fidgeted with an empty Stevia packet as she tried to formulate a sensible reply.

“i guess i just didn’t feel like talking aboot it.”

“Well, when is your court date?”

“today.”

Dylan shook his head in exasperation and took a sip of his coffee.

“You know you can’t run away from this forever, right?  The judge is gonna issue a bench warrant that will be transmitted to every police department in every province in the country.  You can’t hide oot in my garage until this one passes over, Ashley.”

“i’m scared, dylan.  and you’re all i’ve got.  i need you to tell me it’ll be okay.”

Dylan sighed and grasped Ashley’s hand across the table.

“It’s gonna be okay, Ashley.  I promise.”

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

Kent Institution Correctional Facility
Agassiz, B.C.

It had been two weeks since Chris had spotted Tony in the courtroom and though both were housed in general population, they hadn’t crossed paths in the prison common areas so Chris had started to let his guard down.  At night as he’d lay on his cot waiting for sleep that never came, he often wondered if Tony hadn’t gotten himself arrested at Roxane’s behest, a thought that only served to make his sleepless nights feel even more interminable.

Chris put on his jacket and lined up at the door to the recreation yard.  The guard did a head count and swung the steel door open to let the inmates file oot.

In keeping with his self-imposed isolation, Chris wandered to a quiet corner of the yard and leaned against the razor-wire fence as he lit a cigarette.  He idly watched a couple of inmates playing poker at a picnic table a few yards away until he spotted a hooded figure approaching fast from his left.  Thinking fast, Chris pulled up the cuff of his pants and reached into his sock for the slender makeshift shiv he’d been carrying for the past week or so.  He slid it inconspicuously up his leg and held it with two fingers against his inner thigh.  He looked back in the direction of the possible attacker who seemed to have disappeared in the brief moment that Chris had turned his attention to ferreting the concealed weapon from his sock.  Scanning the yard, he still saw no sign of the man and began to wonder if paranoia was just working overtime on his imagination.

Chris walked back toward the fence and lifted his thumb, letting the blade slip down into his shoe.  As he popped the cigarette back between his lips, he felt a sudden sensation of breath on the back of his neck and spun around.  Tony wore a sadistic grin as he raised the shank and sunk it rapidly into Chris’ throat before turning on his heel and disappearing into the throng of prisoners in the yard.  Chris collapsed to the ground as a stream of blood erupted from just below his Adam’s apple splattering a mosaic of crimson into the dirt surrounding his motionless body.

 

Fifty: Old Friends

diamond

Episode 3, Part 3

The Venue – Downtown
Vancouver, B.C.

Janice pulled up to the curb and parked in front of…The Avalon?  Apparently, Jerry had already been quite busy spending his unexpected windfall because she found her former hangoot transformed beyond recognition.  A large marquee above the entrance flashed the words The Venue – Downtown in deep electric blue and a swath of crimson Eco-Fi fashioned into a faux red carpet led from the end of the sidewalk to the revolving door.  A ticket-taker podium was installed to the right of the entrance.

Stepping gingerly over a thin layer of ice, Janice nearly lost her balance before reaching the red polyester strip and regaining her traction.  Pushing her way inside, Janice was momentarily stunned at the complete metamorphosis the establishment had undergone in just a few short weeks.  Signed band posters and sundry rock and roll memorabilia adorned the walls while the splintered light from a giant mirror ball suspended from the ceiling cast dancing illuminated diamonds upon every surface.  The wall that had separated the dining area from the pinball room had been knocked down, the booths and arcade games were gone, and in their place rose a prominent stage.

Jerry was sitting at a small table near the bar waiting for her to arrive.  Janice walked over, shook his hand in a pointedly businesslike manner and sat down.  Jerry polished off his beer and belched under his breath before giving Janice an uncomfortably thorough once-over.

“Nope.  Still don’t remember you.”

“I’m not surprised.  Back when I used to come here, the most memorable thing aboot me was probably how unmemorable I was.”

“You were friends with Ashley and Dylan and all those guys?”

“Well…I don’t know if ‘friends’ is exactly accurate, but yeah, that was my class.”

“Hmm.  I just don’t remember you.”

“Yeah, that’s been established.  Anyway, Jerry, the reason I asked to meet with you is that I have a business proposition to discuss.  I’m the programming director at Broadband TV.  I’ve been thinking of airing more live entertainment just after the prime-time lineup to sort of set us apart from the other networks that exclusively air talk shows in that time slot.  Then when I read your interview in the paper, I thought your new clubs might just be the perfect venue, no pun intended — but perhaps serendipity implied?”

“If you know how to speak English, please feel free to do so any time.”

Janice chuckled and looked warmly at Jerry.

“What I’m saying, Jerry, is that I run a television network and you are now the proud owner of three ultramodern rock and roll clubs all situated on prime Vancouver real estate.  If we combine our resources, we can make more money than we’d ever know what to do with.  So what do you say?”

Jerry paused and picked at the label on the neck of his beer bottle.  Finally, he raised his head and looked Janice squarely in the eye while extending his hand across the table.

“I say hell yeah, Partner!”

“Hell yeah.  Partner.”

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

South Bruce Grey Health Centre
Durham, Ontario

“Mrs. Walker?  Ashley?

“yeah…hi…i’m awake.”

“Good.  Do you know where you are?”

“a hospital.”

“Okay.  You were in a car accident, do you remember that?”

“yes.”

“Good.  Now you did suffer a moderate concussion, so we’re going to keep you here overnight for observation, but aside from that, I’d say you got pretty lucky.  Are you feeling good enough to have a little talk with someone?”

“who?  you didn’t call matt, did you?”

“No, Mrs. walker, we haven’t called anyone.  But there’s a police officer oot in the hall who wants to ask you some questions.  Do you feel up to it?”

“sure.”

The nurse rose from her chair next to the bed and before Ashley knew it, a stern-faced female officer from the Regional Police Service seemed to just materialize in her place.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Walker.”

“hello.”

“I’m Constable Jennings and I’m investigating the accident that you were involved in today.  Mrs. Walker, were you driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or prescription medications at the time of the collision?”

“no, ma’am.  well, maybe.  i had taken an alprazolam just after lunch but that’s per my prescription and i take it at that time every day so…”

“Mrs. Walker, more than five times the prescribed amount of Xanax was found in your system.  That’s another reason the doctor wants to keep you overnight, to monitor any withdrawal symptoms.  We found one and a half bottles in your glove box, prescribed by two different physicians.”

“okay.  there’s really nothing i can say, is there?  so what happens now?”

“Since no one else was hurt, we’re going to let you go home after the doctor releases you.  But you’ll be receiving a summons to appear before the Court to face a charge of impaired driving resulting in property damage within the next few days.  You can retain an attorney, but they cannot be present for the initial hearing when the charges against you will be read to the Court.  Do you understand, Mrs. Walker?”

“yes.  thank you.  if you don’t mind…i really need to rest now.”

Ashley watched the cop lumber oot the door and slowly moved her hand towards the small lamp table at the bedside where the nurse had placed her cell phone.  She grabbed it and pulled up her contacts, then hesitated for a very long moment as her finger hovered unsteadily over the name Dylan Blackwell.

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

The Diamond
Gastown
Vancouver, B.C.

Matt sat nervously at the bar nursing a ginger ale.  The producer he’d met last week had advised him to be here at noon to discuss creative ideas with a team of reps from the network, but it was already twenty after and Matt was on his third $8 glass of Canada Dry.

Finally, he saw Craig stroll in past the maître d with a party of four nearly identical business-hipsters.

“This is the man of the hour, Fellas!  Matt, this is Peter, Alan, Joshua and Mitch, but you can just refer to them collectively as Those Assholes Who Make My Life Miserable.  I’ve already given them the basics aboot what you and I had discussed for the show format and now they’re here to fuck it all up.  Sound fun?”

“Sure!”

“Great!  What are you drinking?”

“Ah…just ginger ale.”

“Nonsense.  You’re gonna need something a lot stronger than that to stomach these guys, trust me.  Bartender, six Canadian Clubs, straight, and start a tab.”

“Listen, Craig, I, uh—”

“Matt, what do you think aboot a co-host?”

Craig and the team of producers pulled up to the bar on either side of Matt.

“Honestly, I thought a co-host was a given…but I don’t have any suggestions, if that’s what you mean.  I mean, my little thing in Toronto was just a single camera DIY show with a very limited audience, so…”

The bartender returned and placed the drinks evenly down the row of well-dressed, unshaven execs until he reached Matt and seemed to take a measured pause before sliding the glassful of amber brown liquid onto the bar in front of him.

“Alright!  Na Zdorovie, Gentlemen!  To Matt and another shitty realty show that’ll make us assloads of money!”

To Matt!”

Matt sat beneath the pyramid of raised glasses and stared into the whiskey, imagined himself drowning in it and found the image oddly soothing.

“Is everything alright, Matt?”

Matt raised the glass to his lips and emptied a burning stream of electrical current into his throat.  He slammed the glass onto the bar and smiled a demented jagged crescent of unhealthy satisfaction.

“Yeah, Craig.  Everything’s alright.  Let’s talk co-hosts!”

Fifty: Taking A Stand

church

Episode 3, Part 2

York Mills, Ontario

Brooke hesitated at the door to Tabitha’s bedroom and took a deep breath.  She knocked lightly and entered.

“Hey, Sweetie.”

“What’s up, Mom?”

“Got a second?”

“Sure.”

Brooke sat down on Tabitha’s bed and stroked her daughter’s hair.

“I may be going away for a while.  Some things have come up and…I just want to make sure you’ll be okay while I’m gone.”

“Nice try, Mom, but I’m gonna need a little more than ‘some things have come up’.  What things, exactly?”

Brooke swallowed hard.  “I have cancer, Tabitha.”

She stared into her daughter’s eyes as she processed the unexpected news.

“Is it bad?”

“It’s not good.  But it’s not necessarily a death sentence, either.  So far, it’s just in the lymph nodes. My doctor started me on injection treatments and—”

“Wait, how long have you known aboot this?”

“Not long enough for you to give me grief aboot it, okay?”

Tabitha forced a smile and rested her head on Brooke’s shoulder.

“I haven’t even told your father yet.  Look, Tabitha, there are some things I need to do back in Vancouver, so I’ll be driving oot with an old friend of mine next week.  I’m not sure how long we’ll be gone, but I wanted to do this now so that I’m back home when you start high school next year.”

“What things do you have to do?”

“I need to try and…make things right with some people I didn’t treat very well a long time ago.  You’re a smart young woman with a good head on your shoulders, Tabitha, and next year you’re probably gonna meet some people who’ll try to make your life miserable for no other reason than that you’re a smart young woman with a good head on your shoulders.  Your mom used to be one of those people.”

“I think you’re being too hard on yourself, Mom.  Like you said, that was a long time ago.  Do you really need to do this?”

“I do.”

“Okay, then……I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you, too, Baby.  I promise I’ll call you every single day and bore the heck oot of you with long rambling stories aboot people you’ve never met.”

“I’m gonna hold you to that, Mom.”

They sobbed and held each other in a long embrace, neither wanting to be the first to let go.

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

Our Lady of Sorrows Parish
Vancouver, B.C.

Matt parked in the church lot across the street from the convent, grabbed his Big Book from the passenger seat and exited the car.  He spotted a group of men huddled by a side door smoking, so he started to make his way over to them when he was startled by someone shouting his name from the direction of the convent.

“Matt!  Hey, Walker!!”

He turned around and saw a man and woman parked at the curb loading suitcases into the trunk of a Bentley convertible.  Not recognizing who had called oot to him, he started to wander over.  Halfway across the street, his eyes fell on Courtney and he stopped in his tracks.

“Don’t play in the road, Walker, you’ll get yourself killed.”

Matt collected himself and greeted his old friends while trying to suppress his anxiety at confronting Courtney so unexpectedly.

“Bill Simpson!  You’re just aboot the last person I ever expected to see here, but at least this gives me an opportunity to thank you for signing your full name in my Hillside yearbook – I was able to make the down payment on my house after I sold it on E-Bay.”

“Another financial amateur, I see.  The real money is in dead celebrity autographs.  You’d have been wiser to wait until I suffered an ‘unfortunate accident’ before parting with such a precious artifact.”

“Courtney…you look great.”

“Thanks, Matt.  So do you.”

Courtney dropped her gaze and fidgeted nervously with her fingers.

“What are you guys doing here?”

After a long pause, Bill broke the uncomfortable silence.

“What Courtney meant to say aloud is that she’s thrown off the shackles of the sisterhood, so we’re packing up her shit.”

“A nun? I mean…I’m sorry, Courtney.  I hadn’t heard much aboot you since high school, so I guess that just took me by surprise.”

“Yeah, you’re not alone.  What are you doing here?  I mean, it’s great to see you but don’t you and Ashley—”

“I’m here on business – in Vancouver, I mean.  I’m here at the church for an A.A. meeting.”

“Where are you staying?”

“At an Airbnb downtown.  You?”

“Billy’s taking me to his place on Garibaldi Lake.  I guess that’s where I’ll be staying while I figure oot what I wanna do when I grow up.”

“That’s great!  Here, take my number and give me a call as soon as you get settled in, okay?  I’d love to get together and catch up.”

Courtney smiled warmly and leaned in to give Matt a hug while Bill closed the trunk and got in the car.

“Alright, Walker, unhand my sister and go school some drunks so we can get the hell oot of this holy prison complex.”

“Take it easy, Billy.”

Dazed, Matt stared at the car as it sped off and disappeared around the corner.

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

York Mills, Ontario

Elliot was in the kitchen waiting for a pot of coffee to brew when Brooke entered and leaned against the breakfast nook with her arms crossed.

“Oh, good morning, Babe.”

“Elliot.”

“Grab a mug. Coffee should be ready in just a few seconds.”

“No, thank you.  Are you going to the office today or working at home?”

“I have to run to the office for an hour or two to take care of some stuff, but I’ll be home most of the afternoon.”

“Mm hm.  And what does Nancy’s schedule look like today?  Let me guess, first she has to tell her husband that she’s running to the office for an hour or two to take care of some stuff, then she’ll go home for most of the afternoon so he doesn’t get suspicious?”

Elliot went rigid in his chair and cleared his throat.

“What…what the hell are you talking aboot, Brooke?”

“Spare me the theatrics, you bastard.  I found the card.”

“Card?  What card?”

“The one that you left lying on your desk.  Stop pretending you don’t know what I’m talking aboot and look at me, Coward.”

“Brooke…I never meant—”

“Of course you didn’t.  I’m going away, Elliot, so you’re free to have your little affair.  When I get back, I want custody of Tabitha.”

“Now wait a minute, Brooke, we need to talk aboot this—”

“No.  We don’t.  And most family court judges don’t look kindly on philandering fathers, but if you want to go that route, so be it.  I gave my life to you, you son-of-a-bitch, and I intend to take it back.”

She exited the kitchen leaving Elliot sitting in stunned silence.

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

Provincial Court of British Columbia – Vancouver Criminal Courthouse

“Next on the docket, R. v. MacDonald.”

The public defender stood up and instructed his client to take the stand.  Chris trudged slowly toward the judge causing his leg shackles to rattle audibly through the courtroom.

“Mr. MacDonald, you’ve been charged with attempted murder in the first degree.  Unless you enter a guilty plea today, your case will almost certainly be transferred to the Supreme Court for a trial by jury.  Though this will afford you the opportunity to defend yourself and call character witnesses, it will necessitate that you remain in custody at Kent while you await your court date.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, Your Honour.”

“Do you wish to change your plea?”

“No, Your Honour.”

“Very good.  Defendant has confirmed a plea of not guilty and will be remanded back to custody pending trial.”

Two guards appeared at Chris’ side and accompanied him oot of the courtroom.  As they passed by the row of benches occupied by other defendants and their attorneys, Chris suddenly noticed Tony, handcuffed and clad in an orange jumpsuit, trying to catch his attention.  Their eyes met and Tony flashed a sardonic smile before raising his restrained hands and running a finger threateningly across his neck.

Fifty: Manifesting Destiny

prison

Episode 3, Part 1

Hapa Izakaya Yaletown
Vancouver, B.C.

Bill, Courtney and Marvel sat at a corner booth waiting for their drink orders.

“Wow, Billy, so this is what it’s like to be a Hollywood A-lister?”

“I’m living the dream…who would have thought that one day, I’d have the honor of treating my religiously conflicted sister to overpriced sushi?”

“That’s not what I mean, Smart Ass.  This is a five-star Japanese restaurant, but you just waltzed right in with your dog and no one batted an eye.”

“I can’t take credit for that – Marvel’s irresistibly sexy.  By the way, you could probably stand to be a little more subtle around him.  He’s very intuitive so he knows when someone’s staring at his ass.”

“Very funny.”

The waitress returned with two White Russians and a bowl of water that she placed on the table in front of Marvel.

“Sorry, Buddy, but you need to stay on the wagon.  We can’t have anymore incidents like the one at last year’s Oscars.  He claims he blacked it all oot, but I found a pair of Margot Robbie’s panties in his kennel last week.

“He’s a man of impeccable taste.”

“Takes after his daddy.  Okay, Courtney, tell me something good.”

Courtney heaved a sigh and took a sip of her drink.

“I don’t know, Billy…I guess I just really started taking stock of my life over the course of the last year or so and when you’re a nun, that means taking stock of your faith.  It’s not something I ever really questioned before and that’s exactly why I feel like such a failure.  What was I thinking, Billy?  I took my vocational vows just months after I graduated high school and abandoned all my dreams of becoming a published writer.  I guess I was just…scared.”

“Scared of what?”

“Of people, Billy…myself included.  Everything was always so dramatic, everybody seemed so mean, so I chose a line of work I thought would keep me away from all that.”

“Courtney, you were a kid.  Beating yourself up for a decision you made 30 years ago strikes me as a little masochistic.”

“I guess I’m hypersensitive…but I felt so guilty aboot some of the things I pulled back then, especially not being there for you.”

“If it’ll make you feel better, you can reimburse me for my therapy bills.  Aboot a hundred grand oughta do the trick.  Courtney, I’m fine and I seem to remember things a bit differently.  All this retroactive second-guessing is just an attempt to avoid starting your next chapter.”

“That’s just it, Billy! I don’t have a clue how to go aboot…starting the next chapter.  It’s like the whole world passed me by while I was taking sanctuary in a church.”

“And you don’t think that sounds like the basis of a great book?”

“A book?”

“Maybe the world has passed you by, Courtney, because bitter memoirs by lapsed Catholics are all the rage.”

“It’s not like that, Billy.  I’m not bitter, I’m just mad at myself for dedicating myself to a calling that I hadn’t really received.  I feel like I’ve been taking advantage of everyone at the convent for no other reason than that I’m an insecure mess.”

“Like Regina?  Somehow she doesn’t strike me as a paragon of self-assurance.”

“But her faith in the church is sincere.  I’m not sure if mine ever was.”

“So what’s the plan?  You’re welcome to stay with me and Isabelle at our place up on Garibaldi Lake until you sort everything oot.  You’d have the place to yourself most of the time.”

“Billy, I couldn’t impose—”

“Courtney, in just the past week, I’ve gone from New York to L.A. to Vancouver and tomorrow we’re leaving for Sydney.  Do you know who watches the house while we’re jetting all over the planet?  Nobody.  If it wasn’t my house, I’d rob it.  So do me a fucking favor and say yes.”

Courtney smiled as Marvel curled up in the booth by her side and rested his head in her lap.

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

Collingwood, Ontario

“Brooke, I don’t know what to say.”

“That makes two of us.”

“You’re welcome to stay with me for a while until you figure oot what to do.  I mean, I know it’s not much to look at but there’s plenty of room.”

“I appreciate that, Stacy.  I really do.  But I’ve been thinking that if there’s a bright side to Elliot’s affair, it might just be the opportunity this affords me to…mend a few fences back home.”

“Back home – you mean Vancouver?”

“Exactly.”

“That’s a pretty big step.  Do you feel up to it?”

“Some days I do, some days I don’t, but that’s not gonna change no matter where I live, Stace.  And if I don’t have a lot of time left…I need to use it wisely.”

“I’ll help you any way I can, Brooke.”

“Even if that means accompanying me on the road trip of a lifetime?”

“That’s exactly what I was hoping for.”

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

Kent Institution Correctional Facility
Agassiz, B.C.

“MacDonald!  You’ve got a visitor.”

Chris got up from his table in the mess hall and followed the guard oot to the visitation area.  He sat down, picked up a headset and glared through the plexiglass barricade.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me.  What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Well, I saw your name in all the papers, so I thought I’d come congratulate you on your newfound celebrity.”

“Fuck you, Dylan.  If you just came here to gloat, I’ve got better things to do.”

“Oh yeah?  Like what?  Never mind, I don’t think I want to know.  I’ve been away for a long time, so I figured I’d see how my former bandmates are doing.  Yikes.”

“Save your sarcasm for someone who cares, Dylan.  Now what do you want?”

“Well, I paid Roxane a visit in the ICU just before I came here and she wanted me to give you a message.”

“What message?”

“She wanted me to tell you not to drop the soap…and that she can’t wait to see you in court.”

Chris extended his middle finger and pressed it against the plexiglass before turning around and following the guard back to the mess hall.

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

The Liberty Distillery
Granville Island
Vancouver, B.C.

Kelly cashed oot and pocketed her tip money, relieved to have pulled in just enough to cover her electric bill and Nia’s daycare for another month.  Exhausted, she sat down at the bar.

“Grab me an IPA, James.”

“You got it, Baby.  Rough night?”

“Is there any other kind in this shithole?”

“Excuse me, this is a craft shithole, thank you very much.”

“Yeah, and I’m living in craft abject poverty because these rich assholes are even cheaper than you are.”

James knocked the cap off the beer and placed in on the bar.  “You know something, Kelly?  I’ve got a premonition…”

“I can’t wait to hear this.”

“I have a feeling that your ship is aboot to come in, and sooner than you think.”

“Oh yeah?  And what makes you say that?”

“Just a feeling.  But it sure seems like karma’s been catching up to an awful lot of people lately and I think you’re a prime candidate to partake in the spoils of cosmic justice.”

“I don’t think you know me very well, James, because my karma is aboot as far in the red as it gets.”

“I doubt that, Babe.  Mark my words – good things are on the horizon for you.”

Fifty: Dog Days

baxter

Episode 2, Part 3

Our Lady of Sorrows Convent
Vancouver, B.C.

Sister Regina gazed oot the window of her quarters at a small cloud of mosquitoes prematurely roused by the sudden wave of unseasonable warmth.  As she watched them hover in place above the hedgerow at the perimeter of the property, a black Bentley convertible pulled up to the curb, a large golden retriever perched confidently in the passenger seat.  Regina strained to see the driver and when she was able to get a good look at his features, she jumped up and ran excitedly oot to the corridor.

“Bill Simpson just pulled up ootside!! Has anyone seen Sister Courtney?  Someone tell her that her brother is here!!”

Suddenly, she spotted Courtney at the far end of the hall dressed in lay clothing, attempting to duck oot of the building by the emergency stairwell.

“Courtney!”

She turned around and forced a smile.

“Hi, Regina.”

“Courtney, I will cover your weekly chores and call Tuesday Night Bingo for a month if—”

“Come on, Regina.  Let’s go meet my brother.”

“Oh, saints be praised!”

When they got ootside, Bill was leaning against the car with the golden retriever sitting at his feet straining to nudge his sizable snout into his master’s crotch.

“Marvel, please. There are ladies present.  Hello, Ladies!”

Courtney embraced her brother tightly as Regina stood to the side barely able to contain her excitement.

“It’s great to see you, Courtney.  Who’s your enchanting friend here?”

“This is Sister Regina.”

Bill grasped her trembling hand and kissed it.

“They didn’t make nuns that looked like you when I was growing up!”

Regina blushed as she stammered a starstruck greeting.

“Oh, Mr. Simpson, I think I’ve seen Kill Tank at least a hundred times!  I mean, even though I always feel like I have to go to confession afterwards, it’s worth it!”

“Thank you, Regina.  Maybe you can put in a good word for me with the Big Guy, huh?  An endorsement from a woman of the cloth might be just enough to atone for my potty mouth when I reach those Pearly Gates.”

From the corner of her eye, Regina noticed Courtney checking her watch.

“It was so great to meet you, Mr. Simpson!”

“Bill.”

“Bill!”  The name hung on her tongue like a thread of ambergris before she turned and ran back to the convent.

“Excitable gal.”

“Ya think?  I haven’t told her that I’m leaving yet.  She’s gonna be crushed.  How aboot introducing me to your friend?”

“Courtney, this is Marvel.  He’s a veritable connoisseur of celebrity crotches.  I’m grooming him to be my new casting director.”

Marvel sat and offered Courtney his paw.  Bill walked around to the driver side and motioned for Courtney to get in as Marvel hopped into the back seat.

“Sushi?”

“Sure.”

Bill started the car and headed downtown.

“Alright, Sis, so what prompted this crisis of faith?  Did you – oh shit, how long do I have to wait before I’m allowed to make dirty jokes in the presence of the newly defrocked?”

“I quit, Billy, I wasn’t defrocked.  And you can make as many frocking dirty jokes as you want.  You’ve got Regina in your corner now, remember?”

“Goddamn right!”

Bill made the sign of the cross with mock reverence as he swung the car onto Hamilton and pulled into a parking garage.

“First things first, Courtney – we’re gonna pour a few strong drinks down your throat, because this tight-lipped shit of yours is driving me fucking nuts.”

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

York Mills, Ontario

Brooke sat in the den waiting for a new design software program to download to her laptop when she was suddenly besieged by searing pain starting at her temples and running down the length of her neck along the carotid arteries.  Her vision blurred and she dropped her head onto the desk for several minutes until the worst of it subsided and she was finally able to get up from her seat.

It was mid-afternoon, so Elliot and Tabitha would still be gone for a few more hours.  Brooke walked downstairs and wandered from room to room until she felt more stable on her feet.  As she passed by the open door to Elliot’s office, she noticed that his desk lamp was on so she walked in to switch it off when she noticed a greeting-card sized envelope next to his PC.  It had been mailed to Elliot at his downtown office from a P.O. Box in Toronto.  Curious, Brooke picked it up and found it had already been unsealed, so she shook the card oot of the envelope.  In heart-adorned calligraphy, the message on the front of the card said, “My Love, My Life, My Heart & Soul”.  With a trembling hand, Brooke opened the card and read the handwritten note inside:

Elliot,

I love you so much it hurts.  All I want is to share the rest of my life with you.  I know things are complicated, but I also know we can make this work.  My heart is yours forever.

Love, Nancy

 

“That son of a bitch!

Brooke eased herself to the floor and dropped her head into her hands.

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

Vancouver, B.C.

After nearly four days of driving, Matt finally reached Vancouver just before dusk.  When he reached the intersection of Crown and Mountain, he was startled by a cacophonous skirl of sirens as a procession of ambulances and police cars sped past.  Thinking nothing of it, he waited for the emergency vehicles to pass before continuing to the condo he’d booked for the month on Airbnb.

He was scheduled to meet with a producer for W Network first thing in the morning, but his mind was too preoccupied to consider turning in for the night.  He had spent several hours online trying to find Courtney’s contact information before leaving Ontario, but she didn’t even seem to have any active social media accounts.  Regardless, since Jake had recently confirmed the fact that she was still living in Vancouver, he was confident that he could track her down.  Jake had also added that he hoped Matt wouldn’t be disappointed but declined to elaborate beyond that cryptically cautionary aside.  To Matt, the most likely explanation was that she’d packed on a few pounds since high school, a possibility that didn’t concern him in the slightest.

Matt arrived at the condo and unpacked before taking oot his phone and pulling up the Vancouver Alcoholics Anonymous meeting schedule.  He found a men’s meeting happening tomorrow evening at Our Lady of Sorrows Convent on Venables Street and marked it in his daily planner.  For a long moment, he gazed oot the window at the traffic below, then put his coat back on and stepped oot in search of a nearby place to eat.

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

Durham, Ontario

Ashley got into her car in the parking lot of the Durham Corporate Center and opened the glove box.  She grabbed the bottle of alprazolam, twisted off the top and popped three of the blue oval pills into her mouth before heading into rush hour traffic on Consumers Drive.

For the past few weeks, she’d felt paralyzed by indecision.  Even with Matt oot of the picture, she still couldn’t decide whether Dylan’s instability was something she could – or would even want to — handle.  Emotions in flux, Ashley opted to put the entire situation on the back burner for the foreseeable future.

Stopped at a red light, Ashley began to nod oot on her steering wheel until the car behind her blared its horn.  Startled, she took her foot off the brake and rolled into the intersection when a commercial cargo van bearing the logo “Above The Rest Handy Guys” slammed into the passenger side of her car causing it to flip onto its hood in the oncoming traffic lanes.  A woman driving a Honda Civic swerved to avoid her but clipped the bumper and set Ashley’s car spinning on its roof before it finally came to rest in the fire lane of the Landmark Cinemas multiplex.

Ashley pushed her face into the airbag’s nylon bubble and lost consciousness as a pool of oil crept through the shards of broken glass surrounding the car and oozed into the street.

Fifty: The Gathering Storm

garage2

Episode 2, Part 2

Vancouver, B.C.

Icy gravel crunched beneath the tires as a car pulled up to the curb and ground to a halt.  Dylan tipped the Uber driver, exited the car and retrieved his luggage from the trunk.  A suitcase in each hand and a guitar slung over his shoulder, he scanned the property from the sidewalk for signs of life.

All the buildings were abandoned and the derelict vehicles that his father had always claimed he’d restore “someday” had disappeared, though their indentations were still visible in the trash-strewn mud.

He walked slowly toward the garage and let himself in through the unlocked door.  He steadied himself before entering, then made a slow lap around his former home.  Aside from a significant accumulation of dust, everything was just as he’d left it, right down to the rusting stop sign that rattled noisily against the door as he entered.  Billy’s drum set was still assembled in the corner.

Dylan knew he had no justification for feeling abandoned, but he felt a profound lump growing in his throat just the same.  He hadn’t kept his parents apprised of his whereabouts for over 20 years and apparently, they’d reciprocated.

He sat down heavily on his suitcase and dropped his head into his hands.

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

Durham, Ontario

Matt hesitated at the door to the sun porch, watching Ashley read and trying to find his words.  He swallowed hard and went oot, taking a seat at the frosted glass-topped table across from Ashley.

“hi, matt.”

“Hey, Babe.  Good book?”

“just a trashy romance novel.”

“Living vicariously through fiction?”

Though Matt intended this as a lighthearted quip, it prompted Ashley to close her book and heave a nervous sigh.

“matt…i’ve been wanting to talk to you aboot something.”

“Okay, talk.”

“when we got married, did you picture things turning oot like this?”

“’Like this?’  I don’t think I follow.”

“i guess i mean, you know, comfortable…habitual.”

“Ah.  Well, yes to the former, no to the latter.  I didn’t know you felt like that.”

“i don’t always…but sometimes i wonder…where we’re going.”

“You wanna know something, Ashley?  I wonder aboot that a lot, too.  I mean, I love you and I love the life we’ve built.  We’ve put an awful lot of time and effort into this home.  But since neither of us want kids and we have such different careers…oh, fuck it.  I need to confess something, too, Ashley.  Even though I’m surprised to hear you talk this way, I’m also a little relieved.”

“relieved?”

“Yeah.  I came oot here because I have something to tell you, but I couldn’t get up the nerve.  A little while ago, a producer from W Network in Vancouver gave me a call.”

“yeah?”

“He’d been in Toronto on business and he caught an episode of House Rescue.  He wants me to come to Vancouver and host a prime-time home renovation program.”

“matt, that’s wonderful!”

“Yeah.  I certainly never expected anything like this to come oot of my crappy little no-budget show.”

“are you gonna do it?”

“I don’t know.  That’s what I wanted to talk aboot.  Your job is here and you’ve made so many friends that—”

“matt, you have to go.  maybe this is the best thing for both of us.”

Matt’s eyes began to well up with tears.

“Well…this certainly went easier than I’d expected.  Is this it, Ashley?  Is it over for us?”

“maybe the romance is, matt.  but not the love.”

Matt placed his quivering hand on top of Ashley’s.

“I love you, too.”

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

Vancouver, B.C.

Jerry exited the offices of NAI Commercial and walked up Georgia Street to where he’d parked several blocks away.  He was wearing a striped dark blue Brioni two-piece suit, an ootfit befitting the new owner of The Avalon Bistro along with two other large vacant business spaces situated on the east and west sides of the city, respectively.

Yesterday, he had received a curious phone call from someone named Janice who claimed to have been a regular at The Avalon back in the nineties, but no matter how many times she described herself, he couldn’t remember her.  She told him that she was the Director of Programming at BBTV and had a “business proposition” she wanted to discuss in person.  Somewhat skeptical but never one to rebuff a woman expressing an interest, he agreed to meet her at The Bistro tomorrow at noon.

In the meantime, another high-end escort would help to pass the evening.

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

Martini Film Studios
Langley, B.C.

“Hey, Sis!”

Billy!!”

“So what did God do to you?  Should I go beat Him up?”

“Very funny.  I’m so happy you called, I didn’t know if you were too busy…”

“Yeah…I’m sorry aboot that, Courtney.  No excuses. I should really call you and Mom more often.”

I’m sure Mom would appreciate it – all she ever does is gush aboot what a wonderful actor you are.

“Then she’s obviously never seen any of my films or I’m sure she’d be singing a different tune.”

“Are you still in California?”

“No, I’m here at the new studio in Walnut Grove.  We’re filming the last few scenes and doing some of the post-production for the next Kill Tank movie.”

“Sticking with the foul-mouthed superheroes, eh?”

“Foul-mouthed superheroes are my raison d’etre, Sis.  So what’s going on?”

“I resigned from the convent this morning.  God, trying to explain to Mother Judy that I’d lost my faith was the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever had to do.”

“I doubt that.”

“I have to move oot in less than two weeks…I hadn’t really thought aboot that part.”

“Say no more, Courtney.  If you’re gonna be around in aboot two hours, I can swing by and pick you up.  Maybe we can grab some dinner?”

“That sounds great, Billy.  Thank you.”

“Who said I was paying?”

“How presumptuous of me.  I love you, Billy.”

 *************************

Vancouver, B.C.

Chris steadied his shaking hands and deposited six bullets into the chamber of the revolver.  Through the rear sliding glass door, he watched Roxane as she stood over the sink washing dishes.   A curled cylinder of ash hung downward from the cigarette dangling between his lips until it reached the filter and caused a burning sensation in his mouth.

Fuck!”

He spit the butt into the grass and slowly eased the door open with one hand while his other rested on the grip of the gun.

Three loud rapid reports sent a row of pigeons flying from the roof into the clear afternoon sky before an eerie silence fell over the complex.

 

Corrections, Retractions & Apologies

brain

Can you believe we’re not even two full episodes into the reunion and I already have to put my tail between my legs (note: I don’t really have a tail) and acknowledge some less than consistent things aboot the story thus far?  In order to distinguish my writing from that of the endearingly sloppy Ian Weir, I feel it necessary to clarify a few things:

  1. I originally had Dylan’s near death experience occur on December 24, 2021.  I went back and changed the date to December 28, 2021.  What the hell difference does that make, you ask?  A big one, really.  I followed up that scene with Ashley receiving Dylan’s text informing her that he almost died “last night”.  That would mean that Ashley received his text on Christmas Day, yet Matt was on his way to show a house.  Realtors don’t show homes on Christmas Day.  Ever.
  2. Some of you may have already seen my editor’s note on this one, but in case you missed it: Ashley and Matt are currently living in a suburb of Toronto, not Vancouver as I originally indicated.  This is significant, since several plots revolve around their current locale.  This has been corrected, too.
  3. Are there already too many major coincidences going on for you to continue suspending disbelief?  Are you upset aboot my decision to afflict Brooke with a frighteningly serious health condition?  If so, my reply on both counts is “too bad”.  Concerning the unlikely synchronicity of events, remember this is still a soap opera, thus such fantastical events aren’t just forgivable, they’re downright de rigueur.  And if you think I’m throwing too much at any individual character, I’m pretending that the original cast are reprising their roles as I write this.  Thus, if I found it appropriate to give Brooke cancer, that’s because such a nuanced performance of an empathetic adult remaining consistent with the narcissistic teenager she once was could only be pulled off by a top notch actor.  Robyn Ross would be more than capable.  You might have noticed I didn’t bother with much of a backstory for Who Farted.  Same reason, in reverse.
  4. Where the hell is Olaf, right?  Patience, dear readers.  Good things come to those who wait.

Thanks for your kind understanding.  We’ll return to our regularly scheduled program shortly.  In the meantime, here’s a word from our sponsor:

Fifty: Karma Calling

bbtv

Episode 2, Part 1

Broadband TV Corporate Headquarters
Vancouver, B.C.

Janice exited the elevator to the top floor of the BBTV building and unlocked the door to her corner office, upon which hung a gilt-edged placard bearing the title Director of Programming.  Before she had a chance to settle down at her desk, Barbara poked her head through the door.

“Good morning, Ms. Patel.”

“Hi, Barbara.  Good weekend?”

“Yeah.  Quiet, but that’s how I like it.”

“Any messages?”

“No, but I left your magazines and a copy of today’s Sun in your inbox.”

“Thanks, Barb.”

Janice booted up her PC and opened the paper to the local section.

Vancouver Man Wins $10 Million Lotto Max Jackpot

January 18, 2022

A Vancouver man won Tuesday’s $10 million dollar Lotto Max jackpot.  Jerry Dalla-Vecchia, assistant manager of The Avalon Bistro, originally told CIVT News that he purchased the winning ticket at the Crown Street Petro-Canada before amending his account to say that he found the ticket along with several others in a bag he discovered on the ground as he walked home from work. 

Mr. Dalla-Vecchia told CIVT reporter Monica Galsky that he plans to buy The Avalon Bistro along with several other high-end storefronts throughoot the city and convert them into art and concert spaces hosting local, national and international acts on their stages.

A sly grin spread across Janice’s face as she folded up the paper and called oot for Barbara.

“Yes, Ms. Patel?”

“I need you to track someone down for me.  Phone number, e-mail, whatever you can get.  His name is Jerry Dalla-Vecchia.  He lives somewhere here in Vancouver, probably aboot 45 years old.  Can you let me know what you find ASAP?”

“Absolutely, Ms. Patel – my sleuthing cap is on.”

“Thank you, Barbara.  If you get me something I can use, you can take the rest of the afternoon off.”

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

Sam James Coffee Bar
Toronto, Ontario

“okay, dylan, i have to ask – what brought you to toronto?  when we talked right after christmas, you told me you wanted to reconcile things with your parents and spend some time in a familiar place while you worked on your sobriety.  and I couldn’t help but notice that your itinerary suddenly changed right after I told you I felt trapped in my life with matt.  i didn’t say we were through, you know…”

“Ashley, I know.  And I know how this looks on the surface, but trust me – I just started researching the best places for musicians to—”

The annoyed skepticism in Ashley’s countenance immediately took the wind oot of Dylan’s less than forthright explanation.

“Okay, look – I’m in love with you, Ashley.  I have been ever since high school and not a day has passed when you weren’t the first thing on my mind when I woke up in the morning.  Hell, even the fucking junk couldn’t manage to ease the constant ache I feel for you, Ashley.”

“dylan—”

“Please, just hear me oot.  I’ve been waiting over 25 years to say this to you.  Last night in the hotel room, I sat up rolling this over and over in my head because I’ve only got one shot to make you understand.  I could never picture a life withoot you.  My dreams of making it as a musician – everything – just seemed pointless after I heard you and Matt were married.  So I stopped trying.  I mean, a guy’s gotta eat so sometimes a guy’s gotta do things like put on a minstrel show opening for Carrottop in front of a bunch of geriatrics but it’s not the same as—”

“dylan, stop.  please.”  Ashley’s eyes welled up with tears as she struggled to find her words.  “i love you, too.  i always have.  but this can’t happen.  not now, not like this.  please.  i have to keep trying with matt and i thought you understood that.  he’s sacrificed so much for me.  and I’m sure you remember…he sacrificed a lot for you, too.  i moved here just to be with him and maybe things won’t work oot in the end, but this isn’t right.”

“Right.  I got it.”  Now Dylan fought back tears as he forced a smile.  “Can I ask you one more favor?”

“of course, dylan.”

“Can I get a lift to the airport?”

 *************************

DEQ Terrace & Lounge
Toronto, Ontario

Brooke and Stacy filled each other in on the basics of the last twenty years of their lives as they hurried down Wellington Street desperate to reach their destination for refuge from the heavy sleet that had begun to fall directly after the ceremony.

They found a private booth to the left of the bar and sat down.

“Too bad you have to drive home, Stace.  I was really hoping we could tie one on.”

“Are you kidding?  I got a room at the Wyndham because I was hoping the exact same thing.  You’re well worth driving three hours back to Collingwood with a hangover.”

A waitress came by and took their drink orders as Brooke nervously tapped a finger on the table.

“Elliot’s a hottie – I hope you don’t mind me saying.  So what’s up?  You two having trouble?”

“Not exactly.  Elliot is generous and doting…and dull.  But honestly, Stace, at this point in my life, dull suits me just fine.  Tabitha makes me so proud.  She’ll be starting high school next year and…”

Brooke’s lip began to quiver as she stared silently past Stacy.

“Hey…Brooke, what’s wrong?  I know it’s been a long time but you can talk to me.”

“It’s cancer, Stacy.”

They fell awkwardly silent as the waitress returned with their drinks.  When she finally scurried off behind the bar, Stacy leaned across the table and spoke in a near whisper.

“Oh God, Brooke.  I’m so sorry.  How bad?”

“Stage 3.  They don’t think it’s metastasized yet, but my oncologist isn’t a fan of chemo so she wants to start me on injection treatments next week.”

“Jesus.  How are Elliot and Tabitha taking it?”

“They don’t know.”

What?  How have you been hiding something like this from them?”

“When you live in a 5,000 square foot luxury dungeon, it’s surprisingly easy.”

“Well, when are you gonna tell them?  They’re gonna find oot sooner or later, Brooke.”

“That’s just it, Stacy…I can’t.  I just can’t.  Tabitha, Elliot, my career – after so many years treading water, I finally figured oot how to do things right.  Raising a family, caring for them – it’s been my only shot at something like redemption.  My karma sucks, Stace.  I can’t fuck this up.”

“So what are you gonna do?”

“I don’t know.  But I’ve been thinking aboot maybe spending some more time in Collingwood whenever I get a chance.  I really need a friend to lean on, Stacy.”

“You’ve got one, Brooke.  I promise.”

 *************************

Greenwich Village, New York City

Jake joined Arseman and Leslie at their table and asked a passing waiter to bring them three more drinks, a request he punctuated with a light slap on the server’s ass.

“Sorry, Ladies.  If we’re gonna stay here – and we should because my guests drink for free – then I’ve gotta vamp it up.”

“You go, Girl!  Now what’s this big news you’re dying to tell me?”

“Oh God, I feel like such a gossip queen, but this is gonna blow your mind.  You know Matt and Ashley got married, right?”

“Of course.  We’re still in touch on Facebook.”

“Yeah, until the other day, that was the only way I kept tabs on the old crowd, too.  So Matt calls me up for the first time in at least a decade – he has no idea what I do for a living, by the way — and he starts telling me aboot how he’s been doing a local public access show where he gives advice on home renovation or some shit up there in Toronto.  Apparently, some producer from the W Network saw it and offered Matt a starring gig in his own prime time show in Vancouver.”

“Wow…so they’re moving back?”

“Well, Matt is, anyway.”

“Wait, what do you mean?”

“He’s leaving Ashley.”

“Oh my God, they always look so happy in the photos they post—”

“Arseman, everybody always looks happy on Facebook.  That’s what it’s for, making others feel unjustifiably envious aboot your imaginary happiness.  Anyway, he can’t bring himself to tell her so he was seriously considering a clandestine escape from the throes of suburban bliss—”

“That asshole!”

“Don’t worry, I talked him oot of it.  He’s gonna talk to Ashley as soon as he finds his cojones and I guess he’ll file for divorce.”

“Well, that’s the right thing to do, but poor Ashley!”

“There’s more.  I started asking him for all the deets on his new gig but he didn’t really seem too interested.  Know why?  Because he’d already decided to move back to Vancouver before he heard from the producer.  He wants to be near Courtney.”

Courtney?

“Yeah.  Matt’s still in love with her, Arseman.  Do you believe that shit?”

“Wait, but isn’t Courtney—”

“—a fucking nun, yes.  Told you I had some news that would blow your mind!”

“Jake – sorry, Jacqueline – when was the last time you paid a visit to Vancouver?”

“Christ, I don’t know…maybe 2002.”

“Yeah, same here.  I think it’s been too long, don’t you agree?”

“I’m starting to…what do you have in mind?”

“Take my number and see if you can get a couple weeks off.  Wait, when is Matt starting his new show?”

“He said they start filming next month.”

“Next month it is.  In the meantime, I’ll do a little online recon.  It sounds like some old friends could use a serious reality check.”

“And you think that you and a guy who wears a feather boa to work can provide that?”

“Uh, have you forgotten who you’re talking to, Jake?”