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?”

Fifty: YYZ

yyz

Episode 1, Part 3

Toronto Pearson International Airport
January 19, 2022

Ashley sat at the counter of Tim Horton’s Express just ootside the Terminal 1 security gate, nursing a latte with her eyes fixed on the arrivals board.  Air Canada Flight 1899 from Las Vegas was still marked On Time for its scheduled landing at 2:35 pm, just as it had been the last 20 times she checked.

Finally, the moment to which she’d been looking forward and dreading in equal measure arrived.  Ashley rose from the counter and walked over to the reception area.  As the throng of passengers streamed oot of the gate, she kept her eyes peeled for a familiar face until she suddenly jumped at the sensation of two hands grasping her shoulders from behind.

Great to schee ya, Schweetheart!

“dylan!!!”

They wrapped their arms around each other for an extended embrace as Dylan softly stroked the back of her hair.

“You’re still beautiful.”

“thanks, dylan.  you look great, too.”

“Yeah?  Maybe our first stop after the airport should be the optometrist…but thanks for saying so.”

“actually, dylan, i don’t have a lot of free time today.  matt invited some realtors over for dinner tonight and right now, he thinks i’m getting my nails done.  it’s already been a pretty long nail appointment.”

“Ashley, relax.  I’m home now and we’ll have plenty of time to catch up.”

“home?  i still don’t understand why you flew into toronto, dylan.  i mean, it’s great to see you — it is.  but home is pretty far away, unless i’m missing something here.”

“Home is a state of mind, Ashley.  Anyhow, if you can just drop me off downtown, there’s a condo I saw online that I want to check oot.”

“you mean you’re staying?”

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking aboot it.  But don’t worry, I’ll be plenty busy.  Toronto’s a big place and I’ll be too occupied looking for gigs and N.A. meetings to get in your hair…unless, you know…”

Ashley smiled and grasped his hand.

“i’m so glad you’re home, dylan.”

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

Greenwich Village, New York City

Arseman and Leslie descended the escalator to the lobby of the Union Square Tech Space after a grueling 10-hour day spent in the futile attempt to locate the bug in their company’s new software.  Ootside, they pulled their coats tightly around themselves to brace against the biting wind and began their usual Saturday evening trek to Christopher Street for their favorite weekly drag revue at Pieces.  Both close friends and co-owners of Harrell Logistics agreed long ago that the only effective antidote to a long day of coding was a long evening of cocktails and queens.

Inside the establishment, they sat down at a table next to the stage and ordered up two Long Island Iced Teas from the world’s most beautiful woman in possession of an Adam’s apple.

“Good Lord, Leslie!  Did you see him? I’d kill for cheekbones like that.”

“Maybe that’s why you’re still single, Babe.  Gender dysphoria’s a bitch, ain’t it?”

“Oh, suck my ass!  I don’t think I’ll ever meet a bigger fag hag than you.”

They burst oot laughing as the voice of the DJ filled the bar:

OOOO-kay, Ladies and Gentlemen and Everything In Between!  Let’s put our hands together for Pieces’ Precious Pearl of the East, Miss Jacqueline!”

Strobe lights danced across the walls and floors as Miss Jacqueline ascended the stage and the opening beats of “Groove Is In The Heart” caused their glasses to rattle on the table.  As Miss Jacqueline danced around the pole situated in the center of the stage waving her feather boa seductively at the patrons, Arseman got a close glimpse of his face and nearly spit oot her drink.  Leslie leaned over the table and shouted above the music:

“What’s wrong, Hun?  You look like you just saw a ghost.”

“Yeah…I think I just did.”

As Dee-Lite faded into a drone of crowd chatter, Arseman got up from the table and ran over to the dressing room door into which the dancers disappeared after their sets.  As Miss Jacqueline approached, Arseman caught his eye and glared hard until he finally noticed and stopped in his tracks.

“Oh my God – Arseman?!”

“Jake!!!  How have—”

Shhh, not here.  It’s Miss Jacqueline until we’re oot of earshot.”

He grabbed Arseman by the sleeve and led her to the dressing room as she motioned to Leslie to hold tight.

“Have a seat, have a seat!  Oh my god, Arseman, how wonderful to see you!”

“You, too, Jacqueline!”

“It’s Jake.  This is just for extra cash, not a new identity.  It’s so weird that you came in here tonight of all nights.”

“How come?”

“I hadn’t thought aboot Hillside and all you guys for the longest time…until yesterday – I got a call from Matt, completely oot of the blue!”

“Oh yeah?  What brought that on?”

“You got a good stiff drink oot there on your table?”

“A Long Island.”

“Good, let’s go sit down and order up three more.  Have I got some news for you!”

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

Sunset Las Palmas Studios
Hollywood, CA

“Mr. Simpson, call time’s in 10 minutes if you want to come check oot the kids.”

“Thanks, Rose.  I’m gonna take a rain check on that – go ahead and narrow the field down to five or six kids that look like good mutant candidates and I’ll meet them this afternoon.  Oh, and don’t tell them they look like mutants.  Tell them they’re talented actors, okay?  Their parents eat that shit up.”

Alone in his dressing room, Bill looked at the unexpected message from Courtney again.

I hate it that we don’t talk.  I’ve lost my faith and I don’t know what to do.  Please call me when you can.

With a heavy sigh, Bill clicked oot of his messages and fired up a game of Toon Blast.

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

Metro Toronto Convention Centre
Toronto, Ontario

The auditorium was filled nearly to capacity as Brooke nervously fidgeted with the metal clasp of her purse.  Her daughter Tabitha and husband Elliot were sitting on either side of her, but she paid them little mind as she scanned the room over and over, seemingly searching for someone or something of great importance.  As the Master of Ceremonies returned to the stage to announce the nominees for the Accessory Designer of the Year Award, Brooke started to rise from her seat before Elliot grasped her arm.

“Brooke, where are you going?  The Womenswear category is next.”

“I know, I’ll be back in a minute.  I just want to go fix my make-up in the ladies room.”

“But you look fan—”

“I said I’ll just be a minute.”

Brooke eased oot of the aisle and walked to the lobby where she began searching the modest crowd of mostly disinterested spouses and teenagers milling aboot waiting for the ceremony to end.  At last, she spotted her leaning against the bar holding a glass of champagne.

“Well, if it isn’t Stacy Collins!”

“Brooke, there you are!  I got here a little late, so I didn’t want to go inside and miss you.  I was hoping you’d come oot and look for me.  You look great!”

“Thank you.  And you’re still rocking the Nouveau Trash, I see.”

Brooke—

“I’m sorry, Stacy.  Really.  Old habits die hard, I guess.  I really appreciate that you came.”

“Are you kidding?  I was so excited to hear from you and now I find oot that you’re getting an award!”

“We don’t know that yet…but I didn’t invite you here to show off.  Can you grab a drink with me after this is over?”

“Well, sure, but isn’t your husband—”

“He’s a big boy, he can find his own way home.  I’ve wanted to reach oot to you for a while now, but it’s been so long and I couldn’t think of a pretense until I got this nomination.  Things are bad, Stace.”

“What do you mean?  I thought you were on top of the world.”

From the auditorium, the voice of the MC just barely carried to the lobby: “And the winner of the 2021 Womenswear Designer of the Year is…Brooke Morgan-Hoffman!

A tear slowly cut a path down Brooke’s heavily mascaraed cheek.  She wiped it away with the back of her palm and grabbed Stacy by the arm.

“Come on.  I have to go pull off the performance of a lifetime.”