Now That She’s Gone: Chapter 6

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Chapter 6
Joe: Present – That night

Joe and Robbie sat on either side of the desk in Joe’s office. Robbie scratched furiously at the wood on the arm of the chair he sat in.

“We didn’t live near family at the time,” Joe said, “And Martin had a tendency to disappear a lot. He just popped up one day with you in his arms and asked if we could watch you for a while. During that year, we we’re phoning home much. We were sleep deprived between you and Jesse only being a year a part and Alison was only 3. It was a handful. So when we finally made the trip back home with three kids, everyone was surprised to see you, but we were able to play off that Katherine had you in the chaos of little ones. Her mom was the only one truly mad that we didn’t tell people she was pregnant. But even she got over it. You would just smile and giggle and melt everyone’s hearts. No one could stay mad for long.” Joe knew he was rambling, but he couldn’t seem to help it.

Robbie nodded, but didn’t look up. He kept scratching the arm of the chair.

“Robbie,” Joe said, then paused. “Robbie, please look at me.” He waited a couple more seconds. Finally, Robbie lifted his head. “You are my son. That doesn’t change.”

Robbie nodded, but didn’t say anything.

“I’m guessing you want to talk to him?”

“Not right now,” Robbie said, quietly.

“That’s your choice,” Joe said, nodding, his shoulders sagging in relief.

“Eventually though.”

Joe nodded again.

* * *

After Robbie left, Joe scanned the new email Martin had sent. He was looking for a kidney. Joe knew there’d been a reason for why he suddenly appeared.

He wrote back agreeing to the terms of the new deal. Joe would donate a kidney if he was match, and Martin agreed he wouldn’t ask Robbie. Wherever she was, he hoped Katherine would approve. He’d finally stood up to Martin and protected his son.

The End.

Now That She’s Gone: Chapter 5 – Part 2

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Chapter 5: Part 2
Katherine: June 2005

Joe stood behind Martin in the laundry room and he was deliberately not meeting Katherine’s eyes.

“Martin.” She glared, not even pretending to be friendly. “What are you doing here?”

Joe awkwardly cleared his throat.

She listened carefully for the sound of the garage closing, careful to keep her voice low so the kids wouldn’t overhear. Jesse and Robbie were in the garage getting their bikes. She’d given them money for a movie so they wouldn’t be around to hear this argument.

“I came to get my son,” he smiled at her. “Thanks for watching him for me.”

“Watching him?” she said, her voice breathless with anger. She paused, waiting. Finally, the telltale sound of clattering metal signaled that the garage door was finally closing. As she pushed passed Martin and Joe to walk back into the living room she said: “Watching him is what you do for a night or a couple of days. Maybe a couple of weeks tops. 10 years is not watching him!” She whirled around to spit out: “That’s called parenting!”

His faced flashed into a glare. “You are not his parents.”

She walked to the front window and saw Robbie’s and Jesse’s retreating backs as they sped off on their bikes. She felt her body relax. She faced Martin again.

“You abandoned him. You gave up the right to call him son.”

He took a step towards her. “Time doesn’t change his DNA.”

“Robbie is his son,” Joe whispered, staring at the carpet.

“He’s happy now!” She exclaimed.

“Oh, yeah? Well why don’t we ask him?” Martin asked.

She flinched. “No, absolutely not.”

He grinned. “Why not? What are you afraid of? That he’d prefer to live with me than you?”

“He doesn’t know you’re his father. You’re going to mess with his head. And for what? To abandon him again? Why now? You’ve been gone for most of his life.”

“He doesn’t know me?” Martin asked, looking back and forth between her and Joe. Joe stared at the ground and mumbled incoherent explanations, but she ignored him. She’d seen Martin’s face when she asked that. She knew she was on to something. “Why are you even doing here?” she asked again.

Martin glared at her. “I don’t have to explain myself to you.”

“If you want to see him you do.”

Martin frowned, but didn’t answer.

“Come on,” she said, probing him. “You and Skye left for an audition in L.A. Then, another one came up. Then, another. Finally, it’s, ‘we’re going to stay out here for awhile.’ It was all about fame and fortune with you two. So, why are you back?”

Martin scratched his arm, glaring at her, but he didn’t say anything.

“What’s the matter? Didn’t the glamorous life pan out like you thought? Big surprise. So why are you back? How are you going to provide for him? Do you have a job?”

“I don’t need a job,” Martin said, finally. “There’s big money in child actors.”

“What?” she nearly shouted.

He held up his hand. “Hear me out. There’s this audition for seven to nine-year-olds that would be perfect.”

“He’s thirteen!” she said, exasperated.

“Wait, what?” he asked, looking back and forth between her and Joe. Even Joe was glaring at him this time.

“Well, that’s fine. There’s auditions for thirteen-year-olds too. Really, thirteen?” he ran his hand over the back of his head. “Huh.”

Katherine stared at him, her eyes huge. “Get out.”

He opened and closed his jaw a few times, then a glint lit up his eyes. He smiled. “I’ll tell him.”

“Excuse me?” She cocked her ear at him like she hadn’t heard correctly.

“I’ll tell him your not his real parents unless you,” he paused and closed one eye like he was thinking hard. “Appreciate my silence.”

Now That She’s Gone: Chapter 5 – Part 1

purse and wallet

Chapter 5
Katherine: June 2005

Katherine was livid. She stared at the text message on her flip phone. Joe was bringing Martin here. To their home. Where Robbie was.

She snapped her phone shut thinking fast. She had to get him out of the house. She grabbed her purse called up the stairs.

“Robbie! Jesse! Come down here now!” Unfortunately Alison was a friend’s house, her only kid old enough to their driver’s license. In moments, feet were thundering down the stairs.

“Where’s Jesse?” she asked, looking up from her purse where she was scrounging through her wallet.

“Still in her room I guess.” He shrugged his shoulders.

Sighing, she grabbed money from her purse and shoved it in his hand. “Here’s some money for a movie.”

“What?” he asked, looking down at the money in his hand.

“Jesse! Come down here please!” she called up the stairs. Then turning to Robbie she asked, “Didn’t you and Jesse say you wanted to go see Batman Begins?”

“Really?” he asked, his eyes lighting up. “Yay!” He pumped his fist in the air. “Jesse! C’mon!”

Katherine heard the sound of car doors slamming and raced to the front window. Joe was back already. He and Martin were climbing out of their dark blue Nissan.

“Jesse! Now!” she yelled up the stairs.

She could hear voices through the front door getting closer as their shadows fell across the frosted glass in the front door.

She grabbed Robbie by the shoulders and lead him out the garage. “I’ll send Jesse out as soon as she comes down. Get your helmet on and you guys can take your bikes.” Behind her, she heard the front door opening. She shoved Robbie through the door to the garage and shut it.

She raced back to the hall just as they were coming in the front door. At the same time Jesse landed at the bottom of the stairs. She looked back and forth between the men at the door and her.

“You called me?” she asked.

Katherine held up one finger to the men and smiled. “I’ll be right back.” Then she grabbed Jesse by the wrist and they walked to the garage door. “I gave Robbie some money to see the new Batman movie. If you guys hurry, you can make it in time.”

Jesse’s eyes opened in surprise. “I thought you said he was too young?”

“I changed my mind. But you need to hurry.”

Jesse grinned and slipped out the door.

“Katherine?” Joe called.

“I’ll be there in just a sec!” She called back.

She stood at the door listening to the sound of the garage door to opening. Behind her, she heard footsteps as Joe and Martin approached from around the corner.

“Close. Close. C’mon, close,” She silently pleaded with the garage door knowing it would signal that the kids had left.

“Hello Katherine,” Martin asked. She turned to see Martin standing in the laundry room with Joe cowering behind him.

Now That She’s Gone: Chapter 4 – Part 2

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Chapter 4 – Part 2
Joe: The Morning of the Funeral

Joe had one thought: get to Robbie and keep his brother Martin as far away as possible. Joe’s foot pressed down on the accelerator as his bumper inched closer to the car ahead of him.

“Get out of the way!” he shouted through the windshield.

He had no idea how he was going to keep Robbie away from Martin at the funeral. His mind raced through hundreds of different scenarios all ending with Robbie telling him he never wanted to see him again.

It was 8:35 am when he pulled up to Robbie’s apartment building. The funeral didn’t start until 1 pm. He was way too early. He got out anyway and rang the buzzer.

“Hello?” a groggy voice answered.

“Hey, it’s me, Dad,” Joe said, wracking his brain for plausible reasons for why he just shown up hours before the funeral.

The door buzzed to let him in.

“Why are you here so early?” Robbie asked after Joe walked up the four floors to his apartment.

“I just thought we could go for breakfast,” Joe said, hoping that sounded reasonable.

“Oh, I mean, I guess.” He ran his hand through his bedraggled hair. He was standing in his boxers and bathrobe. “I still need to work on the eulogy. I can’t seem to get the wording quite right.”

“Perfect. I can help you,” Joe said. “Get dressed and we’ll work on it over breakfast.”

Robbie’s eyes brightened and his face broke into a grin. “Thanks Dad!” As Joe watched him walk into his room, he chest stung. Robbie was his son. When Martin dropped him off all those years ago, Katherine had immediately taken him as her own. It had taken him longer, but this time he would fight for him.

“Ready?” Robbie asked, walking out of the bedroom.

“Yes,” he said. This time he was ready.

Now That She’s Gone: Chapter 4 – Part 1

FruitChapter 4 – Part 1
Joe: The Morning of the Funeral

Joe sat at the morning breakfast table with his newspaper and toast. He wasn’t looking forward to today, but he’d made his peace with it. Katherine had been sick for the past year and it had been heart-wrenching to see her in pain. As much as he missed her, he was grateful she wasn’t in pain anymore.

He bit into the burnt piece of toast and chewed what tasted like sawdust mixed with jam. He allowed himself to embrace the silence of the morning before the chaos began. He groaned inwardly when he heard a car pull up and then a door slam. So it begins.

He dusted his fingers off over his empty plate and brought his dish to the sink. Just as he was downing the last of his coffee Alison came in the back door by the kitchen.

“Morning Dad,” she said. Her arms were weighed down with Tupperware containers and grocery bags.

“Whoa, let me help you that.” He grabbed some of her load and helped her set everything on the counter.

“Thanks,” she said. “Did you get a dog?”

“No, why do you ask?

“There’s a bunch of dog poop in the yard.”

“Oh, that,” he said, taking the last few bags from her and setting them on the counter. “The neighbours got a dog and it likes to come over here to do his business.”

“Ew, that’s gross. Why doesn’t the dog just stay in its own yard?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Who knows.”

“Didn’t you talk to them about it?”

“Nah,” he said, starting to pull the groceries out of the shopping bags.

“Why not?” she asked, staring at him with one hand on her hip and gesturing with the other. “They need to stop.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Why stir the waters. Besides the dog, they’re good neighbours.”

Alison opened her mouth to say something. Changing the subject, he quickly cut her off saying, “That’s a lot of food. Didn’t you already bring a bunch of stuff over yesterday?”

“Yeah, well we had a bunch of people RSVP at the last minute so I needed to get more food.” Her hair was pulled back into a messy bun and she look exhausted.

“Thank you for doing all this,” he said, giving her a hug. “Your mom would so appreciate it.”

Alison’s eyes welled up with tears.

“You know she was so proud of you. But you don’t need to kill yourself doing all of this,” he said softly, his hand resting on her shoulder.

She pushed away from him and wiped her tears away with the back of her hand. “Mom would have made everything perfect.”

He sighed. Katherine would have. A perfectionist quality she seemed to have passed down to their eldest daughter.

“But your mom did this because she loved planning parties and gatherings. She didn’t do it because she had to. She did it because she loved it.”

“I love it too,” she said, her shoulders sagging. He raised his eyebrow at her and she sighed. “I need to get some of this in the fridge.”

He started to help, but she quickly brushed him away. “It’s okay. There’s not a lot of room left in the fridge so I need to rearrange some things. It’s best if I do it myself.”

He set the melon he’d just pulled out the bag back down on the counter. He left her to work her Tetris on the fridge and pulled his phone out to check his emails.

He’d been receiving condolences for the past week. He was getting tired of reading them, but knew people would be asking at the funeral if he’d received them.

He quickly skimmed through a bunch when one suddenly caught his eye. It was from his brother. He hadn’t heard from Martian in over 15 years. He clicked it open and felt his pulse quicken as dread oozed down his shoulders.

Dear Joe,

I’m sorry to hear about Katherine passing. I’m sure this must be a hard time for you all.

I’m just going to get to the point. I want to see my son. In issue has come up and it’s important that I see him. I know Katherine told me to stay away, but I thought now that she is gone, you might be more reasonable. I’ll see you at the funeral.

Martian

Joe stared at the words on his phone and read them multiple times. He had no idea what to do. He’d never been able to stand up to his older brother. Not when they were kids. Not when Martin had come back the first time demanding to see Martin. It had been Katherine who reacted like a mother bear and insisted he never come back. But now she was gone and it was up to him.

He squared his shoulders. He’d failed Robbie when he was a boy, but he wouldn’t do it again. He had to get to prevent Martian from getting to Robbie.

He stood up so fast, the chair he’d been sitting on tipped backwards and landed with a giant thud.

“You okay?” Alison asked, turning around from the fridge.

“I have to get ready,” he mumbled as he hurried out of the room leaving the chair lying on the ground.

Now That She’s Gone: Chapter 3 – Part 2

Chapter 3 – Part 2
Robbie: The Funeral (Before the Tea)

When people started filtering into the lobby, Robbie make a quick escape and wandered down a hall until he found a small library. He didn’t want to be around other people. Their grief annoyed him. He knew he was being unfair. But they didn’t know his mom like he and his sisters and dad did. They would come to the funeral, cry, and then go back into the world like nothing had happened. But his life would never be the same.

He hid in the library waiting for the funeral to start. His plan was to sneak into the back. That was the other thing. They were all supposed to file in and sit up at the front. He didn’t want to cry in front of people. He didn’t want people staring. He would sit in the back rather than participate in the circus act.

He could hear the muted voices of people talking in the lobby so he knew it hadn’t started yet. He was sitting on the floor again with his head leaning against the wall. The room was dark and the smell of old books, paper, and ink lingered in the air. It was comforting him and reminded him of when he was kid and his mom would take him to the library.

As the sound of the voices got quieter, he checked his phone. It was 12:59 pm which meant that the last few stragglers would be going inside the sanctuary to grab seats before it started. He would wait a couple more minutes to avoid any stragglers. The eulogy wasn’t until after a few songs anyway, so he wasn’t worried about missing his cue.

He stood up and wiped the sweat from his shaking hands. When he finally sneaked back down the hallway, he listened carefully for voices. All he could hear was the preacher, his microphoned voice filling the lobby. He had just stepped into the lobby when he saw his dad still standing in front of the main doors. He veered course and walked towards his dad to check to see if he was okay.

At this point, two things happened. First, his father went from passive to furiously angry in a second. He leaped the stairs to the sidewalk and stood there like a miniature Hulk.

He rarely ever seen his dad angry. When he looked out the doors to see what had enraged him, Robbie saw a man walking down the sidewalk towards the front steps. He was a big man, both tall and girthy. His father was shorter and leaner and definitely didn’t look like he should be getting in a fight with this man.

Robbie about to join his dad on the sidewalk to help him when their voices elevated and he heard what they were saying.

“I have a right to see him,” the man said.

“Get lost,” his dad said. “You lost that right to see him when you abandoned him.”

“He’s my son.”

“Not anymore. He doesn’t know you exist.”

“I let Katherine convince me not to see him, but now she’s gone. You don’t get to tell me I don’t get to see my son.”

“Robbie is MY son!” his dad said, spit spraying from his mouth. “I don’t care what your DNA says!”

Robbie froze. Everything seemed to tilt oddly to the side. He grasped the door frame to keep from falling over.

The man tried to push past his dad, but his dad gripped the man’s arm. “Whatever rights you think you have, now is not the time. This is a funeral.”

The man hesitated, then pulled his arm from his dad’s grasp. “Fine. But I will see my son today.” He turned around and strode off. His dad straightened his suit, watching the man walk away.

Robbie turned back inside before he his dad saw him and slipped in the back of service. He stared at the eulogy in his hands no longer knowing what was true.

Now That She’s Gone: Chapter 3 – Part 1

Chapter 3 – Part 1
Robbie: The Funeral (Before the Tea)

Robbie sat on the floor in the lobby of the church with his back against the wall. He finally been able to convince his dad that to give him some space so he could finish editing the eulogy he was going to read at the funeral. It was an hour and half before it would start and no one was there yet, except for his family and the church custodian.

Robbie was dressed in his suit, but he didn’t care about getting it dirty. He was focused on the same thing he’d been writing for the past two weeks. He had the eulogy out and kept scratching out words that he’d written only to rewrite the same thing moments later. No matter how hard he tried he just couldn’t get it right.

He felt, rather than saw, Jesse sit down next to him. She reached over and grabbed the pen from his hand.

“It’s going to be great. Stop worrying.”

He turned to look at her. “I just don’t want to disappoint Mom.”

“You won’t. Are you kidding me?” Jesse laughed. “She was so proud of you. You were her favourite!”

“No, I wasn’t,” he said, his eyes got huge. “She loved all of us.”

She raised her eyebrow at him. “I know she loved me, and I’m not mad or jealous or anything, but you were definitely her favourite.”

He could feel sobs bubbling up his throat, burning. His eyes stung with tears that he tried desperately to bite back. She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him.

“I miss her,” he whispered.

“Me too.”

They sat for a bit as Robbie read and reread the eulogy when Jesse suddenly broke the silence: “What’s Dad doing?”

She pointed at their dad pacing back and forth in front of the glass front doors. Suddenly, he dropped to the ground in his suit and did a couple of push-ups. Then, he’d jump back up, do a couple of bounces on the balls of his feet before he started pacing again.

“I have no idea. He came to my house first thing in the morning acting weird. He insisted on taking me out for breakfast and wouldn’t leave my side. At one point, he tried to escort me to the bathroom.”

‘What?” Jesse said, giggling.

“Oh sure, you laugh ’cause it’s not happening to you. I hate that Dad thinks I’m weak.”

“He doesn’t think you’re weak.” Jesse insisted.

“Why else is he hovering over me? He doesn’t think I can handle today,” he frowned. “You know, I’m stronger than people think.”

“I know. And so does Dad,” Jesse said. After a pause, she added, “Okay, seriously, what is he doing?”

Robbie looked up and burst out laughing. Their dad was facing the glass door and exaggeratedly frowning and glaring, all the while talking to himself clearly arguing with his reflection.

“There you are!” Alison said, striding towards them from the sanctuary doors, her heels clicking on the hardwood floor of the lobby. She glared at Jesse as she walked. Robbie sighed. This had always been how Ally handled stress. She got as busy as she could so she didn’t have to feel how much pain she was in.

“I better go,” Jesse whispered as she patted his arm and then stood up. “You’ll be great.”

“I can help too,” Robbie said, starting to get up.

“No,” Alison said, “You work on the eulogy. Make it perfect.” she said, smiling at him. “C’mon Jesse.”  Then she turned on her heel and walked back into the sanctuary.

“Geez, no pressure or anything.” Jesse rolled her eyes at him. “Seriously, it’ll be great.”

He started reading over his paper again, as she walked away.