Family Gathering

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Chapter 1: The Funeral

The dark clouds were gathering together in the dreary afternoon sky. A small amount of sunlight shined through the surrounding atmosphere. White lightning flashed in fast seconds under the heavy clouds. Soon rain will pour down on the weeping crowd standing by the coffin.

Before the funeral, the day was sunny and no cloud appeared in the bright sky. The world moved quickly as the long row of cars lined up along the cemetery hill. During the funeral procession, the mourners walked across the green field, which was decorated with stone crosses, statues of angels, and gardens of fresh flowers.

The coffin was slowly lowered six feet under. The priest recited a prayer from his bible as he stood in front of the tombstone. Standing around the open grave plot, the crowd held a fresh red rose in their hands.

Joaquin Philips walked slowly towards his family. His head was bowed and his hands were inside the pockets of his black blazer. He wore the same black suit and tie just like everyone else. He would stop and stand next to his family.

At that moment, he felt a raindrop touching his cheek.

Chapter 2: Joaquin

Joaquin sat at the front of his small bed, making his black tie. He became frustrated because this was the fifth time he was making the knot. His black pants were ironed out as well as the white dress shirt. He left the top button of the collar open. Since early morning, the black tie was the only thing giving him a problem. Now it was just an annoyance.

Next to the bed was a large brown desk with a computer and a telephone on top. CDs and notebooks covered the messy desk. A crooked poster of author William S. Burroughs hung on the blue wall behind Joaquin. Stacks of yellow paper were pinned to the blue wall. The closet, which had enough space for two people, was filled halfway with Joaquin’s clothing.

Another bed was placed inside the large-sized room. The covers were nicely made on the white bed. On this side of the room, you couldn’t tell someone else had been living there. In between the two beds was a large window, the only source of light came from the sun’s rays shining through the clear glass.

Joaquin finally let the frustration sink in and threw the black tie onto the floor. He bowed his head, took a deep breath, and placed both hands on the back of his neck.

Quietly sitting on his bed, he heard the wind blowing softly and listened to the sound crickets made.

Chapter 3: Friends

At the college campus, Joaquin leaned his right shoulder against the tall tree. He was listening to the sound crickets made. His right hand was wrapped with white bandages. He was wearing a long green plaid shirt and blue jeans with brown shoes.

“Joaquin…hey Joaquin?” said Ethan.

Ethan was tall, muscular and he was sitting on the green grass. Next to them was a large pond and a long field of trees.

Joaquin said, “Hmmm…”

Ethan said, “You zoned out again.”

“I was just thinking. My Mom’s funeral is on Friday.”

Ethan shook his head and said, “I know. I know, man.”

“She really is dead.”

“You sure you don’t want me there at the funeral?

Joaquin replied, “No.”

“What about your girlfriend, Joaquin?”

“I especially don’t want her to be there.”

“You haven’t even told her when the funeral is.”

“And you better not tell her either. Ethan.”

“Then why come back to class? You know it’s okay if you skipped.”

A flashback within a flashback, Joaquin remembered looking at the black address book. He flipped through each page, which had phone numbers written in them. He remembered picking up the phone; dialing and saying, “My mother passed away.” He then hung up, picked up the phone, dialed, and said, “My mother’s dead.”

He closed his eyes tightly, rubbed his face, and hung up the phone. Joaquin took a deep breath, picked up the phone, and dialed again. After repeating, “My Mom’s dead,” he didn’t even bother listening to the person on the other line. He just hung up the phone.

Joaquin turned around and looked at Ethan.

“I just had to get out of the house.”

Joaquin walked towards the large pond and stared at his own reflection in the water. Ethan rose up from the warm ground and stood next to Joaquin.

Ethan said, “What’s going to happen after the funeral?”

“I don’t know.”

“Listen, once you go back to class and start failing tests like you always do, things will start to look normal.”

Joaquin said, “Then I’ll guess I’ll have to cheat off of you,” with a small smile on his face.

He grabbed a small pebble and threw it across the pond, watching his reflection ripple in the water.

Ethan said, “You know you did everything you could, right?”

Chapter 4: Waking Up

Joaquin had both hands folded together and held them close to his lips.

He whispered, “I did everything I could…”

He picked up the black tie from the floor and placed it around his neck. He took a deep breath before he went back to making his tie.

Chapter 5: The Father

Michael Philips stood in front of the mirror staring at himself. Half of his hair had turned gray. He combed his hair back after covering the sides with gel. His face was neatly shaven, his black pants were new, and his white shirt was clean. Unlike his son, he had no difficulty making his black tie.

He then stood in front of the mirror and cabinet. On top of the cabinet was a comb, cologne, and a small glass frame, which contained a picture of him and his wife on their wedding day.

Behind him was the king-sized bed, which was next to the alarm clock. The numbers on the ticking clock said it was 9:30 am.

Michael Philips stood quietly still, listening to the clock ticking.

Chapter 6: Pregnancy

Michael Philips was listening to the clock ticking when his wife said, “You know you’re not going to work today.”

Michael responded, “Why do you say that?”

He turned around to look at his wife, Samantha. She had long curly brown hair and wore an over-sized gray sweater. Samantha sat on the bed with the blue covers covering her bare legs. In her right hand was the stop-watch ticking. And in her left hand was the pregnancy stick.

Samantha said, “You’re going to stay here with me. We’re going to find out whether I’m pregnant or not.”

At this point in his life, Michael had all of his hair black. He wore a dark blue dress shirt with a red tie and black pants.

“You’re not pregnant. We already have one kid. We don’t need another one.”

He sat down next to Samantha on the bed with his arms wrapped around her stomach.

Samantha said, “Well then, how do you explain the morning sickness?”

“Maybe you’re just getting sick.”

“Oh ha-ha. It’s never that simple.”

“Maybe you have the flu.”

“It’s summer.”

“Maybe it was something you ate.”

“I’m on a diet.”

“You are? No wonder I can put my arms around you all of a sudden.”

Samantha smirked as she jabbed her elbow into Michael’s stomach. After laughing at his own joke, he laid his head on her shoulder.

Michael said, “You think we can be parents a second time?”

Samantha said, “I’m still wondering if we’re doing a good job with our first kid.”

“So what are we going to call our baby boy?”

“A boy! We’re having a girl!”

“So what’s our baby girl’s name?”

“How about Rebecca?”

“Becky? I don’t know.”

“What about…Julie?”

“Julie Philips. I don’t like it.”

“We have 9 months to come up with a name.”

Michael asked, “How long is this supposed to take?”

Samantha answered, “A minute.”

“How much do we have let?”

“20 seconds.”

Michael realized and said aloud, “This is the longest minute of my life.”

Chapter 7: Father and Son

Michael shook his head when he heard knocking at the door. Joaquin stood at the doorway knocking. He saw his son in the reflection of the mirror. When Michael turned around, he half-expected to see Samantha sitting on the bed wearing the over-sized gray sweater.

“Dad?”

“Joaquin. What is it?”

“You ready for breakfast?”

“Breakfast?”

Michael glanced at the alarm clock and shook his head.

“Yeah. Let’s go eat.”

Chapter 8: Breakfast

The kitchen was small and its walls were painted yellow. All of the cabinets in the kitchen were brown and the stove next to the sink was white. An antique fan hung from the ceiling. At the corner, there was a white door that led to the backyard.

Sitting at the round table was Joaquin eating his scrambled eggs. A carton of orange juice sat at the center of the table. Michael stood in front of the sink washing the black pan.

“Dad, how long does it take for you to make a tie?”

“I’m not sure. I guess ten seconds or so. Why do you ask?”

“Just wondering.”

Joaquin then poured himself more orange juice into the glass cup.

Michael said, “I asked for a leave of absence from work and I got it. I’ll be around more than usual after the funeral.”

Joaquin nodded as he drank down the orange juice.

“When are the people showing up?”

Michael answered, “Your uncle, cousins, and your mother’s friends should be arriving at the house around one o’clock I suppose. Then at three, all of us are heading to…to the cemetery.”

Michael stared at the clean pan and quietly placed it with the rest of the washed dishes. He rubbed his hands afterwards with a white towel that was hanging from the drawers.

Michael rolled down his unbuttoned sleeves as he turned around and faced Joaquin.

“I just realized people will be coming to the house and they will be expecting us to feed them.”

“Do we really have to feed them?”

“Why shouldn’t we?”

“It’s not like we’re having a party.”

“What food do people serve for a gathering?”

“Dad, it’s a funeral.”

“But it’s still a gathering.”

“How many do you suppose are coming?”

“Oh thirty I suppose.”

“Do you even have time to cook for thirty people?”

“Let’s take a look.”

Michael opened the refrigerator door right away. Inside the refrigerator, he found a plastic bag full of tomatoes, dry lettuce, and rotten eggs. A white milk carton was placed all the way in the back. He grabbed the milk carton, opened it, and took a whiff. His eyes opened wide as soon as the foul odor entered his nose.

“Wow. That is bad.”

He checked the expiration date on the milk carton. Michael shook his head and dropped the milk carton into the trash.

“I hadn’t gone to the supermarket since we went to the hospital.”

He closed the refrigerator door afterwards.

Michael said, “You know what?”

“What?”

“We’re ordering out.”

“You sure?”

“Do I look like I know how to cook?”

“I’ll get the yellow pages,” Joaquin said as he got up from his seat.

After Joaquin left, Michael stood alone quietly in the empty kitchen staring at the floor.

Chapter 9: Delivery

The large living room was composed of brown walls, two auburn sofas, and a long brown couch. The sofas and the couch sat around the television set. Family portraits hung on the wall behind the television set. A round red rug lied next to the sofas. The floor was a step elevated near the front door.

Close to the kitchen was the dinner table, which was draped with red and white cloths. A vase containing red roses was placed at the center of the table.

Lying back on the couch channel, Joaquin was surfing when he heard the doorbell ring. He quickly sat up and raced to the door. When he opened the door, he saw the delivery boy carrying two white bags of food. Joaquin took the two bags from the boy’s hands and placed them on the floor. He then searched through his pockets for his wallet.

“Thirty right?”

The delivery boy nodded.

He took out his wallet, opened it, and reached for the green bills. He handed the money quickly to the delivery boy.

“You know what? Keep the change.”

The delivery boy smiled and walked away. Joaquin shut the door and looked at his watch.

He whispered, “Ten seconds. Ten seconds to take the food and hand him the cash.”

After shaking his head, he grabbed the two bags, and walked across the living room. The door between the living room and the kitchen continued to move back and forth after Joaquin pushed it.

Then the doorbell rang again.

Michael yelled, “I got it!” as he ran down the steps.

Joaquin placed the two bags on top of the round table and began to take the food out.

At the front door, Michael met with the first of the guest arriving at the house. Two ladies, both in their 60s and with white hair, greeted Michael with tears. The two guests wore dark blue dresses and they both had glasses on their faces.

One of the old ladies said, “Samantha was such a wonderful woman!”

The other elderly woman said, “Oh Michael! I’m so sorry!”

Joaquin was listening to the two women crying when he heard his cell-phone ringing. The ring tone was of a piano melody.

Joaquin yelled at himself, “I was supposed to turn this off!” as he grabbed the cell phone from the pocket inside his blazer.

He pressed a button on the cell and said, “Hello?”

The door between the living room and the kitchen continued to move back and forth. Joaquin could see his father talking to the two ladies, who were still crying.

On the other line was Joaquin’s best friend, Ethan. While walking in circles in his bedroom, Ethan was scratching his head with his left hand. The walls of his bedroom were covered with posters of Bob Marley.

Ethan said, “How are you doing, Joaquin?”

“Okay I guess. Guests are starting to arrive.”

“I don’t know how to tell you this man.”

“What is it?”

“I was just talking to her. You know, I was minding my own business.”

“Talk to me. What’s going on?”

“I let it slip.”

“You let what slip?”

“She knows man.”

“Who knows what?”

“Your girlfriend, Joaquin. Your girlfriend knows.”

“Ah crap. How did this? You actually told her about today!”

“I know you don’t want her there but you should have seen her. She’s worried about you.”

“So she’s coming here?”

“I guess so. She left in a hurry after I spoke to her.”

“Dammit.”

“Hey at least, you know, I didn’t sleep with her.”

“Gee, I don’t know which is worse: her here or you and her in bed?”

“She is a fox. She could be chunkier though.”

“I should hit you but you’re making me laugh.”

“Good luck man.”

“Thanks.”

“Give her my love.”

“Shut up.”

Both smiled as they hung up their cells.

Chapter 10: Amie

Sitting in the back of the black taxi, Amie listened to the song playing on the radio. Mick Jagger was singing, “Congratulations,” as Charlie Watts beat the drums. Amie watched the white houses with picket fences pass by as the taxi drove across the street. The outside world seemed to move slowly to Keith Richard’s guitar loop.

The Taxi Driver double-parked, turned around, and said, “This is the place.”

Amie nodded, opened her small back purse, and handed the Taxi Driver a twenty dollar bill.

After saying, “Thank you,” she got out of the taxi and shut the door behind her.

More guests had arrived at the Philips household. A few of them were standing at the front porch. Amie was nervous because she didn’t know any of them.

The front porch was painted gray and had columns underneath the balcony on the second floor. While sitting on the wooden bench, the guests glanced at Amie as she passed them.

When Amie entered the living room, it dawned on her she didn’t recognize any of the guests inside either. The guests were staring at her as she stood by herself. With her hands placed on her elbows, she wondered whether she should be there or not.

Amie whispered, “Why am I even here?”

Standing in the kitchen with the door ajar, Joaquin followed Amie with his eyes. He took a deep breath and walked out of the kitchen.

Why should I be here? I’m not family. This doesn’t have anything to do with me. What if he doesn’t want me here? These questions continued to repeat themselves in Amie’s mind.

All of a sudden, Amie had her answer when she saw Joaquin walking towards her.

Chapter 11: Relationships

Amie looked up when she saw Joaquin walking towards her. She had just started eating her lunch, which was a bowl of Caesar salad. Next to the bowl was a plastic bottle of water. Amie sat at a long picnic bench at the back of her college building.

Other students, minding their own business, sat at the other picnic benches eating their lunches. The afternoon sky was bright and sunny. With the grass neatly cut, the wind was blowing the flowers gently. The air smelled fresh to her.

Joaquin sat down on the bench in front of his girlfriend.

Amie said, “Hey. I thought you weren’t going to show up.”

Joaquin said, “I did. Then I decided to skip after all. How was class?”

“Boring.”

“I knew I wasn’t missing much.”

“Well we have a test in a couple of weeks.”

“I guess I’ll copy off of you instead of Ethan when the time comes.”

“I was wondering…when the funeral is?”

Joaquin said, “Oh,” as he tapped his hands on the table. “Like in a week or two.”

“Why do I feel like you’re avoiding me?”

“I’m not.”

Amie looked at him suspiciously.

“I’m not!”

Amie pointed to the white bandages wrapped around Joaquin’s right hand with her plastic fork.

“What’s up with that?”

Joaquin said, “You mean this?” when he pointed his fingers to his white bandages.

“Yeah that.”

“What about it?”

“You told me your hand was feeling better. You didn’t feel any pain when you closed your fist.”

“Yeah. My hand is feeling better.”

“Then why do you still have it?

“I don’t know. I guess I’m used to it.”

Joaquin studied his bandaged hand when he moved his wrist.

“I’ve had it on…you know…since the accident.”

“Do you need help removing the bandages?”

“No I can do it.”

“I’ll do it. Give me your hand.”

Joaquin laid down his hand on the table. Amie slowly removed the bandages from his fingers. Afterwards, she glanced at the pile of bandages lying next to her bowl.

He said, “So what do you think?” as he cracked his knuckles.

“I think you had more personality with the bandages on.”

The two smiled at each other as they sat quietly.

Chapter 12: Silence

Amie and Joaquin stared at each other as they stood uncomfortably quiet.

“Hey.”

“Hi.”

They nodded at the same time. The other guests in the living room were talking louder, even though they were whispering.

Joaquin said, “Look…I’m sorry… I…”

Amie shook her head. “Why didn’t you tell me…”

She stopped herself and then whispered as Amie continued, “That it was today.”

“I chickened out. I’m sorry.”

Amie raised her voice as she said, “You better be!”

She was shocked by the tone of her voice. Some of the guests glanced at her and then turned their heads.

“I didn’t want you to see this.”

“You don’t need to protect me. We all deal with death at some point in our lives.”

“It’s not that. It’s just…”

The telephone was ringing in the kitchen. Joaquin turned his head when he heard the first ring.

Joaquin mumbled, “It’s just…”

Amie placed her hand on his right cheek. Slowly, she moved Joaquin’s head to face hers.

“Don’t avoid me. I’m right here.”

Joaquin heard the ringing stop when his father said, “Hello?”

Amie said, “Talk to me.”

Joaquin took a deep breathe and his tight shoulders sank down.

“It’s just that this is about my Mom.”

Amie bowed her head sadly and moved her hand away from Joaquin’s cheek. She folded her arms across her chest.

“I wish I knew what to say.”

They stared at each other again, uncomfortably in silence for a moment. Michael barged in and slapped Joaquin’s back with his left hand.

Michael said, “Joaquin, we have to talk. Sorry to interrupt. Hi Amie.”

Amie nodded as Michael glanced at the both of them.

“Hello Mr. Philips.”

“It’s good to see you but I need to tell my boy something.”

“What is it, Dad?”

“Prepare yourself, Joaquin. I just got a call from Jensen.”

“Jensen?”

Amie said, “Who’s Jensen?”

Michael nodded his head at Joaquin.

“Jensen’s his brother.”

“Yeah. My brother.”

Joaquin’s body shook slightly in fear when he said that.

Amie smiled and said, “I didn’t know you had a brother.”

“Usually we don’t mention him because we hardly see him. Now you’ll meet him for the first time.”

“Jensen’s coming here? Today? Now?”

“He just called from the highway. He’ll be arriving shortly. Help your brother with his luggage when he gets here.”

While still holding Joaquin’s shoulder, he leaned in closer. Michael whispered to Joaquin’s ear, “Protect her from him.”

“Yeah. Definitely.”

Michael said, “Amie,” as he nodded to her and left.

Amie responded, “Mr. Philips.” as she nodded back.

The lovebirds watched Michael walk towards the kitchen.

“Your brother’s coming.”

Joaquin sighed heavily, “Ah crap.”

Chapter 13: My Brother

Jensen stood alone in the small elevator carrying his black blazer in its wire hanger on his back. The heavy black luggage leaned against his tall legs.

He was wearing black pants with a dark blue dress shirt. His top button was open and his chin needed a shave. The black hair was cut short and combed forward. Jensen hummed his favorite song, Idlewild’s “Little Discourage” while he waited for the elevator to reach the bottom floor.

It was 10:30 in the morning when he walked out of the elevator and left his apartment building. At the garage, he hurried to his blue Oldsmobile, opened the trunk, and shoved the luggage inside.

Jensen started the engine, drove the Oldsmobile out of the garage, and into the streets. He continued to hum his favorite song as he drove.

It was 12:50 in the afternoon when Jensen arrived at the house he used to call home.

Jensen put on his black blazer as he got out of the car. He carried the heavy luggage with him as he walked up the steps of the front porch, ignoring the guests who noticed him.

Jensen shook the doorknob, realized the door was open, and entered the living room.

Chapter 14: Memories

Jensen entered the living room, which was in complete darkness, late at night. Samantha quickly turned on the lampshade.

“Damnit!”

Samantha was sitting on the sofa that stood in front of the small television set. She wore a large pink robe and had curlers in her hair. Jensen, in his early teens, wore a black jacket over his red and black striped sweater and had on black jeans.

Samantha said, “How many times do I have to say this? If you’re going to sneak out, sneak out, but don’t get caught.”

“You know, an 11 o’clock curfew is a joke!”

“You reek of alcohol! I can smell you all the way here!”

“Look Mom, it was just a couple of drinks!”

“We’ll talk about this in the morning with your father!”

“Mom! This is bullshit!”

“Go to your room!”

“Aw! Come on!”

“Go to your room!”

“Can’t wait till I get my own place!”

“You’ll miss this place!”

Jensen stomped his feet as he marched up the stairs. He yelled, “I doubt it!”

From the stairs, Jensen was watching his mother.

Samantha sighed, “That boy is going to kill me one day.”

Chapter 15: Reunion

Jensen expected to see his mother sitting on the sofa, waiting to yell at him. Instead he saw his brother sitting with a girl he never saw before.

Sitting on the sofa, Amie said, “What’s your brother like?”

Joaquin said, “You’re about to find out,” as he stood up while holding Amie’s right hand.

Joaquin and Amie slowly approached Jensen, who just dropped his heavy luggage onto the floor.

Jensen said, “What’s with the long hair?”

Joaquin said, “I’ve been letting it grow.”

“It doesn’t suit you. Who’s this?”

“My name is Amie.”

Joaquin replied, “She’s my girlfriend.”

Jensen nodded and said, “He tells me a lot about you in his emails.”

Amie believed him, “Really?”

“Nah. I’m kidding. I don’t have email. Hey Dad!”

Jensen bumped past Joaquin’s arm while stomping on Amie’s foot.

Amie welped, “Ow!”

Jensen hugged his father while they clapped their hands on their backs.

Michael was truly relieved to see him. “Glad you could make it, son.”

“I’m going to unpack and then I’ll help out.”

“Good. Joaquin, help your brother with his luggage.”

“Sure.”

“That’s why you’re carrying the damn thing.”

“Funny.”

“I’m not kidding.”

Joaquin slowly pulled the heavy luggage one step at a time. By himself, Joaquin made it to the top of the staircase. At the bottom of the stairs, Jensen leaned against the wall with his arms folded. Amie was standing next to the older brother.

Jensen asked her, “So what are you doing?”

“I’m helping out.”

“What? You serve coffee?”

“No.”

“You grab people’s coats?”

“No.”

“Then do something if you’re going to help out.”

Jensen then walked up the stairs ignoring Amie, who suddenly felt offended.

Chapter 16: Cleaning Up

Jensen walked into the room looking around, glancing at the poster and the notes on the wall. Joaquin placed the luggage on top of his brother’s bed.

Jensen mentioned, “Look at this room. This looks like Lee Harvey Oswald’s room when he prepared for Dallas.”

Joaquin shook his head afterwards in annoyance.

“So how long are you staying?”

Jensen answered, “Couple of days. Then I’m heading back upstate.”

“That’s good.”

“Seriously, was she your girlfriend?”

“Yeah.”

“She’s okay I guess for a starter girlfriend.”

Jensen rubbed his hairy chin with his right hand.

“You know what…I need a shave.”

Later

Joaquin leaned against the blue wall, staring at the floor. The corridor was narrow with enough space for two people. On the left side of the corridor were two doors that led to the bathrooms. In front of Joaquin was a tall bookshelf containing rows of encyclopedias.

Jensen walked out of the bathroom straightening out his black tie. He fixed the dark blue sleeves of his shirt next.

Jensen remembered, “You still write?”

“Yeah.”

Jensen continued, “I read this book that I thought was overrated. What was it? It was called, ‘On the Road.’”

“That’s a smart book. How the hell did you end up reading that?”

“It wasn’t that good as I thought it was going to be. ‘The Subterraneans’ though. Now that’s a masterpiece by Jack Kerouac.”

“Haven’t heard of it.”

“Nobody has. It’s overlooked. Damn shame too.”

Jensen tugged at his blazer and said, “Let’s go.”

The brothers walked across the corridor slowly, standing side by side.

Jensen added, “You know what else is overrated. Shakespeare. There I said it. Now I can go to Hell peacefully.”

Joaquin smiled as he followed his brother down the stairs.

Jensen rambled on, “I swear there’s nothing worse than a writer who thinks he’s giving the people what they want.”

Chapter 17: The Green Green Grass

Michael stood out in the large backyard staring at the bright yellow sun. In his left hand was a glass of champagne. He closed his eyes, rubbed the tip of his nose with his hands, and tilted his head up. The widower then poured the rest of his champagne onto the green grass.

In front of him was a tall tree with a black tire hanging from a strong branch. Half of the tree house was still on top.

Michael turned around when he heard the door opening. Standing at the doorway was Amie looking worried.

Michael said, “Amie?”

Chapter 18: Car Crash

Samantha said, “Amie? That’s the name of the girl you were arguing with, isn’t it? Amie?”

Samantha was looking at Joaquin, who sat in the backseat of the car. Michael turned the key in the ignition and started the engine. He wore a red shirt and blue pants. Samantha had on a white gown that matched her shoes. Joaquin put on a long plaid shirt with his black jeans.

“Yes Mom. That’s her name. Amie.”

“And why you were arguing with her?”

“We always argue. Nothing new there.”

Michael advised, “Don’t get married, son. Just don’t.”

Michael looked both ways before he drove the car up the driveway.

The father continued, “You have a full life ahead of you. I had at least two good years before my shotgun wedding.”

Michael smiled as Samantha slapped him on the shoulder.

Samantha interrupted, “Seriously. What do you think about Amie and I stress the word, you?”

Joaquin answered, “I don’t know. I don’t know yet.”

Michael hinted, “Better run now than regret it later. Break it off now if you can.”

Samantha yelled, “Michael!”

Michael rolled his eyes, “Fine. You give him advice then.”

“What do you think about Amie, Mom?”

Samantha hesitated, “Amie…well she’s okay, not great. Let’s just leave it at that.”

Joaquin said, “Your turn, Dad.”

Samantha smirked and teased, “Yes Michael. I’d like to know too. What do you think about Amie?”

Chapter 19: Thoughts

Amie said, “Mr. Philips?”

“Yes.”

“Everyone inside is asking for you.”

“Well let’s not make them wait.”

Chapter 20: Brothers

Joaquin and Jensen stood in the kitchen standing around the round table. The rectangular silver plate was holding a whole chicken sat at the center of the table. Rolls of napkins wrapped around forks and knives were lined up in a circle.

Amie waited as Michael shut the backyard door behind him.

Michael said, “Jensen, what time is it?”

“1:30 last time I checked.”

“You think people are hungry?”

Jensen interrupted, “Let them starve. We’re not running a fast food joint. I didn’t come all this way to serve people.”

Michael ordered, “Well how about you two set up the dinner table first and then I’ll worry about serving?”

Jensen snapped his fingers at his brother, “You heard him; set up the table.”

Joaquin warned, “I’m not carrying that plate by myself.”

“You’re such a whiner.”

“No I’m not.”

“Yes you are.”

Michael said, “Hey! How about you two get moving…like now!”

Jensen and Joaquin rolled their eyes in unison before they both grabbed the plate of chicken. They carried the plate from the kitchen to the dinner table.

Joaquin wondered, “How come you’re only staying for a few days?”

“Because I actually work that’s why.”

“Dad was given a leave of absence for his job.”

“Well good for him.”

Jensen and Joaquin placed the plate of chicken on the dinner table then walked back to the kitchen.

Jensen debated, “People need to drink, don’t they?”

Joaquin remembered, “There’s two bottles of champagne in the fridge.”

Jensen opened the refrigerator, ignored the fact that no food was inside, and grabbed the two champagne bottle. He handed one of the bottles to Joaquin.

They walked back to the dinner table.

Joaquin continued, “How long does it take to for you to travel from upstate to here?”

“A couple of hours I suppose.”

“Like three hours?”

“Nah, like two hours max.”

Joaquin and Jensen placed the champagne bottle around the plate of chicken. They returned to the kitchen next.

Jensen said, “What’s with the questions? Why do I feel like I’m being interrogated?” as he picked up the rolls of knives and forks. “Get the good glass cups from the cabinet too.”

Joaquin said, “It’s just something that bothers me,” as he carried as many glasses as he could in his hands.

“And what’s that?”

They walked back to the dinner table. Jensen set the rolls on the left side of the table. Joaquin set the glass cups on the right side.

“The car crash happened at 4:30.”

“Yeah.”

“Mom was placed in intensive care at 5:00.”

“Dad told me that too.”

“I called you at 5:30.”

“Yeah I got your message. I was in a meeting.”

“5:30. That’s when it started to get bad.”

Jensen and Joaquin stood at different ends of the table.

“Mom died at 11:45 at night. Close to midnight. Where were you, Jensen?”

“What do you mean where was I? I was at work!”

“At 11:00 at night?”

“Hey! People actually work overtime, okay!”

“You weren’t there.”

“I know I wasn’t there. I would’ve liked to have been there but there wasn’t any time for me to get there. I had no time.”

“What do you mean ‘no time?’”

“No time at all.”

“I called you at 5:30.”

“The meeting ended at 6:30.”

“You could have left by 7.”

“You said it yourself. Mom died at 11:45.”

“Could have made it by 11:00.”

“If that happened.”

“You could have made it.”

“You’re making all of this sound simple.”

“You could have shown up at the hospital.”

“Who knows if I could have made it?”

“There was plenty of time.”

“What are you getting at?”

“Why couldn’t you get off from work that day?”

“Because you can’t go to your boss and tell him your Mom’s dying!”

“She waited, Jensen.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Mom waited to die because she wanted to see you one last time!”

Michael had taken his pills when Jensen and Joaquin suddenly burst through the kitchen door. Amie almost spilled the tea she was pouring when Jensen and Joaquin crashed onto the floor. Jensen got up and dragged his younger brother across the floor while holding onto his blazer. Jensen lifted up Joaquin and slammed his back against the refrigerator.

Michael struggled as he separated the two brothers. He held each son by their collars with his fists.

“Stop this now!”

“You want someone to blame, Joaquin! How about placing the blame on the right person? Why don’t you look at yourself in the mirror?”

Michael shouted, “Enough!” as he shoved his two sons away from each other.

“Do you two not understand that today is your mother’s funeral? Today’s her funeral!”

Michael rubbed his forehead as if he had an intense headache.

“This is about your mother! For once, stop fighting with each other! Do this for your mother!”

Jensen straightened out his tie while Joaquin fixed his shirt. Michael moved his head back and forth, looking at each son.

“We have guests in this house. We have to deal with them. I can’t do this on my own.”

Michael shook his head as he walked out of the kitchen. Jensen and Joaquin glared at each other for a moment. Jensen stormed out of the kitchen by himself. Joaquin closed his eyes and banged the back of his head against the refrigerator.

Chapter 21: Weight of the World

In the living room, Jensen stood in front of the door. Next to the staircase were Amie and Joaquin. Beside the television set was Michael holding a glass of champagne. Each one had a crowd swarming over them, waiting for their chance to talk to them.

“We knew your mother well.”

“Your mother was such a wonderful person.”

“Your mother is in a much better place.”

“Are you doing well?”

“How are you doing?”

“I knew your mother very well.”

“Your mother was an amazing person.”

“Your mother is not in any more pain.”

“Be strong for your family.”

“Be strong. Your family is counting on you.”

“Are you okay?”

“Your mother is in a better place.”

These were the statements and questions the guests repeated for a short time. Soon all three started to hear the same thing over and over again.

The repetition made Joaquin feel nauseous. He needed to get away from it all. Joaquin felt numb, as if he had no feeling inside of him whatsoever. He walked away from Amie, barged his way through the guests, and entered the kitchen.

He looked back to check on his brother. Jensen’s face was a blank stare. He himself looked lifeless but he had been numb for a long time.

Joaquin covered his angry face with his right hand.

One of the guests noticed, “Are you okay?”

No I’m not okay. I lost my mother! How can you be stupid enough to ask that question? I’m not okay. I’m not fine. I’ll never be okay. All these thoughts raced through Joaquin’s mind.

Another one of the guests repeated, “I knew your mother well.”

Joaquin wanted to yell at that person. He kept thinking, What? You didn’t even know her! She was my mother! I’m her son! Joaquin clenched his teeth tightly as he pulled his long black hair back with both hands.

Be strong. Why? Why do I have to be strong? What’ so important about being strong? What if I don’t want to be strong?”

Joaquin entered the kitchen, accidentally bumped into the leg of a chair, and almost tripped.

Your mother is in a better place. Don’t tell me that. I don’t want to hear it. Even if it’s supposed to be true, I don’t want to hear it.

Joaquin went outside to the backward shakily. He clumsily walked across the ground. His hands began to shake as if they were freezing.

He placed his hand on the tall tree; leaning against it. He kept his eyes closed tightly, suppressing the tears. His knees trembled, as if his own legs couldn’t keep him standing.

Amie slowly walked up behind Joaquin.

“Joaquin?”

Joaquin opened his eyes slowly and turned his head.

“I can’t go back in there.”

“But you have to. One of your cousins, Edward, wants to speak to you.”

“I don’t want to talk to him. He’s just going to say something stupid like he always does.”

“What do you think he’s going to say?”

“He’ll probably say something like how he knew my mother better than I did. Or how I shouldn’t feel sad because my mother is in Heaven. Everything is all right in the world according to them!”

Joaquin grinded his teeth.

“If I have to hear that one more time, I’m going to punch somebody.”

He covered his teary eyes with his right arm.

“Everybody is telling me how they feel when…when I don’t even feel anything.”

Joaquin removed his arm from his eyes. Amie placed her left hand on his cheek, and said, “I can’t imagine…I shouldn’t even try…I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”

Joaquin turned around, bowed his head, and sank down his shoulders.

“It’s my fault she’s dead.”

“Joaquin, you know that’s not true.”

“My parents were talking while my dad passed the green light. I saw the jeep coming. It was going really fast. I saw it and I didn’t say anything.”

“You weren’t the one driving that jeep.”

“It takes ten seconds to make a tie. Ten seconds to pay for take-out. It took ten seconds for me to walk from the living room to the backyard.”

“You shouldn’t blame yourself.”

“My fault she’s dead. My fault. In ten seconds, I could’ve said, ‘Mom, look out!’ If I had said something, maybe she would’ve been alive. She might have braced herself for impact. I could have done something.”

Joaquin turned around and looked at Amie.

“I let my Mom die.”

The two stared at each other quietly until they heard the backyard door opening.

Jensen said, “People make me sick. Everyone has something to say because they like to hear themselves talk.”

Jensen noticed how the two were staring at each other in silence.

“I’m ruining a moment, huh. Shucks. And me without my camera. Have people told you that the two of you look good together? Don’t believe them. It’s a lie. You really don’t.”

The young couple continued to be still and quiet.

Jensen continued, “Listen brother, our cousin Edward has become a knife in my back. I even came up with a nickname for him. Edwardicidal. You know, rhymes with suicidal. Everything he thinks he has to say makes me want to put a bullet in my head.”

Jensen turned his head when he heard the backyard door opening. He lowered his voice, “Watch out for this guy.”

Edward walked into the backyard with his wife. Their cousin was shorter than his wife and his black hair was curly. His wife was tall, slim, and had long straight blonde hair.

Jensen, Joaquin, and Amie stood together. In front of them were Edward and his wife.

Edward said, “Here are my two cousins. I’ve been looking everywhere for you two.”

Jensen added, “And you found us. Great.”

Edward continued, “My aunt, your mother has passed on. Even though she’s gone, I still feel her with us; like she’s everywhere.”

Joaquin automatically threw a straight punch at Edward’s nose. Edward immediately landed on his back, covering his bloody nose with his right hand. His wife kneeled down quickly next to him. They were both so shocked that they didn’t know what to say.

Jensen was smiling devilishly as he studied the befuddled looks on Joaquin and his girlfriend.

Jensen shouted, “You know I didn’t see that coming.”

Joaquin winced in pain as he shook the hand he punched Edward with.

“Ow!”

Amie noticed, “Are you okay?”

Jensen remarked, “I think you’re asking the wrong person whose okay.”

Edward yelled, “You punched me!”

Edward’s wife said, “Stay still. Your nose is bleeding.”

“You punched me!”

Joaquin stumbled as he ran way from the fiasco. “I’m sorry, cousin. I really am. I’m sorry.” He apologized repeatedly while running back inside the house.

Jensen said, “Twenty bucks says I’m going to be blamed for this.”

Jensen continued smiling as he hopped over Edward and looked at Amie before walking away backwards.

Jensen quipped, “Hey baby-cakes, be of some good use and bring some ice for the man’s nose.”

“Why don’t you bring it?”

“I’m too busy.”

Chapter 22: Mind Games

Joaquin ran across the corridor, entered the bathroom, and locked himself inside. Everything inside the bathroom, from the toilet to the shower curtains, was glowing white.

He couldn’t stop his hands from shaking. He was breathing rapidly as his eyes looked around the room. He wrapped his stomach with his arms as if he was going to be sick.

After many attempts, he could not make himself vomit into the toilet. Joaquin thought he would feel better if he did. He could not puke because no food had been inside his stomach.

At the sink, Joaquin drowned his face in cold water. His face and hair was drenched in water. Joaquin pulled at his wet hair as he spit out water from his mouth.

“What’s wrong with me?”

Chapter 23: Prankster

Amie sat alone at the left end of the sofa. The living was now crowded with mourning guests. No one spoke to Amie and she did not speak to them. No one paid attention to the lonely girl sitting at the sofa, except for Michael.

Michael walked into the kitchen and saw his older son sitting alone at the round table. Jensen was pretending to play football with a small piece of folded paper. Jensen nodded at his father when he flicked the folded paper into the air.

“What’s up pop?”

Michael wondered about his missing son, “Where’s your brother?”

“How the hell should I know?”

“You know I expected a lot from you, especially today. I turn my back and then I hear how you punched your cousin, Edward, in the backyard.”

“Me! You know…forget it.”

Jensen shook his head as he rolled his eyes.

Michael said, “Just do one nice gesture for me. Do this one thing. That’s all I ask.”

Jensen tilted his head back.

“What do I have to do?”

“Have you said one nice thing to your brother’s girlfriend? Have you welcomed her to the family?”

“Welcomed her! Shouldn’t we be warning her about being apart of the family after all this mess that’s going on?”

Michael grabbed Jensen’s collar and pulled him out of his chair. Jensen was then pushed out of the kitchen by his father. Jensen fixed his collar and blazer as he walked towards the sofa. He then jumped and crashed onto the right end of the sofa.

“Hey doll-face, how are you doing?”

Amie turned her head and tried her best to ignore him.

“Not talking to me. That’s cool. I wouldn’t either.”

Jensen laid his head back on the sofa, smiling at his brother’s girlfriend.

“I was wondering…now don’t get offended when I ask the question. If my father and brother had said anything about me to you, this was already expected.”

“What’s the question?”

“Has my brother fucked you yet?”

“What?”

Jensen enunciated each word, “Has he fucked you yet?”

Amie walked away disgusted.

“Welcome to the family.”

Jensen then slid himself towards the middle of the sofa. He whistled softly as he turned his head left and right.

“Man even I thought that was too much.”

Jensen stretched out both his arms and legs. He smiled as he tilted his head crookedly.

Chapter 24: Trapped

Joaquin stared at his wet face in the mirror.

“What’s wrong with me?”

He covered his head with both hands. You know what’s wrong with you, he told himself. You could have done something. You could have done something but you chose not to. You sat there and watched the jeep hit your mother.

Joaquin remembered sitting beside his mother in the hospital. Samantha’s face was wrapped in white bandages. Blood seeped through the bandages. Her body was wrapped with the blue bed covers. He held his mother’s hand tightly, even though his right hand was in a cast. Michael stood next to the bed staring at the sunset through the window.

My fault. All my fault. I’m supposed to be smart. I wasn’t smart enough to know how to make the pain stop. These thoughts tortured Joaquin’s mind since his mother died in the hospital.

He remembered his mother’s body shaking horribly. Joaquin and his father held his mother’s hands tightly. The machines were bleeding loudly. Make the noise stop. Just make it stop.

I’m her son. I was supposed to do something. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to make the pain stop. I swear I didn’t know.

She died in pain. She was in so much pain and all I could do was watch.

Joaquin moved his head back as he tightly clenched his teeth. The train of thoughts was too much for him.

I did all I could. I swear to you I did all I could. I really did.

Joaquin pulled his hair back roughly.

But God doesn’t believe me. God took her because of me. God took her away from me because I’m a bad person.

Joaquin wanted to yell so much but no sound escaped from his mouth. He slowly opened the mirror. Behind the mirror was a box of tissues, toothbrushes, and razor blades in a small plastic cup. Joaquin took a small razor blade from the cup.

Joaquin studied the razor blade as if he hadn’t seen one his entire life. He moved the razor blade back and forth slightly.

Then he looked at his left hand. His eyes slowly glanced down to his wrist. He shook the razor blade a little as he stared at the ceiling.

Joaquin imagined slitting his wrist with the razor blade. In his fantasy, a river of blood would flow from the cut. Because it was a fantasy and he didn’t know if it was possible, he imagined slitting his other wrist with the razor blade.

As both wrists would bleed, Joaquin sat on the floor leaning his back against the bathtub. Amie would enter the bathroom after he was dead. She would scream as loud as she could while holding onto his dead body.

Joaquin said, “I wonder if she would miss me if I was gone.”

He put down the razor blade on the sink.

Joaquin tilted his head back smiling; laughing at his own sick sense of humor.

Chapter 25: Glosoli

Michael and Jensen stood at the corner of the living room facing each other.

Michael said, “I think it would be best if you gave the toast in remembrance of your mother.”

“Me? Why don’t you give the toast?”

“It would sound much better coming from her first son. Plus, you know how everyone sees you.”

“Fine. I’ll do it.”

“Good. It’s 2:15. Make the speech short because at 2:30 is when the limousine arrives.”

“All right.”

Amie curiously observed Michael and Jensen talk to each other. She turned her head after hearing footsteps walking down the staircase. Joaquin cleaned himself nicely before he left the bathroom.

When he was at the bottom of the stairs, Amie ran up to him and hugged him lovingly. Joaquin smiled as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

“Hey! What’s all this about?”

As Joaquin held her in his arms, he moved his eyes towards Jensen. A smile rose across Jensen’s face as he winked at Joaquin.

Joaquin muttered, “Oh.”

Michael said Joaquin’s name as he waved his hand in the air. Amie followed Joaquin as they held their hands together tightly. They stood next to Michael, who was surrounded by a circle of guests. Everyone was staring at Jensen, who stood in the center of the circle.

Jensen, like everyone else in the room, was holding a glass of champagne in his right hand. He scratched the side of his forehead with his thumb.

“I’m supposed to say something nice about my mother. I don’t think I should because as you all know; I’m the black sheep of the family. I’m the one nobody talks about in open conversations.”

He stopped scratching his head.

Jensen continued, “Why did I turn out so bad? I’d like to blame society but I can’t. Me and my brother, we’re two middle class kids living in the suburbs. What really messed me up was my mother’s hippie sense of humor in naming me, Jensen, and my brother, Joaquin.”

Joaquin raised his eyebrows as he looked at Amie.

She whispered, “Where is he going with this?”

Jensen said, “My Mom and her sense of humor. She loved the small moments when me and my brother weren’t arguing. She tried and tried as hard as she could to make the family work. That’s why she stuck with Dad even against her better judgment.”

He then raised his glass high in the air.

“I can tell you now that this family isn’t going to make it without her. Mom was the foundation of this family. She was the strong one. Not me. Not Joaquin. Not even my father.”

Jensen lowered his glass and tapped the glass itself, as if he were playing the piano, with his left fingers.

“Even though we’ll fail, and we will, the three of us will try to keep this family together. We won’t give up even though we should. It’s just that we can’t. Mom taught me and Joaquin better. You never quit. You never give up on love. That’s what she taught us.”

Jensen moved his head back and forth as he pulled his collar slightly.

Joaquin closed his eyes, turned his head, and quietly exited himself from the crowd. Nobody, not even Amie and Michael, noticed he was even gone.

Jensen raised his glass as if he were giving a toast.

“This is for my mother. The person who taught me the real meaning of love. While the rest of you have, she was the only one who never gave up on me. I will miss that unconditional love she gave to me, my brother, and my father.”

Jensen drank down the entire glass of champagne in one gulp. As he stumbled around, Jensen noticed something was wrong. It wasn’t that the other guests looked bewildered from his speech. It was that his father and his brother’s girlfriend looked worried. Why was she shaking her head? he thought. Suddenly, he heard the engine roaring and the tires screeching.

“My car!”

Chapter 26: Leaves Do Fall

Jensen plowed through the door, jumped over the front steps of the porch, and ran across the driveway.

His Oldsmobile was already at the end of the street, passing the green light. Even though the car was quickly out of sight, Jensen attempted to catch up with it. Once he ran out of breath, Jensen gave up chasing after his car. He wrapped his stomach uncomfortably with his arms.

Jensen took deep heavy breaths as he yelled, “Asshole!”

Behind him, Amie slowly walked up the street.

“When did that kid learn how to drive?”

“That kid is 21.”

Jensen turned his head to look at her and said, “Is that so? Thanks for telling me, girl.”

“Why do you belittle him so much?”

“Shut up. You don’t know anything about me.”

“Why do you try so hard to push people, even your own family, away?”

“Listen doll, I am the opposite of my brother. Joaquin is the good son. The only role left to play is the asshole of this family. And guess what, I am king.”

“What kind of defense mechanism is that? What are you protecting yourself from?”

“Listen babe, why don’t you shut your damn mouth or I’m going to have to shut it for you!”

Amie slapped his face loudly. From a close distance, Michael watched them with a wry smile on his face. Jensen shook off the shock as he rubbed his red cheek.

Michael said, “I think that’s enough of this argument here.”

The three were lined up on the street in a triangle.

“Jensen, go inside and get an ice pack.”

“What? I don’t get to make one last remark? She did slap me you know.”

“Jensen, go inside.”

Jensen walked away rubbing his red cheek, “If that brother of mine dents that car, I’m going to kill him.”

Michael swiftly grabbed Jensen’s arm before he headed towards the house.

“One day, you and I are going to talk about how much you meant to your mother.”

Jensen nodded, and then continued to walk away. Michael slowly approached Amie, who was staring at the open street. She expected Joaquin to return with the car.

Amie said to him, “I’m sorry about that.”

“Don’t be. He had it coming.”

“What if he doesn’t return to the funeral?”

“He will.”

“Aren’t you scared he might not return?”

“I’m not. He’ll be there because we both know he loved his mother very much.”

“How do you do it? How do you keep it together?”

“Somebody has to. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how I would’ve changed things. What if I had let her drive? What if I had taken a different route? I have to ignore what I’m going through and put the needs of my family first. I have to take care of my family.”

Michael left Amie standing on the street. She waited on the street hoping for Joaquin to return.

Chapter 27: Near Wild Heaven

Joaquin switched through the radio station listening to a variety of music. He gave up looking for the right station and turned the radio off. He had fixed the wires underneath the ignition, which allowed him to operate the vehicle. turned their heads.

He tapped his fists against the steering wheel in anger. The road ahead was covered in green gardens of blossoming flowers. The Oldsmobile drove across the empty street. The sunny sky was building up dark gray clouds.

Joaquin rolled down the window to let the air in. The wind harshly blew at his long hair. He went back to switching stations on the radio.

Joaquin mumbled to himself, “Got to get out of here. Gotta get out.”

He pressed down on the gas slightly, accelerating his chances of leaving his nightmare behind.

Chapter 28: Love Vigilantes

Amie stood from the front porch watching the guests walk out of the household. The guests were walking towards their vehicles they parked on the street. The cemetery hearse was parked in the middle of the street. Michael and Jensen were talking to the funeral driver, discussing the directions on getting to the cemetery.

A pileup suddenly occurred up the block. Drivers were honking their horns waiting for somebody to move. The pileup was delaying the procession of the funeral.

“Dad, I’m going to see if I can do something about this pileup.”

Amie passed some of the guests as she walked down the steps. She wondered how she was going to the cemetery. Joaquin was not there to help her. She didn’t know who to ask to take her to the cemetery.

“Mr. Philips?”

Jensen banged his fist at the trunk of a car that was stuck in the pileup. “Come on! Move it already!”

Michael shook his head as he heard his son’s loud ranting.

Amie repeated, “Mr. Philips?”

“Mike”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s Mike. You can call me Mike.”

“Mike…”

Michael nodded.

“I was…I was wondering if I could go with you guys to the funeral.”

“Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Michael then opened the door for her. Amie sat down in the backseat with Michael. Behind them was the elegant brown coffin Michael had purchased for his wife. The funeral driver took off his black shades when he noticed something strange.

Jensen was yelling at the drivers while giving directions by waving his hands.

“Okay! You use the steering wheel to turn the wheels! You turn it this way!”

Amie and Michael heard Jensen’s ranting inside the cemetery hearse.

Michael wished aloud, “Sometimes I wonder what it would be like having a daughter.”

Amie disagreed and said, “I don’t think you’d like it very much.”

They continued watching Jensen kick the air, missing the trunk as the car drove away.

Chapter 29: Love Will Tear Us Apart

While driving across the empty road, Joaquin glanced at himself in the rearview mirror. He moved his eyes back to the road. He glanced at himself again in the rearview mirror. He moved his eyes back and forth from the open road to the rearview mirror repeatedly.

“Goddamnit!” he yelled.

I can’t go back. I’m not going back. I’m not going back there. He told himself this in his mind.

Joaquin grinded his teeth as his eyes became watery.

I did everything I could and it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to save my Mom. My fault she’s dead. My fault. I keep thinking. I keep thinking I wish I could’ve done more.

He wouldn’t all the tears to fall from his eyes. He pressed down on the pedal, accelerating the vehicle. Joaquin turned the steering wheel and the car swerved with its tires screeching. The moving car came to a sudden halt.

Joaquin unbuckled his seatbelt and rushed out of the car through the passenger door. In his eyes, the outside world wouldn’t stop shaking.

When the passenger door flew open, Joaquin crashed onto the cold, hard pavement. He slowly lifted himself off the ground clumsily. He then headed drunkenly towards the never-ending green grass.

Joaquin kneeled down on the grass and clasped his hands together, as if he were praying. He couldn’t think of the words to a prayer at the moment. It was as if his mind had gone totally blank.

The only thing he could do was scream. He lifted his head back and let out his frustration, his inner rage, and his fears. He yelled out to the skies hoping God would hear him.

Even after he stopped, the yelling echoed across the field. He fell on his sides, hitting the grass. As Joaquin took deep breaths, he realized what he had to do next.

Chapter 30: The Greatest

Michael, Amie, and Jensen stood in front of the crowd of mourners. Joaquin walked amongst the crowd as they surrounded his mother’s coffin. He noticed everyone had a red rose in their hand.

As the Priest concluded his speech and closed the Bible, Joaquin stood between his girlfriend and brother. He closed his hand gently around Amie’s hand. Michael was the only person there holding two red roses. He handed one of the roses to his youngest son.

“Glad you could make it son.”

Jensen interrupted, “I swear if there’s a scratch on that car, this family is going to another funeral.”

“The car’s okay, Jensen.”

“Well at least something is.”

Soon the coffin was lowered six feet under. After all the guests left, the family continued to stay. Amie stood at a close distance from them. Jensen, Joaquin, and Michael surrounded Samantha’s tombstone, staring at her grave. None of them cared that it was raining.

Chapter 31: Storytellers

The heavy rain continued to pour throughout the afternoon. By the time the family returned back to their household, it was 5:30pm. As the brothers set the round table, the father reheated the food that had not been eaten. By 6pm, they were all eating what was left of the chicken.

During dinner, Jensen passed the bread to his father, who sat across from him. Next to Michael was Amie sitting at the table. Across from her was Joaquin, who was pouring soda into her cup.

Most of the food was finished on each of their plates. Jensen was the only one who was drinking milk. He dropped two spoons of chocolate into his cup. Amie listened to the story Michael was telling. Joaquin could ignore the story because he had already heard him spin the tale so many times before. Even though the two brothers had heard the joke before, they still laughed with Amie and their father.

Jensen reminisced, “I remember this one time Joaquin and I…we were getting into an argument.”

Michael added, “Which always happens.”

Joaquin mentioned, “Yeah but this time it was different because…”

Jensen responded, “We ended up wrestling.”

Joaquin recollected, “I had you in the ankle hold.”

Jensen argued, “No I had you in the ankle hold with one arm. You were the one who was twisting my other arm.”

Joaquin recalled, “Yeah. We’re wrestling on the couch and Mom calmly walks into the living room. She just walks up to us and pulls on out ears at the same time.”

Jensen said, “That’s when we stop. Then without a word, she walks back into the kitchen.”

Amie burst out laughing with the others. “So when did this happen? When you two were kids?”

Michael answered, “Kids? What are you talking about?”

Jensen confirmed, “This happened two months ago.”

“Their mother did their best to keep these two kids under control.”

Jensen reminded his father, “You know she’s your wife too.”

“Yes but she wad the one who had to deal with report cards and calls from the school.”

Jensen acknowledged, “And making the birthday cakes that weren’t exactly even.”

“I love Mom for trying but that was too weird looking at that flop-sided cake for my tenth birthday.”

“That flop-sided cake was also my reward whenever I won a trophy.”

Amie asked, “A trophy for what?”

Jensen recounted, “A trophy for track. I used to run track in high school.”

Joaquin added, “I remember this one time you won first place. I was there with Mom and Dad when you won.”

Jensen smiled and said, “I remember this.”

“Mom and Dad are really happy. They’re saying congratulations to you. I think I’m supposed to do my part, so I go up to you to congratulate you and then you say…”

Jensen quoted himself, “You’re short, fat, and ugly. That’s all the congratulations I need.”

Amie opened her mouth wide in shock. “That is so mean!”

“Well that’s my brother.”

“But you were, you know fat, I mean.”

“But now I’m not.”

“Still stupid though.”

“I get my moments when I’m smart.”

“I remember this one time, we were joking around in this kitchen. It was late at night. We had just finished eating this huge plastic jar of peanuts.”

“And for whatever reason you had in your head…”

“I ended up hitting your head with the plastic jar.”

“There was this really loud bonk when he hit my head.”

Michael recollected, “She wakes up. Then she wakes me up. She tells me she heard a noise. I tell her, ‘So why don’t you check it out?’ I went back to sleep because I knew it was you two.”

“Mom comes down to the kitchen really fast. She’s like, “What was that?”

“I told her, ‘I hit his head with this plastic jar.’ Even showed it to her.”

“And Mom says, ‘You can’t be that dumb! You dropped something and don’t want to say it!’”

The entire room was filled with laughter afterwards.

Chapter 32: Answering Machine

The rain continued to pour into the night. Jensen sat alone on the bench at the front porch reading the book, “Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway. A yellow taxi arrived in front of the house. The taxi driver honked his horn twice.

Jensen stood up, opened the door, and yelled, “The taxi’s here!” He sat back down on the bench reading his book.

Joaquin then came out of the doorway with Amie. He carried in his right hand a black umbrella. Joaquin opened up the umbrella before he walked Amie to the taxi. She held in her hand the black purse she brought with her.

Joaquin paid the taxi driver as he stood in the rain with Amie.

“You don’t have to do that, you know.”

“I’m not. It’s my dad’s cash.”

Joaquin looked at her eyes for a moment. For a moment, he had forgotten that he wasn’t a guilty person; he was just Joaquin Philips.

“Ummm…”

“Yeah?”

Joaquin clumsily opened the taxi door for her.

“Have a safe trip getting back home.”

“Uh…thanks?”

Amie lowered her head and got inside the taxi. Joaquin tightened up his face as he felt incredibly stupid. After he shut the door, the taxi drove away slowly.

Jensen shook his head as he watched his brother walk up the front steps.

“What are you some kind of moron?”

“What?”

“You let her get away!”

“She was going home?”

“You idiot! Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about!”

“I see her tomorrow!”

“You of all people should know there might not be a tomorrow!”

“What am I supposed to tell her?”

“You can tell her to go fuck herself for all I care! Just say something! Anything!”

Joaquin nodded.

Jensen shouted, “What the fuck are you still doing here?”

Joaquin’s body shook in shock.

Jensen ordered, “Run, you idiot! Run!”

Joaquin looked at his brother confused.

“Now!”

Joaquin ran away immediately.

Jensen yelled, “Run!” as he got up from the bench. A smile then appeared on his face. When he opened the door, his father was standing in front of him. The television was on in the living room.

“What was all that yelling about?”

“I did what you told me. I did my one good deed for the day. What’s on TV?” as he entered with his book.

Michael, standing at the open doorway, turned his head back and forth while Jensen sat on the couch.

Michael said, “Where’s your brother?”

Chapter 33: Inside of Love

Even though his feet stumbled when he dropped the umbrella, Joaquin continued running across the street. He chased after the moving red taillights in the pouring rain. Joaquin was out of breath when the yellow taxi stopped at the streetlight.

The taxi driver said, “What the hell is his problem?” when he saw Joaquin running in the rearview mirror.

Amie turned around, saw Joaquin, and got out of the taxi immediately. She stood in the heavy rain watching Joaquin walk towards her. His hair and clothes were soaking wet.

“Joaquin, what’s wrong?”

Joaquin kissed her passionately as he held her tightly in his arms. He gazed into her eyes when the kiss slowly ended. Amie thought the rain on his cheeks made him look like he was crying.

Joaquin whispered into her ear, “I haven’t felt good in a long time. I’m not okay. I’m in Hell. Things don’t feel so bad when you’re around.”

Joaquin kissed her gain as he held her close. The taxi driver honked his horn five times.

“I have to go.”

“I know.”

Amie held his hand tightly as she got back inside the taxi again. Joaquin’s entire body was covered from the red glow of the taillights. She looked at him through the back window as the taxi drove away.

Joaquin stood alone in the empty streets as the rain poured down heavily from the dark skies. He didn’t know what the future held for him. He didn’t even know if he would live past the next day. He only knew death had its own cycle, just like life.

Joaquin tilted his head up, closed his eyes, and let the rain wash over his face.

The End

© Copyright 2007 Jorge Solis, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.