Blood Is Thicker Than Water.
So we’ve met our protagonist, Alex, and his immediate family. I found them all to be tricky, especially Alex and his sister, Emily.
I need to set up Alex as generally being very unhappy in his life. It will be important for him to later want a fresh start but he can’t do that until he addresses all the baggage in his life.
Also, while he doesn’t understand Lorne he isn’t a hate filled homophobe. He’s from a generation where homosexuality wasn’t accepted. I hope I’ve made that clear in the narrative.
Emily isn’t a bad person either. Not really. She may be petty and selfish but it comes from a place of uncertainty. Her whole life, she has been her brother’s rival, and she has fought to be seen and appreciated. Brennan favoured Alex, for reasons that will become clear later, and that takes its toll on siblings.
I hope the family dynamic comes across as feeling real. There is animosity here, and arguments, and disagreements but there’s love too.
There is nothing like returning to a place unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
The two men sat in silence for several minutes, neither one knowing how to start the conversation. Finally Brennan spoke.
“You didn’t expect me to live forever, did you?” He said.
Alex smiled. His dad always had a way of lightening things up. “Of course not, Dad. I just hoped for more time, that’s all.”
“Time,” Brennan said. “That’s the one thing we seem to have plenty of. It’s the moments that we are running out of. I know I don’t have many of those left. No more Christmases, no birthdays. I won’t get to watch my grandchildren grow.” His voice cracked.
“Dad,” Alex said. “It’s okay. We are all going to be okay.”
“I know that,” Brennan replied. “It’s just hard to say out loud. There are some things I need to tell you. They won’t be easy for you to hear. I want you to understand that I love you and I’m not doing anything to hurt you.”
Alex straightened up. Whatever his father had to say had to be serious. Was this some sort of deathbed confession? Brennan’s eyes were heavy with tears, and Alex welled up too. Brennan wasn’t a hard man. He loved freely and was never shy about showing his affections. But he didn’t cry.
“First thing. My will. I had it changed.”
“Dad, I don’t care about money, you know that.” This was of course untrue. Everyone cares about money, and Alex had hit a rough patch. His practice was hurting, and he’d made several bad investments that went south during the recession. He was broke. He didn’t want his father to die, but he could surely use a cash infusion to get him back on his feet.
“I know but this will hurt you. Your mother and I didn’t have a lot; the house, our savings account, some investments, and whatever value will come from our possessions. I want everything liquidated, except photos and other sentimental items. The details are in the new will. My lawyer will give you and Emily a copy.” Brennan wheezed for breath before continuing. “All together, it’s about four hundred and fifty thousand dollars. My estate is to be divided in half with fifty percent going to your sister and the other half going to Lorne.”
Alex felt his jaw drop and he gasped audibly. This revelation was a punch in the gut. What was he expecting? He wasn’t sure, but he never dreamed he’d be excluded from the will. Brennan had tried to prepare him but Alex hadn’t expected this. It did hurt.
“Dad…what…?” He tried to speak but didn’t know what to say or how to say it.
“Alex. Don’t be angry. It has to be this way. I have something special for you.”
“Is this because I left, Dad? I explained it to you. After the divorce I was so angry, so lost. I just had to get away.”
“It’s not that, Alex. You’ve not been the same since. You’re unhappy. You’ve pushed us all away, especially Lorne. I want you to be happy again.”
“It’s complicated with Lorne. I just can’t come to terms with him being…”
“He’s gay,” Brennan interrupted. “It’s past time you accepted that. It’s not like he’s doing it on purpose just to get under your skin.”
“Christ! I know, all right. I know. Since when did you become a champion of gay rights? So you’re cutting me out to what? Punish me? Dad, I love Lorne. No matter what, I love him. He’s my son.”
“Maybe it’s time you told him that.”
Alex paced the small room, a million thoughts and emotions bubbled inside and finally boiled over. “Oh that’s rich! You’ve just disinherited your only son and now you’re giving me advice on how to be a good father? And don’t think this is about the money, either. It’s not. I have more than that. I’d have even more if I didn’t have to give it all to Genie. It’s about not being important enough in your life to be included in your will. It’s like I don’t matter. If mom were alive…” Alex didn’t finish that sentence. The words were angry and loud and on the verge of becoming hurtful. He didn’t want this. Alex exhaled and tried to calm down. “I’ve got to go,” he said, in a quiet, controlled voice.
“Alex. Wait. There’s something else,” Brennan said but it was too late. Alex stormed out and the heavy door whooshed to an efficient close.
Alex briskly walked past the waiting room. A man in a dark suit was there, talking to the family. Emily spotted Alex. “Alex. This is dad’s lawyer,” she spat out venomously. Obviously she had heard the news, though why she should be upset was beyond him. “He’s just told us about the changes.”
“Why are we written out?” Dolores asked. “And why does Lorne get half? Grampa is clearly not thinking straight.”
“Can I still have his hearing aids?” Jake asked.
“We can take this to court,” Clive said. “Prove the old man is going nuts.” It was the first time since his arrival that he had heard Clive speak. His squeaky, greedy voice further served to irritate Alex.
“It won’t be that simple, I’m afraid,” the lawyer said. “Mr. Allenby, I’m Dexter Carteris, your dad’s attorney.” Dexter was an older man, probably in his sixties. His suit was smartly pressed but his shirt was wrinkled and well worn. The collar was showing signs of fraying. Alex surmised that Estate law was this man’s forte and had been for many years. He had the look of a competent man comfortable with his abilities. He probably handled dozens of estates at any given time. There would be no mistakes. Dexter handed Alex a sheaf of papers. “Here’s your copy of the will.” Estate law wasn’t his area of expertise but he had a familiarity with it. A quick skim didn’t reveal anything amiss and Alex knew that it was very difficult to contest a will. Chances were it would stand.
“We aren’t going to fight it,” he said. Emily started to protest, but Alex quieted her with a glare. Seeing the unadulterated greed of his sister sobered him, provided him an ugly view in an unwanted mirror. He didn’t like what he saw. Alex was a grown man. He got himself into this mess, he would just have to get himself out of it. He had other options. They just weren’t ones he wanted to use. “Look, whatever his reasons, this is what dad wants. We don’t have to agree with it, but we do have to respect it.” The reasoned lawyer in him came out, logic defeating passion. Alex sighed. He would have to apologise to dad for his outburst. Hopefully he’d get some understanding of his dad’s reasoning as well.
Lorne and Jeff stood in a corner. Lorne was clearly upset. “Dad. I don’t know what to say. I never asked for this. I’ll sign it over to you when this is all over.”
Alex shook his head. “It’s yours. You could probably use it more than me anyway.”
“…He wanted you to have it. He must have his reasons.” The thought occurred to Alex that if he hadn’t stormed off like a toddler, his father would have shared those reasons with him.
“Let’s go out to lunch,” Jeff said. “It looks like you both could use a break. My treat.”
“I should go talk to dad,” Alex said. “It got a little heated in there.” Alex walked back to his father’s room. The curtain was open and a nurse was checking on both patients.
“He’s asleep,” the nurse said. “Maybe you could come back later?” Alex nodded. There was no reason to wake him. He rejoined Lorne and Jeff.
“He’s asleep. We may as well get something to eat. Where can I get a decent steak sandwich?’
“I know just the place,” Jeff said. “Hey Lorne, I’m gonna need to borrow a few bucks, can you spare it?” Lorne looked aghast but broke into a laugh when he saw Jeff’s cocky grin. Jeff always knew how to make an inappropriate joke seem appropriate. It was just one of the many reasons that he loved him.
Alex put an arm around both men. “I like this one,” he told Lorne. “You should keep him.” Lorne smiled. It was the first time his father had ever directly addressed his sexuality. It felt good.
In the waiting room, Emily, Clive, Dolores, and Jake turned on Mr. Carteris, voices raised and speaking all at once. Clive was waving the will into the air almost comically. They would no doubt contest the will, especially Lorne’s generous portion, but it wouldn’t matter. This is what dad wants, Alex told himself, and this is the way it’s going to be.
The pub, The Lionshead Inn, was on Government Street with a clear view of the harbour. It was decorated in the fashion of old English pubs; heavy wooden trim, ornate crown moulding, and hardwood floors. The walls were decorated with Victorian era prints and tchotchkes. A poster reading Keep Calm and Carry On graced the wall of their booth. Alex slid onto the bench on one side and Lorne and Jeff on the opposite. From their window, a nest of robin hatchlings nestled in a budding maple tree could be seen calling for their mother. Spring had sprung, and it had a rejuvenating effect on Alex. It felt good to kick off the winter doldrums. The waitress took their orders and rushed off to the kitchen, promising to return with their drinks.
“Dad. About the will. I didn’t know Grampa was going to do that. You can have my share. Really. I don’t mind.”
“Keep it,” Alex said. “For whatever reason, that’s what Gramps wants. Besides, you probably could use it more than I do. I remember how hard it is for young people just starting out.” Alex decided to keep his financial troubles away from his son. Lorne didn’t need to know and Alex wanted to keep it that way.”
“Are you sure? I wouldn’t want you to resent me…”
Alex cut him off, his tone harsher than he’d intended. “I’ve never resented you, son. Never. My problems are my own. I admit I have a hard time with you being…” He paused, struggling to find the right, politically correct word.
“Queer. A faggot. A cocksucker,” Jeff said.
“Jeff!” Lorne protested. Alex bristled.
“I’m just calling a spade a spade,” Jeff said. “We’ve heard them all before. Look, Alex. Can I call you Alex? Don’t get hung up on the label. We’re gay. Everyone at this table knows it. Probably everyone in the restaurant knows it. The thing is that’s not all we are, just like the defining thing in your life isn’t your being straight.”
“I know,” Alex agreed. “And I’m trying to accept it. Just give me some time.”
The waitress returned, placing a mug of draught beer in front of each of the men. Outside, the mother robin returned to her nest, a writhing worm wriggling in her beak. Lorne took a long pull from his mug and smiled. It struck Alex how much he looked like Genie. He had blond, shoulder-length hair, and dancing blue eyes. He wore a light beard, which seemed to be the latest trend amongst young men. Alex recalled the article he’d read in the newspaper. What did they call it? Lumbersexual; The modern, urban man channeling his rugged, inner mountain man.
“I think this is the first time we’ve had a beer together,” Lorne said.
Alex searched his memories before coming to the same conclusion. “I think you’re right,” he said, holding his mug aloft for a toast. Lorne clinked his mug against his father’s and Jeff followed suit. “Cheers big ears,” Alex said.
“Same goes big nose,” Jeff replied and the three men laughed.
“Emily will be angry that you’re getting so much while Dolores and Jake aren’t,” Alex said.
“I know. Things between us are already strained. I snapped at Dolores. She kept going on and on about his car. He’s not even dead yet and their laying claim to all his possessions.”
“Money does strange things to people,” Jeff said. “I saw it in my family when my great aunt passed on.”
“It’s true,” Alex agreed. “We can certainly fight it but what’s the point? In the end, it will only create animosity. My advice? Take your share of the money and let them fight over the other stuff. You should try to get other things that don’t have much value but are sentimental, like photos. A car is great but what will she have after five or ten years? It’ll be gone, but you’ll have irreplaceable memories.”
The waitress brought their meals. She set a steak sandwich surrounded by an impossible mountain of fries in front of Alex. Lorne ordered fish and chips served in a newsprint-lined basket and Jeff had the grilled chicken breast with a house salad. Alex took a bite of his sandwich. “How’s your mother?” He asked Lorne.
Lorne raised an eyebrow in mild shock. Alex had never mentioned mom once in any of their admittedly sparse conversations of the past five years. After the divorce, it was made pretty clear that Alex would be very happy to never see her again. “She’s fine, Dad. She and Evan broke up. She’s got a little house in Broom Hill. She’s mostly retired now. She’s taken up painting. She’s pretty good too. A natural.”
Alex grunted in reply. Why had he asked? It hurt to hear she was doing well, as though she felt no pain or guilt over the destruction of their marriage. She probably bought the house with his alimony payments. Evan, he thought. Was that the little shit’s name?
“Good,” he said. Then, in a valiant effort to change the subject, “What about you, Jeff? What do you do?”
“I’m a resident doctor at the hospital,” he said. “I work mostly in emerg.”
“A doctor,” Alex said, impressed. “I had you pegged as some sort of professional.”
“My fiancé, the doctor,” Lorne said, beaming with pride. It took a moment for that statement to register.
“Fiancé?” Alex repeated, followed by a long, tense silence. Lorne feared that it was too much, that his father wasn’t ready for the news that his son was going to marry another man. It was one thing to be gay, it was quite another to be gay and married. “Congratulations,” Alex said. He spotted the waitress walking towards the bar and stood up, yelling towards her. “Miss? Can we get some champagne? My son and his boyfriend are getting married!”
Lorne smiled contentedly at Jeff, who pulled him towards his chest, embracing him. His eyes were damp and a single tear rolled down his cheek.
Emily sat on the edge of the bed she shared with her husband, watching him walk towards the ensuite washroom. He was naked and she wondered how long it had been since she had last seen him nude, or when he had seen her likewise. Their marriage was good, she knew that, and they made love often enough, perhaps every week or two, but they had long ago settled into a mundane custom of nearly puritanical sex. Emily insisted that the lights always be darkened. There was very little foreplay or romance, and she never initiated. Mostly, Clive would roll on top of her, pushing and grunting his way to a satisfied climax. She couldn’t remember the last time she had an orgasm.
Emily didn’t know what had gotten into her this morning, but she started it and she remained in control for the entire act. She had taken him into her mouth, waking him before the alarm went off. She could tell from his frantic breathing and urgent, gentle thrusts that he was about to come. Delaying his imminent pleasure, she straddled him, feeling his length deep inside her. Clive, excited by the added spice to their normally bland ritual, grabbed her meaty hips and drove himself harder into her. She responded in kind, riding him until waves of pleasure washed over her.
She could hear him run the shower and thought about joining him but decided against it. The shock might kill him, she joked to herself. She slipped her nightie back on and quickly ran a brush through her tousled ginger hair before heading downstairs. She had to admit, the excitement of it had her heart pumping. She felt an energy she hadn’t felt in a long, long time. What came over me? She thought. It must be the control. For so long, since dad first took sick, she was in a freefall. There was nothing she could do. The doctor’s told her what the options for her treatment were but there wasn’t much of a choice. He either had treatment or he didn’t. He either lived or died. Now this business with the will and Alex saying he wasn’t going to fight it. And why not? He was being written out and he was okay with it, and she had no say in it. No control. This morning was all about control and she liked it. For the first time in a long time, she had all the power and it excited her.
What really upset her was Lorne’s portion. She knew it shouldn’t because she still got her money. Did it really matter who got the other half. Of course it did. For her whole life, Emily had been cast in Alex’s shadow. She was forever his rival, and it rankled. No one had ever told her specifically that he was the favourite child. No parent would ever do that, and her parents had been very good. She never felt unloved or unwanted. But in her heart of hearts, Emily knew that she was always second best, and it hurt.
Alex went to law school. Alex was a bigshot lawyer. She was successful too, a bank manager, for chrissakes! Alex married his high school sweetheart, eventually, but it was always a tumultuous relationship. She knew about the whispered abortion and the very public affair. Emily married her high school sweetheart too. Clive wasn’t the smartest man, she knew that, but it didn’t matter. He was kind to her, if a little distant, and he provided for them. Alex had a son, but they weren’t that close. Dad doted on him though, even though Lorne was gay.
And what of her kids? She was close to them; Emily couldn’t imagine otherwise. Jake moved out and lived in a shared apartment near the university but he called every day and texted frequently. Dolores lived at home, a senior in high school. She’d be gone next year too, but she would be close by. And neither one was a sexual deviant, so far as she knew. Emily stumbled on a very explicit video on Jake’s laptop once. It’s safe to say that his interests are between a man and woman, or more than one woman sometimes, if that movie was any indication. Dolores confided in Emily that she and her boyfriend were having sex, and wanted some advice on contraception. At first mortified, Emily accompanied her daughter to the clinic, and Dolores was put on the pill. There’d be no unwanted pregnancies in her family. It was normal and healthy for teens to have sex, Emily did it herself when she was that age. At least her kids weren’t gay, she was thankful for that. She couldn’t understand why they didn’t hold the same place in her father’s heart that Lorne did. The will was the final insult. Lorne would get half and her kids were left with nothing. It wasn’t fair.
She cut an everything bagel and put it into the toaster. Then she put a fresh coffee disc into their brewer, and pressed the button. The machine whirred and hissed as it prepared the coffee. The bagel popped, and she spread some strawberry cream cheese on it, placing it on a small plate and setting it on the table. Just as Clive came into the kitchen, still adjusting his tie, his coffee finished brewing. His dark hair was slicked back, in a style that Dolores referred to as ‘union boss’, and he smelled of the cheap aftershave he used all of his adult life. She passed the mug to him which he graciously accepted.
“Thanks,” he murmured, taking a first, cautious sip. She smiled and replaced the disc with another, brewing her coffee next. “I’ll stop by the hospital at lunch,” he said, between bites of his bagel. “I could be late though. I had a guy looking at the Mustang. He’s coming back this morning. I’m going to get this sale, I think.”
“That’s nice, dear.”
“I’m close to getting my bonus. This sale will just about put me there. I guess we don’t need it, not once your dad dies, but the extra money won’t hurt. Maybe we can finally get that boat?” For years, Clive had wanted to buy a boat. He priced out several when Brennan was first diagnosed, but hadn’t talked with Emily about it yet. He didn’t want to seem crass. He got his boat license through an online course, in anticipation. He didn’t even want a brand new boat, at least not yet. A used one would do. He found a real beaut too. She (because all boats are girls, right?) was a 30 foot long boat with a 70 HP motor, with a kitchenette and bathroom, and could comfortably sleep six. He even thought of a good name for her; Ship Happens. He hadn’t planned on broaching the subject with Emily yet. She was too stressed out, but after Brennan was gone, after everything was settled down, she would be ready. After this morning, Clive felt certain that her spirits were up. It was so uncharacteristic for her. Not that he was complaining. He enjoyed every second of it.
“A boat?” She asked. “I don’t know, Clive. When would we ever use it?”
“All the time,” he said. “The kids are gone, we’ll both be retired soon. It’ll give us something to do, a reason to get outside. Besides, you deserve it. You’ve had to deal with so much lately.”
“That’s true,” she agreed. “And I’ve done it alone, without any help from Alex.”
Clive, seeing an opportunity, pounced. “It’s true. That’s a big burden for a child to bear. Your brother should really have shared the responsibilities with you, but he was too selfish to come out here.”
Emily’s face lit up; finally someone acknowledged the suffering she endured while dad was sick. “It really is too much money for a boy Lorne’s age. It’s not like he needs it. He can’t have a family with that boyfriend of his. I did all the work. Why shouldn’t I get all the money?”
Clive smiled. This may work out to his advantage. He knew better than anyone how stubborn, Emily could be. She could lock in on a notion with the ferocity of a pit-bull, and be just as unlikely to release it from her grip. He finished his breakfast and started out the door. Emily stopped him, kissing him full on the mouth, savouring the acrid taste of coffee on his breath. She pressed against him, grinding into his pelvis, his arousal pressing against her hip. She wasn’t ready to relinquish her new-found control just yet.