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Chapter One

Chapter One

The first night in the old house, the young man hardly got any sleep at all. His surroundings seemed almost surreal to him: the fading felt wallpaper, the smell of tobacco lingering throughout the house, the sound of Frank Sinatra echoing through the living room, coming from the old LP player that he had salvaged from one of the upstairs bedrooms. Settling back into his dining room chair, he lit a cigarette of his own and soaked in the half-a-century of atmosphere in the home that had remained so unchanged after all these years.

He had lived there once before, as a boy, some eighteen years ago. Thinking about it brought back so many memories. He thought of his grandmother who had lived in the little house for so much of her life, blind to the world, but also blessed with the ability to see the true beauty of life. He remembered first grade at
Eugene Hour Elementary School. He remembered Halloween one year, making the neighborhood rounds, collecting pennies for UNICEF. He even remembered the little girl his age that lived next door, and the time that while pushing her on her swing and he got smacked in the mouth, a tooth or two knocked loose in the process. And all the while, his grandmother was always there, sitting in her favorite dining room chair (in fact, the very chair in which he sat right now), cigarette in one hand, a mug of coffee in the other.

Flash forward eighteen years, minus a few weeks. He was the first one to arrive at her funeral, even though he had made a huge fuss about being late. He had regretted agreeing to go from the very beginning. In fact, it was only through the insistence of his ex-girlfriend that he had shown up to pay his last respects at all. He didn't want to be reminded that she was gone. He didn't even want to think about it.

Walking into the funeral home, he was greeted by the sound of laughter coming from a side office. At the time, he was slightly offended that these ladies would be laughing at his grandmother's wake. In retrospect, he realized that any time someone in that profession got the chance to laugh, they needed to take it. Walking into the empty funeral parlor, he slowly approached the casket, half expecting that at any moment she would pop up and ask for a smoke. The mortician, whoever he or she had been, had done an excellent job. She looked better in death than she had for many years in life. A gentle squeeze of his hand snapped him back into the moment. He was glad that his ex had agreed to come with him, elated, in fact, because he most certainly did not want to go through this ordeal alone.

"Where is everyone?" she asked, motioning to the fact that it was fifteen minutes into the service, and the room was still empty. That was his family for you, always late for everything, now adding his grandmother's wake to the list.

As soon as they had begun arriving, he wished that they had not. His family, the extended branch of his father's side, was a motley assortment of vile characters, too horrifying to describe to any outside party. Suffice it to say that his reasons for wanting to leave were not unfounded.

His younger brother had returned from Basic Training in the Navy for the funeral, a fact which brought the man at least a glimmer of joy. He had never been extremely close to him growing up, separated by five years and a father, but seeing him in his Naval uniform, a quiet air of adult sophistication about him, made the man feel more at ease. They talked about Boot Camp and future plans and what a terrible tragedy the loss was. They exchanged phone numbers and empty promises of catching up on old times before he went back to the service, but the man reassured himself that they were family, and that the next time he came out, they would simply pick up where they had left off. That's what family did.

The service went off without a hitch, barring the unfortunate reading of his cousin's poem, which she had dedicated to her grandmother. The poem seemed tastelessly devoid of any style, and to him, seemed to portray the woman's life as a waste. The young man's step-father gave a surprisingly poignant and heartfelt speech about the meaning of love and how important it was to spend every moment of your life doing whatever brought you happiness. As he remembered it, his step-father was never much for words of compassion and understanding, rather opting for brute force and manipulation to achieve his goals. Perhaps it was the circumstances that brought out this caring nature in him.

During the speech, he looked over to his ex, who had been staring at him the entire time, and gave her hand a squeeze. She smiled lightly and touched his face the way that she would, just to reassure him that everything was okay. He still loved her very much, as she loved him, but a bunch of circumstances had brought about the end of any romantic relationship. He felt excessively bad about the part that he had played in the downfall of their love affair, because he did miss her so very much. But, he reasoned, the past is past and can not be changed no matter how painful. She was there with him though, when he needed her, and that proved the measure of her love for him. They had shared a complicated two year relationship that, like most relationships, had its ups and downs. To him, they were the completion of each other. They were best friends, lovers, confidants, and even when the feelings between them were hurt and tensions high, they still shared that bond that would never diminish, much less disappear.

The service ended and the procession moved on to the city for her burial, but the young man had decided not to go along. He had had enough of the whole ugly scene, these people who couldn't stand to look at one another, much less say hello, brought together just to save face. It was all a show, a polite little parade of charlatans and frauds, put on with one purpose in mind. The inheritance. Her home that has been around for as long as the man could remember. All of her worldly possessions. All of it was now up for grabs, and everyone wanted the biggest piece of the pie.

For years before her death, the grandmother's three children, the young man's step-father and his two aunts, had bantered on and whined and cried, trying to convince the old woman to leave a will, and for years it was believed that there was no such will in existence. Thus it came as something of a shock to the young man, and everyone else involved, when the man's step-father produced a legal Last Will and Testament, a few days later. With the appearance of the will, everyone's true colors came shining right through. Tear laden faces were replaced by gritted teeth and furrowed brows as the will named the young man's step-father full executor of her home, including all of the antique furnishings within. It would later come to be known that these antiques were already stolen from the house, before the appearance of the will, the guilty parties never revealing themselves of course. The young man then agreed to move himself into the house to make it "livable" as his step-father put it, and to have it ready for when he started a family of his own one day. This pretty much brings us up to date.

Old Blue Eyes had begun crooning out "Nice and Easy" as the man extinguished his cigarette and went on his fourth or fifth tour of the house. It had fallen into a horrible state of disrepair. The walls were sticky with tar from a million cigarettes smoked nearby, and all the ornamental fixtures were covered in a thick mixture of dirt, grime, and dust. The carpets were beyond saving, and the once warm home now felt very barren and alone. It was going to take a lot of work to get this place back into shape.

Plunking himself down like a stone onto his freshly made bed, he arched his back to retrieve a small brown paper bag that he had folded into a makeshift envelope from his back pocket. Inside was a note, written on several sheets of bright pink paper, that had at one point been fliers for a Reggae Night at the local bar and grill. He set himself to reading the note he had written, as he had at least nine times before, carefully considering what it said. Each time, much to his amusement, it said exactly the same thing. "Dear Danielle," it began, the two page spirit cleansing letter that addressed the feelings that he had been experiencing these last few days.

The situation was this: the Danielle, to whom the letter was addressed, was his ex-girlfriend, the same that had accompanied him to the wake. He had been going over everything that had happened between them during this period of self-induced isolation in his grandmother's house, and had arrived at this. There was no one else for him, no one that even came close, and he wanted her back, no matter what the cost. The letter explained everything, from a profuse apology for causing her pain, to cursing himself for being a self obsessed idiot in all of the things that had led to the end of their relationship, to his begging her to give him one last chance to get things right. He read the letter eagerly, as if his own life depended on it, and once finished, he folded it back up, and placed it back into the brown bag envelope.
It was all he could do not to think about her, and the memories that they had shared. When he was at the good point in his relationship with Danielle, there was nothing that could keep them apart. When they weren't together, they were more than likely on the phone with one another. She was everything to him, his whole world. She was incredibly smart, funny, loving, devoted, and she was his perfect match as far as looks went, right down to the brown hair and blue eyes. They had adopted that annoying little habit of finishing each other's sentences that all the cutesy perfect couples did. They knew each other, really knew each other, inside and out. Even by the one year mark, they had already discussed plans to finish school, live together, get married, have the two-point-five kids in suburbia, with the little dog and white picket fence. At that point, everything was "Camelot", as he was fond of saying. So what happened?

People change, as the old adage states, and even though he never really thought that it applied to him, in hind sight, it really did. When he had met Danielle, he was in college, with high goals for himself, and aspirations for the future. He had a pretty secure job, a nice, large group of close friends, and pretty high self-esteem. He remembered the day that he met her, his best friend at the time, Jessica, had brought Danielle by the store while he was working. One look at Danielle was all that he needed to convince him that she was the end-all, be-all of the female population. They joked around a little, both obviously a little nervous. From what Danielle had told him later on in the relationship, the feeling at the time was very much mutual. In fact, in a foolish attempt to impress her, one day that she came by the store to visit Jessica while they were both working, he took the cigarette she was smoking and bit off the lit end, to dissuade her from smoking. At the time, he was an adamant non-smoker, non-drinker, mostly due to a slightly shady past that he was not all that proud of. It was a silly, stupid, typically male stunt, and looking back, he had no idea why he even thought to do it. All he knew was that he was nuts over the girl, and he had a feeling that she felt the same way. So it came as no great shock to him when she called him one night at work. They had been planning a double date with Jessica and her boyfriend, but due to Jessica's stubborn attitude, every time they picked out a day, she would change it, or cancel, claiming that she had far too much homework or some other lame excuse. On this particular night, Jessica had canceled yet again, and finally Danielle had simply had enough of the whole ordeal, and decided to just ask him out to the movies by herself. He nearly hit the ceiling with excitement, but contained himself enough to tell her that he would love to. Even though the movie was a great disappointment, he doubted that he would have paid much more attention if it had been the greatest movie of all time. He was focused of the beautiful woman sitting next to him, a beautiful woman who had actually asked him out on a date! It was, by far, the greatest date he had ever been on, lasting well into the morning, and ending with a pretty nice, if not awkward good night kiss. Magic, that's what it was all right.

But time and tide waits for no man, and so it went for the young man. By the time that their two year anniversary was rolling around, a lot had changed. He was no longer in school, a drop out with no real prospect of going back or motivation to do so. He had drifted through a series of dead end, low paying jobs; most of his close friends had either disappeared or simply had no desire to call him anymore. He had left home, and moved out onto his own into an uncertain future that only added to his stress. His relationship had also begun to suffer badly. He and Danielle were constantly arguing over things like him going back to school, and working towards his future, and where they saw themselves in a couple of years. Blinded by the stress of having recently lost yet another job, and trying to adjust to moving into a new apartment, he had completely forgotten that her twenty-first birthday was upon him. Even now, it seemed like such a lame-assed excuse, but it was what had honestly happened. Danielle was completely heartbroken that he had forgotten one of the most important milestones in her life, so much so in fact, that she dumped him very shortly thereafter. The young man spent most of the next week a complete emotional wreak, cursing himself for destroying the only good thing he had left in his life. They still remained friends, even to this day, and there even seemed to be, for a short time, the possibility of rekindling the relationship, but it was not to be. There was no one to blame but himself for how badly the whole thing turned out, and he resigned himself to the task of just picking himself up and moving on with his life. Even now that he had allowed himself time to heal, the young man realized that Danielle was probably the best thing that had ever happened to him, and he felt a deep sense of regret when he thought about the whole thing. But he was going to make the whole thing right, and he would never lose her ever again.

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