Britland squirmed in his seat. The sounds of his mother’s muffled sobs making him uncomfortable. He stared straight ahead towards the coffin. His Grandpa lay unmoving. His face unnaturally still. Britland owed his existence to that man. His parents wouldn’t be together if it weren’t for him. Maybe not even be alive.
He looked down as a small soft hand moved to rest on top of his where it lay in his lap. He found his little sister, Ariel looking up at him with her large, sad eyes. He lifted his arm to pull her close to him. No sooner had he done that simple act, she clutched at his dark suit wrinkling the material. He squelched the annoyance he felt rise inside him as she buried her face in his shoulder. He cringed at the thought her tears and mascara were soaking into his suit, staining it’s delicate material. He knew this wasn’t the time or place to be fastidious about his clothes and appearance but he couldn’t help the irritation that rose inside him. He could only hope the dark fabric of his suit would camouflage any stains.
He glanced over towards his parents. His dad was comforting his mom best he could. His arms wrapped around her shoulders, holding her tight. The pew where they sat shook with subtle vibrations from her sobs. Her shoulder’s shook as her body shuddered in a grief he hoped he wouldn’t feel anytime soon. What would it be like to lose one of his parents? It was to terrible to contemplate. He hoped that would be many years in the future before he’d have to worry about that. His parents were only forty. While that seemed impossibly old to him he knew they were still relatively young. He squeezed his eyes shut. Grandpa wasn’t that old either. Not really sixty-five. He had just retired from his law firm. He wasn’t ancient like the old people he visited with when he volunteered at the nursing home were. He should have had more time to spend with them like he had planned.
Once the service was over Britland rose from the pew stiff and sore from sitting too long. The minister had been long and dull. The speakers reminiscing about his Grandpa had been somewhat entertaining. Some had been heart warming and endearing especially when one of his colleagues mentioned how his Grandpa had climbed a tree to rescue a kitten. Grandpa had a severe fear of heights and had needed fire and rescue called out to help him out of the tree. The image of his stately grandfather petrified in a tree brought a low chuckle to his throat and a smile to his face.
Ariel had given him a severe disapproving glare as if to say it was inappropriate for him to find amusement with the story. Maybe she was right and it was better to be sad and weepy like his mom and sister. Somehow Britland didn’t think his Grandpa would want that. Britland was sure he’d rather be remembered with smiles instead of tears.
It felt like forever before they finally made it home. Everyone was exhausted and Britland had his fill of shaking hands of people he barely knew or remembered. It was surreal to be thanking them for their kindness in coming and condolences. All he wanted was for this awful day to be over. He wanted to be alone. In his room. Throw the blankets over his head and pretend this was all a bad dream. Instead he found himself excepting a casserole from the lady down the street from them “thank you Mrs Carlyle” he murmured.
Great more food he thought as he carried the well meant offering into the kitchen. They had more food then they could ever possibly eat. What were they supposed to do with it all? The idea of eating made him want to gag. He couldn’t remember the last time any of them had eaten more than a couple of bites at any one time. May be he ought to suggest to his dad they donate it all to the homeless shelter. His Grandpa would appreciate that gesture since he spent so much time volunteering there on the weekends. The idea that he wouldn’t be spending that time with him his Grandpa suddenly struck him like a bolt of lightening. The casserole dish slipped from his fingers, crashing to the floor with a loud clatter.
He could feel the curious looks from the people milling around the room. Several ladies rushed over to help clean up the mess he made. He stood frozen watching. Nothing was ever going to be the same again. There would be no more early morning walks. Just him and his Grandpa talking, discussing his dreams and hopes for the future. No more volunteer days at the homeless shelter washing dishes side by side.
The first tears rolled down his cheeks as deep wracking sobs emanated from deep within him. It felt like his heart had suddenly defrosted and was in the process of breaking in two. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t stop. He just stood there the object of everyone’s morbid fascination as he shattered in front of them. Strong arms embraced him. The scent of his dad’s aftershave calmed his beating heart. “I’ve got you son” his father’s deep voice reassured him he wasn’t alone.
“I miss him so much” he cried burying his face in his father’s shoulder.
“I know son” Robbie rubbed his back “it’ll get better in time.”
Time Britland thought. Such an illusive commodity. How was time supposed to heal the hole left where his grandpa used to reside. He pulled away from his dad’s arms “I’m tired” he said staring at the floor conscious of all the curious stares.
“Why don’t you go get some rest?” Robbie suggested.
“But I…” Britland glanced around the crowded room of people pretending not to be watching “you need me.”
“I can handle it” Robbie assured him.
Britland gave his dad an uncertain look before nodding. “Thanks” he murmured as he shuffled from the room towards his bedroom.
Flopping exhausted on his bed Britland let out a low groan. The sound of their house guests was muted by his closed bedroom door. Relief had him sinking into the comfort of his bed. He didn’t have to pretend to be strong anymore. He could let the tears flow without worry of someone watching.
Sometime later his door open opened unannounced. Assuming it was either his dad or sister coming in to check on him he kept his back to the door and his eyes closed. He half expected them to attempt to talk to him but they didn’t. There was some rustling around like paper was being folded then silence. When he was sure his visitor was gone Britland turned sitting up.
Rubbing his eyes he wondered who had come into his room. Shrugging he stood stretching. He wanted to sleep however sleep was a long way off. Moving towards his dresser he reached for his pajamas. Carefully he removed his suit making sure he laid it aside ready to be cleaned in the morning. He knew his fastidious and meticulous ways was a source of amusement for his family and friends but he saw nothing wrong with looking his best and making sure his clothes were treated well. He took as much care of his casual clothes as his more formal attire even if all he was doing was feeding the homeless, he still wanted to look his best.
He pulled on his pajama bottoms leaving the top in the drawer. He stared at his reflection in the mirror making various poses to admire his well toned upper body. His mind skipped back in time to when he met that modeling agent at the model. Did he have the look to be a top model? It would be different than the modeling jobs he was doing around town for various catalogs for the local stores in town. He would have to move. Live in the city. Did he have what it took to be a city dweller? He’d miss the wide open spaces, the trees. Every time he had visited his Grandpa in the city he always felt somewhat claustrophobic from all the buildings and people crammed into tight spaces. The idea both terrified and energized him.
He wondered if Felix would come with him. They had been friends since they went to preschool together. He smiled as he recalled the last time he spoke with his best friend. The excitement in Felix’s voice as he enthused about the city and the opportunities they’d have if they moved there. Not to mention the girls….Britland sighed recalling the conversations.
When he had been in high school he could have had his pick of any girl in the school and yet he wasn’t interested. It wasn’t until he had a one on one conversation with his Uncle Terrell that he started to realize the reason why. He was far more attracted to the boys then he was to the girls. He could feel his cheeks flame as he recalled the basketball game he and a bunch of guys from school had. It had been skins against the shirts and he almost cost his team the game by his distraction of seeing his crush without a shirt on.
Running his hands through his hair he walked over to the nightstand. He bent at the waist to turn the light off when he spotted the crumpled up folded piece of paper. His fingers moved of their own volition to pick up the note. Sitting on the edge of the bed he wondered if his mystery visitor had left it there. It was probably a letter condolence he thought as he carefully unfolded it. Frowning as he tried to make out the tight angled cursive writing.
His pulse raced as he read the words that each time he read them seemed more and more like a threat. Whoever had left hadn’t been there to console anyone. They had used his grandfathers funeral to deliver their threat. Why shouldn’t he move? Why shouldn’t he pursue a modeling career? Why would that be threatening to anyone? Re-reading the note?
Do not move to the city! Do not accept the modeling job! Heed my warning and live! Your mother refused my wishes and it almost cost you your life. This is your one and only warning! Heed it!
What did his mother have to do with any of this? Who was this crazy person? How did they even know about his job offer? He had so many questions and no way of getting any answers. He stood up. Took a couple of steps towards the door. No he couldn’t as his dad for help. He had more than enough to deal with as it was. Now wasn’t the time to bother his dad with his problems.
Placing the note inside his nightstand drawer he decided it had to be someone’s lame idea of a joke. Something his so-called best friend would think was funny. Yeah that had to be it. His best friend was probably waiting for him to race out into the crowded living room half dressed in a panic. Well if his friend thought he was going to do that than he had another thing coming.
“I don’t see how that has anything to do with me becoming a model” Britland slouched in his chair arms crossed staring across the divide at his parents.
Miranda shook her head her frustration mounting. “It’s a superficial world centered around your looks.”
“So” he shrugged nonchalantly “that doesn’t mean that’s how I’ll view everything. I was raised better than that.”
“Yes you were” Robbie acknowledged taking his wife’s hand in his “which is why this decision surprises us to much.”
“Why?” Britland demanded “don’t you think I can be true to myself and model at the same time? I’m not conceited or a snob. I just like to look nice.”
“We know that” Robbie asserted “your mother and I thought you were planning on going to college. What happened to that plan?”
Britland exhaled slowly as he stared at the far wall behind his parents concerned faces. “That was never my plan. That was a ….” He leaned forward resting his elbows on the table “college was a fall back plan if modeling didn’t work. I know college is something you want me to pursue but….”
“You’re an honor student. You’ve gotten straight A’s the entire time you’ve been in school” Miranda pointed out “don’t throw all that hard work away for something so frivolous.”
“Just because you felt like your pageant career was frivolous doesn’t make my dream of becoming a model the same” Britland snapped offended his mom could disregard his aspirations so casually.
“I didn’t mean that” Miranda shot back determined to get her point across. “Pageants were never that important to me. They were supposed to be fun until my mother ruined it.” Her face crumpled recalling how her mother’s obsession had almost destroyed her family.
Robbie squeezed her shoulder. “Son we aren’t making light of your dreams. We just want to make sure this is what you want to do with your life. Have you thought about what modeling entails?”
“Yes dad” Britland rolled his eyes as if to say this is a waste of his time “I’m not an idiot.”
“I didn’t say you were” Robbie said maintaining a cool calm reasonable exterior. “What about the costs of moving? First and last months rent? Do you have enough for a deposit? Not to mention enough for food, utilities, insurance, upkeep and gas for your car? It’s not easy getting set up. Modeling is an unsure business ….”
“I know I know.” Britland ran hand across his forehead pressing his fingers into his throbbing temples to relieve the pressure. He hadn’t given any thought to how much money he’d need to get started. “I’ll sell my car. That’ll give me the ready cash I’ll need to get started.”
“Then you’ll need to rent a moving van” Miranda said firmly her voice almost cold. “If you do this your father and I won’t help you.”
Britland’s head jerked up at his mother’s announcement. He expected his parents to be unhappy with his decision but to not help him at all was something he hadn’t considered. “Fine” he snapped “I don’t want your help or approval.” He got up the scrapping of the chair across the kitchen floor loud and grating on everyone’s frayed nerves. Ignoring his parents stricken faces Britland walked past them to his bedroom.
Miranda watched him leave. Turning to her husband, clinging to him she cried “he doesn’t know what he’s doing. We’ve got to stop him.”
“I’ll talk to him” Robbie assured her.
“You have to make him see we’re right. He has to go to college” she asserted “he has too much potential to let it all go to waste modeling.”
“Miranda” he said her name in a cautionary way that had her blinking up at him. “We can’t force him to do something he doesn’t want to do. He’s eighteen. Old enough to make his own decisions.”
“It’s the wrong one” she stated forcefully.
“To us maybe” Robbie sighed “don’t you see if we force him to go to college, it’d be like your mother forcing you to leave me, so you could continue entering pageants. It wouldn’t be right.”
She gasped “I’m nothing like that woman. She wouldn’t listen to me. I went along with doing the pageants to please her not because I enjoyed it.”
Taking her hands Robbie spoke gently “don’t you see if Britland goes to college it’ll be to please as us and not because he wants to? We’d be forcing him to do something he doesn’t want to do. It’s as wrong for us to insist he go to college as it was for your mother to force you into doing all those pageants.”
She nodded sniffing a little. “I know” her voice small, contrite “I just want so much for him.”
“I know sweetie” Robbie placed a soft kiss on her cheek “we’ve done all we can. It’s up to him now.”
“Can we afford this?” Britland asked gazing around the apartment with wide-eyed wonder.
“Of course we can” Felix assured him confidently.
Britland gave him a doubtful look “you did ask how much the rent was didn’t you? I mean you didn’t just sign a lease because some pretty girl lived down the hall.”
“Would I do that?” he asked with all the innocence he could muster.
“Yeah you would” Britland nodded not fooled by the show of innocence. “How much did you go over on our budget getting this place?”
“Don’t worry about it” Felix dismissed his concerns ” we can swing it. I know we can. I have plenty of money.”
“You do. I don’t” Britland crossed his arms gearing up to do battle. He should never have trusted Felix with finding a suitable, affordable apartment.
Throwing a casual arm across Britland’s shoulders Felix laughed “don’t sweat it man. This place is perfect. Plenty of room to party. It’s in the right part of town. We’re close to all the trendiest clubs.”
“I can’t afford it” Britland cut him off before he could continue to recite all the reasons why they should stay.
“Don’t worry about the expense” Felix said with a twinkle in his eyes “I’ll pick up the difference until your raking in the dough.” When he saw the obstinate stance his friend was making his tone changed to pleading “please say yes.” He transformed his face to give Brit his best puppy dog doe eyed look.
“Alright alright you win” Britland sighed raising his hands in defeat.
“I knew you’d see it my way. This place is perfect” Felix enthused “when you need to entertain clients this will give them the right impression of you.”
Grudgingly Britland found himself agreeing with him. Impressions were everything in the modeling world. Your looks got the job. Sold the account. But it was the impression you made on the client that gave them confidence that you were the one for the job. “Where did all this furniture come from?” he asked noticing how well everything was decorated in the apartment.
“The parents” Felix shrugged “I guess they were so excited to see me leave that they hired a decorator and furnished the entire apartment for us. You know, as a house warming present.”
Britland stared at his friend. He had known Felix was from money but just how much money he had no clue. “Tell them thank you for me” he requested feeling somewhat unsettled by how easily they parted with their money. His parents would never do that. They’d help in an emergency but for the most part he was expected to make it on his own.
Felix grunted as if thanking his parents hadn’t even occurred to him. “It’s getting late. Hurry up and change.”
“Change? Why?” Britland asked confused following Felix into one of the bedrooms.
“We’re going out of course” he said as if it should have obvious.
“Out where?” Britland asked in dismay. He had been looking forward to a relaxing evening at home.
“There’s this club I want to check out tonight” Felix informed him opening his closet.
“We’re not old enough to go clubbing” Britland pointed out as he watched his friend take several shirts out before selecting one.
“Where there’s a will there’s a way” Felix moved to his dresser. Picked something up and tossed it to Britland “congratulations. You’re now twenty-one.”
Catching the flat credit card shaped object. Britland stared at the fake ID with his picture on it. “What if we get caught?” he couldn’t help but worry about what his parents would think.
“We won’t” Felix stated beginning to strip in front of his friend in full view of the open windows. “Don’t bail on me. That ID cost me a fortune.”
“Remind me why you’re my best friend?” Britland requested knowing he was going to give in to his friends demands.
“Because without me your life would be boring” Felix shook his head at him sending his bright hair flopping into his eyes.
“True” Britland couldn’t argue that point “I don’t know about this. If we get caught we’ll be in a lot of trouble.”
“So?” Felix laughed undaunted “dear old dad will bail us out. Trust me. Nothing’s going to happen.”
Nodding Britland let himself be convinced into doing something he knew he shouldn’t. But you only live once, so why not have a little fun?