Episode 24: A Death in the Family
Josie and Scott weren’t quite to Columbia when he received a text message from his brother:
dads gone. on our way to moms now.
Josie glanced at Scott, worried. “What’s wrong?” she asked, as he stared mutely at the phone.
Scott opened his mouth to answer, but no words came out. He tried again, but still nothing. Finally, he just handed her the phone.
She took it and glanced at it while still trying to drive. “Oh, Scott,” she said, anguished, “I’m so sorry.”
He put his head against the window and broke down.
Josie pulled into the parking lot of a small strip center which was closed for the night. She got out of the car, went around to Scott’s side, and just stood there, holding him, while he sobbed.
Scott’s relationship with his parents had been a bit strained since he became a vampire. His father didn’t seem to mind so much, once he got over the initial shock; it had really been his mother who was too afraid for him to come over to the house. But despite that, Scott had never stopped loving either of them. They had been good parents when he was growing up.
He had been especially close to his father, who had eagerly carted him and his brother off to baseball and football practice seasonally. When a knee injury ended Scott’s chances of going to college on a football scholarship, his old man had actually cried. But he hadn’t let that lessen their relationship. They still went to games together—albeit both of them in the bleachers—and they watched it on the weekends religiously. They also drove to Murfreesboro to cheer on Scott’s older brother, Brandon, as he played college baseball. When Scott graduated college with honors, his father beamed as if Scott had just won the Super Bowl.
Scott’s sobs finally subsided to hiccups and a lot of sniffing. Josie found his stash of fast food napkins in the glove box, and she gave him a few so he could dry his face and blow his nose. A few minutes later, she was back in the car and following Scott’s directions to his parents’ house.
When they arrived, twenty minutes later, Scott’s brother answered the door. With tears, they fell into each other’s arms.
* * *
Scott—dressed in his best navy blue suit—was sitting on a couch at the funeral home, his head in his hands. Josie—sitting beside him—had, unintentionally, also worn a dark blue suit. Even in his grief, Scott noticed they looked like a matched pair.
Of course, this fact was made all the more noticeable because he and Josie were relegated to the couch furthest away from everyone. In fact, they weren’t even in the viewing room; they were out in the main lobby.
Scott had somehow gotten the notion that their shared tragedy would reconcile his family to him. And, for one night, it had. In their grief, everyone forgot what Scott was, and it was like nothing had ever changed between them. He had held his mother’s hand, helped his brother and sister-in-law make decisions, and had even gotten hugs from his two nieces, whom he hadn’t seen in two years. When he and Josie had finally left, in the wee hours of the morning, he felt an off mixture of sadness and relief. He wished it hadn’t taken his father’s death to repair things, but he knew his dad would have been glad to see it happen. On the phone, his father had always spoken with longing about the days he and Scott had spent together watching football on TV.
But the honeymoon wore off very quickly, and soon his brother and mother were back to their defensive positions. When Scott suggested that at least one day of viewing be done in the evening, so he could be there, they had glanced nervously at one another.
“Do… do you really think you ought to be there, Scott?” his mother asked tentatively. “With all those people?”
Scott felt anger flush his face. “Mother, you do realize I work for a living, right? That I’m around people all the time? In fact, I was in court when Josie came in and told me what happened. I think I can handle a funeral home.”
They had finally relented and scheduled an evening viewing one night. But it was clear they were immensely uncomfortable with him being there, so, in the end, he had exiled himself to the lobby. Josie was the only person who went with him.
Scott was debating whether or not to just throw in the towel and go on home, when someone walked over. He slowly lifted his head to look up.
A man stood in front of him; he looked vaguely familiar.
The man smile tentatively, and held out his hand. “Do you remember me, Scott?”
Scott tentatively reached out for his hand. That’s when he caught his scent—old and a bit musty. He was a vampire, too.
“No,” Scott replied, “but I feel like I should.”
Scott slowly smiled. “How are you doing?” he asked, warming up. Darren was his father’s first cousin’s eldest son—in short, his second cousin. When they were kids, he and Scott had always gotten into trouble together at family reunions, but they hadn’t seen one another for ten years.
“Looks like I’m doing about the same as you are,” Darren replied.
Scott nodded. “No one told me that you turned, too.”
“It’s a dirty little secret on my side of the family.”
“Well, obviously it’s not too bad, because I had heard you turned. I’ve been meaning to get in contact with you, but you know how it is,” he added with a shrug. “Seems the only time families get together anymore is at a funeral. It’s sad, really.”
“It won’t be long before no one gets together at a funeral,” Scott said. “I don’t think young people feel any sense of obligation, outside of close family members.”
“That’s true,” Darren said with a nod.
Suddenly Scott laughed. “Listen to us; we sound like old men. Remember when we used to laugh at the old people sitting around and talking about how the world had gone to hell-in-a-handbasket?”
Darren laughed. He had always had a loud—and usually contagious—laugh. He always laughed with such abandon. “God, I hadn’t noticed! You’re right!”
A moment later, a tall, thin woman walked up next to him, slipping her hand into his. “You remember my wife, Patty?” Darren asked.
Scott stood up and offered his hand. Patty took it without reservation. Her hand was warm—and human—in his. “How could I forget?” Scott said. “You’ve gotten old, but Patty still looks just like she did when ya’ll got married.”
He was hardly stretching the truth. The last fifteen years had been very kind to her.
She smiled warmly. “Thank you.”
“Where’s Maggie?” Darren asked, looking around.
“Oh, didn’t you hear that bit of gossip?”
“No,” Darren said, already sounding scandalized. “What?”
“She divorced me when I turned.”
Darren and Patty both gasped. “Oh, Scott, I’m so sorry,” Patty said, horrified.
Scott just shrugged his shoulders. The last six months or so had brought him a measure of closure. In fact, he was beginning to feel like things were better for him without Maggie. Not having Clarice in his life every day was the only downside.
Scott introduced Josie as his girlfriend—not mentioning that she was also his secretary—and the four of them squeezed together on the couch. He and Darren—and Patty, too—talked animatedly, trying to cram ten years—the last two being especially eventful—into less than an hour.
When the funeral home director discreetly announced it was nine o’clock, and everyone began to slowly make their way to the exit, Scott noticed that Darren got the same polite, but distant, smiles that he got. No came very close, much less offered to shake his hand or give him a hug. But he either didn’t notice, or it didn’t bother him, because he gave them the same casual acknowledgement, then went right on talking to Scott. Scott wondered if Patty’s loyalty made it easier for him to deal with his family’s distance. He probably wouldn’t have been so hurt and lonely if Maggie had stuck by him, too.
They ended up standing in the parking lot for a half hour more. It was only when the funeral director turned out all the lights and walked out to get in his car—giving them a curious glance—that Scott finally hugged Darren and Patty.
“We have to get together,” Darren announced. “Us blood-drinkers have to stick together.”
“It would be nice to have friends again,” Scott agreed.
Darren looked at him in pity, then gave him another hug. “I’ll call you,” he promised. Then he turned to Josie, offering his hand. “It was nice to meet you, hon.”
She smiled, shaking his hand. “And you.”
Darren and Patty waved goodbye and headed across the parking lot to their car. Josie—who had been silent most of the evening, let out a deep breath, as if she had been holding it in.
“I’m so glad someone in your family is decent,” she snapped. “I thought I was going to have to get up and kick some people’s asses there for a while.”
Scott looked at her, surprised. “Why?”
“The way they treated you was just….” Josie seemed to struggle to find a word bad enough.
They got into Scott’s car. “This from a woman who’s warned me that her family will hate me and try to run me off?” Scott asked, as he started the car.
She waved her hand dismissively. “That’s because you’re not part of the family. It’s hard for anyone to measure up to their standards. But when it comes to my parents and siblings—and even aunts and uncles and cousins—we stick by each other. When my uncle got AIDS back in the early 90’s, everyone stuck by him. We didn’t treat him like he was contagious. Your family acts like you’ve got the plague,” she added, with disgust.
Scott sighed, as they pulled out of the parking lot. “It’s a shame I’ll never be part of your family, because obviously I’ll never be part of mine again, either.”
Tears welled up in Josie’s eyes, and Scott felt bad for being so gloomy. He reached over and took her hand in his. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Of course it matters,” she contradicted.
“It doesn’t matter as much as it used to,” he corrected, giving her hand a squeeze.
Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee