And that's been every couple of months, always coming back when summer teases the city or when winter taunts it. I make sure to brush my teeth three times a day and down breath mints constantly so my coworkers and learners can't smell the name of the craft beer that sang me a lullaby.
"I can't believe your dad wanted you to do that." Sandra places the straps of her black lacy bra back on her shoulders before snapping it together. Three hours ago, we were at the Ball & Biscuit swapping work war stories from our jobs before staggering back to my room, before I turned pillow talk into a confessional booth.
"Yeah, who asks someone to dance on a grave?"
"Yeah, your right."
"When you eventually go back, are you gonna try again?"
"No, I'm not. If my mom wants to be a complete bitch to me and never talk to me again for not doing something so silly and stupid, fuck her. She might as well be dead to me."
"Reggie, that's pretty harsh." Sandra zips up her skirt.
"So's emotional blackmail."
"But that's the whole point of having kids, Reggie, is to be able to emotionally blackmail them into doing what they don't want or will hate to do. I can't wait for my two kids to be old enough where I get to do the same thing to them when I need to. I mean, I wouldn't make them dance on someones grave, though. Well, except their father's. Maybe."
"I'm not having kids and if someone how I accidentally did, I wouldn't do that to them." Sandra's blouse over her head muffles her laugh.
"I said the same thing until after I had Jeremiah and then, when I caught him trying to take a cookie out of the cookie jar in my kitchen before dinner, I told him that Santa doesn't bring presents to people who steal cookies. He put that shit back in the cookie jar real quick while crying."
"How old is he?"
"Two. Gotta start it while they're young. Do you think your mom will ever talk to you even if you don't do this thing?"
"That's the thing about my mom, she does what she says she'll do to you. When she caught me smoking pot at fifteen, she made me drag my bed out to the lawn and set it on fire. When I kept missing curfew, she slashed the tires on my car."
2. "How are you holding up?" My boss cracks through the telephone in the conference room.
"I'm doing as O.K. as I can be. I'm glad to be here, though. Work's gonna help me take my mind off my dad for awhile."
"Good, good. I'm gonna work you so hard, you'll be too busy to mourn."
After the small talk, we go over metrics and figures, things like how many learners I still have in training, how many have attrited. Trainers are always blamed for learners quitting even when it's not our fault. We speak in arcane call center metrics before disconnecting our call. I run into the cafeteria and wolf down a sandwich and a Diet Mtn Dew before running back into class, turning on the projector, and covering the next topic on the agenda, taking inventory on all the attrition of this past year, wondering if I have gained more than I've lost.
3. "Are you going to get that?" Sandra asks between kisses. I watch my cellphone twitch on the desk in the living room section of my hotel suite.
"Nah. I'm off the clock. It's too late for anyone to really need me." I bring her down on top of me on the chaise lounge. My cellphone rattles on the desk again.
"It seems really urgent, Reggie. You should probably get that." I part her hair and look into her gray eyes.
"Sandra, the only emergency I see is that you won't be here when I wake up in the morning. Whoever is calling can wait. You can't."
"But Reggie..." I put my finger to her lips, caress her cheek, kiss her long and slow. My cellphone dances on the carpet. Sandra pushes herself away from me, grabs my cellphone, and hands it to me. "Answer the phone, Reggie, or else I'm leaving."
"Alright, alright." I hit the receive button and place the phone to my ear.
"Reg, it's Leon. Your mother's dead."
"Leon, what kind of joke is this? Why are you calling me from an unlisted number?"
"Because you won't take any of my calls, Reg. I'm not crying wolf here. She was driving through Semoran and Aloma and some asshole ran the light at Aloma and crushed the car. She died instantly."
"Bullshit. I call complete bullshit."
"Really? Check the Sentinel's site and call me back."
I storm past Sandra and open my laptop. I pull up the Sentinel's website and see the picture of my mother's car crushed, the link to her obituary.
"Reggie, what's going on?" Sandra walks and sees over my shoulder the article, the obituary. "Oh, God..." I feel her arms wrap around my neck, her chin digging into my clavicle as she whispers how sorry she is.
4. Leon's in the same suit he was in when my father died. I look around the funeral home to see if any surprise visitors walk in to say goodbye to my mother.
"Reg, I'm so sorry." Leon sobs on my chest.
"At least she wasn't fucked to death by another woman with a strap-on. Or a tranny."
"What's with you."
"Leon, both my parents have died six months apart from each other. This is all really fucking unreal. I'm numb. I feel like she died just to spite me."
"I get where you're coming from."
"No you don't. You still have your parents."
"Alright, you're right, I don't get where you're coming from. I'm here for you, though, Reg. I've always been here." Over Leon's shoulder, I watch Sandra walk through the open double doors of the viewing room, her black heels clacking gracefully toward us. I break from Leon's arms.
"Sandra... you're here."
"Reggie, I needed to see how you were doing."
"What about the kids?"
"With their father for a few days. I had some free flights lying around."
"Who's this?" Leon scowls.
"This is Sandra Callwell. She's a call center trainer for a bank. Sandra, this is my best friend Leon."
"Nice to meet you, Leon." Sandra extends her hand. Leon leaves it hanging.
"How long have you two known each other?"
"We’ve been seeing each other here and there for a few months. Why does that matter, Leon?"
"Damn you, Reg. You know how I still feel about you." Leon shoulder blocks past us and out of the funeral home.
"Reggie, is there something I need to know." Sandra cocks her right eyebrow.
"I'm not gay, I'm not even bi-curious. Our situation is a bit complicated. I'll explain tomorrow... over dinner, after I see the probate lawyer. I have to deal with all of this family tonight. I hope that's O.K.?"
"It is. I understand. Want me to stick around?" I hold her hand and nod. "Alright. Tell me what you need me to do and I'll do it."
5. "I am so sorry for your loss, Mr. Lownd. This was truly tragic, truly. How are you holding up?" I watch the probate lawyer's wattle quiver with each sentence. I take a sip from my flask before putting it back in my pocket.
"Not so well, sir. Not so well. This has been a really shitty year."
"It has been. This won't take long. Have a seat." I sink into the brown leather chair in front of the probate lawyer's desk. "Your mother was very upset at you not granting your father's last wish, incredibly upset. When you left her, she was so heartbroken that she changed the terms of her will."
"What do you mean?"
"The provision of you dancing on Steinbrenner's grave is now in her will as well. The time frame, however, is different. Instead of a year, you have three days in which to do it, from the reading of this will. Failure to do so means all of their assets will go into a charitable trust, which will then be liquidated after accruing interest for ten years and donated to George Steinbrenner's favorite charities."
I get up from my chair and take another swig from my flask before putting it away. "I won't be emotionally or financially blackmailed by a ghost. Are we done here?"
"Mr. Lownd, I want you to take a step back and think about this for a moment."
"What are you talking about?"
The probate lawyer hits a few buttons on his laptop and turns it over to me. "Your father was a shrewd investor. He bought stocks in Apple and Google before they took off. As of today, based on the amount of stock he had with Apple and Google alone... those two combined are worth five million dollars."
"Your mother was actually quite the baseball card collector. We had her collection appraised and that's another half a million that could very well go to you. Need I continue?"
"What? If they had this, why didn't they help me with school?"
"Because your parents wanted you always to make your own way in life. They would have revealed it in time had you been made better decisions."
"But I've made better decisions. I'm a call center trainer. I go across the country to train people. How is that not a better decision?"
"The others you've made as of late have not been. You broke your poor mother's heart."
"O.K., you seem to know, to care a little more than a probate lawyer should. Wait... oh damn it..."
"Reg... I mean Mr. Lownd... what your mother and I had was special. Your father knew and respected that. She had needs he wasn't meeting and was O.K. with me meeting them. I thought we'd finally be together after your father died, but she still carried a black lantern for him."
"O.K., so now I've found out in the span of six months my dad was fucked to death by a guy who looks like Alex Rodriguez and that my mom was fucking my father's and her probate lawyer for God knows how fucking long. Jesus Christ." The probate lawyer opens the cabinet behind him, uncorks a crystal bottle and pours brown liquid into two glasses, handing one of them to me.
"To your mother and father." He clinks my glass before downing the brown liquid. "I can't tell you what to do here. You've clearly established that you are your own man and, even though your mother disagreed about you walking away from carrying out your father's wishes, I respected you for doing so. However, if you don't do this, you stand to lose millions. If it helps you sleep at night, don't do it for your mother and father. In fact, you should do it to spite your parents and do something with the money that really will spite them. They want you to do something this stupid, fine do it. Your mother always said living well is the best revenge." I sip the brown liquid. It falls warm and sweet down my throat.
"Fine, you've convinced me. Fuck them both. They want me to dance on his grave, I will, and when I am done, I am going to make sure they can see this from Heaven or Hell."
V; 1. The tension between Leon, Sandra, Dan, the probate lawyer and me makes the inside of the SUV claustrophobic; I keep Leon up front seat so he doesn't try to choke Sandra out.
"Who's the chubby, old guy?" Leon asks.
"That's the probate lawyer... I don't even know your name. You have business cards and everything on your desk and I just never bothered to pay attention."
"I'm Tim. I get that pretty often actually."
Leon shakes Tim's hand. "I get why you, me, Tim, and Dan are here but why her, Reg? Why is that cunt in the car with us?"
"Hey asshole!" Sandra slaps Leon upside the head. Leon tries to hit back but the seat belt holds him down.
"You were a woman once, Leon. Cunt is a blasting cap. You had that coming. Apologize or you walk home."
"You wouldn't do that." I pull to the side of the road and cut the ignition.
"I don't need you to finish this."
"What about how I feel, about you, Reg?"
"You're a man, now. I don't care if you don't have a dick, you're a man. I loved Leona. I'm getting used to Leon. You and I aren't meant to be."
"What if I gave you one more kiss? You have to at least give me that."
"If I let you kiss me and don't like it, will you apologize to Sandra?"
"Don't you fucking dare kiss her/him/whatever the Hell it is." Sandra hisses.
"I'll give Leon a free shot for that one, Sandra. I thought all I was to you was a fuck."
"Reggie... I was wrong..."
"Enough with this melodrama already," Dan huffs. "Sandra, you watch Leon kiss Reggie. Leon, you kiss Reggie. Reggie, you let yourself get kissed by Leon. Everyone then will apologize after, got it." We all nod. "Good. Let's get this over with."
Leon unbuckles his seat belt, leans over and kisses me. He smells like sour sweat and dairy products, tongue flopping in my mouth like a dying fish. I break away.
"Do you get laid with kissing like that?"
"Sometimes. While they're drunk and unable to notice the difference between a real dick and a rubber dick in their mouth."
"Apologize to Sandra, Leon."
Leon buckles his seat belt, crosses his arms, looks down while gritting his teeth before looking back up. "I'm sorry. Sandra."
"What are you sorry for?"
"I'm sorry for calling you a cunt, Sandra. Happy Reg?"
"Sandra, you good?"
"I'm sorry for hitting you, Leon." I start the car, pull it away from the shoulder and back on the highway.
2. The ladder rattles against the iron gates as we climb over them. After Leon and I are over, Leon gets on my shoulders and Dan passes the ladder over the gate, making sure the ladder lands on the grass quietly.
"Do you have the camera?" Dan whispers. Leon nods. "Good luck to you both. We'll be here on look out. If something goes wrong, we'll text you both.” We walk through the graveyard like clumsy ninjas.
We turn our flashlights on in small bursts to make sure we don't fall into any empty graves or open graves, eventually reaching the small Roman temple that is George Steinbrenner's crypt.
"We didn't practice like we were supposed to, Reg," Leon whispers.
"I know. I need to stop running. If this is meant to be, we do this now."
"You could die up there, or worse, fall off and be like Christopher Reeve. We have a day to prep. Give me a day to prep."
"Leon...you kept giving me shit about being hesitant over doing this. Now, you are giving me shit over about being brave."
"There's a difference between being brave and reckless." A light shines in our eyes, the click of a gun silences the crickets for a moment.
“What are you two doing here with that ladder?" The groundskeeper holds a flashlight in our faces in one hand, points a gun at our foreheads.”
"You mean this?" Leon throws the ladder at the groundskeeper, hitting him in the face. There’s a flash and a pop. Leon twists and collapses.
"Why did you do that, Leon?"
"Now you're giving me shit about being brave?"
"Brave? That was reckless. Are you O.K.?"
"He got me pretty good in the shoulder. I'm not going to be able to hold the ladder when you climb up on top of Steinbrenner's crypt or when you come back down. I can still hold the camera. Are you sure you still want to do this?"
"We're here already and the groundskeeper's out cold. We won't have another chance. Do you feel the bullet's in there?"
"I think it's just a flesh wound. Hurts really bad. I can play through it though."
"Good. Let's do this." I have Leon wrap his good arm around my shoulder, putting him against a tree across from the Steinbrenner crypt.
The ladder clangs against the lower part of the roof of the crypt. Leon props himself up and aims the camera at me, ascending to the roof. I slither on the roof until I reach the top, arrange myself to where I sit upright. I look over to Leon and give him a thumbs up before standing and removing my black ski mask. I hold my arms out to keep myself straight, looking at the distant red light of the camera. I take one baby step to the left, then back to the middle. I take one baby step to the right, then back to the middle. I set up a good rhythm, doing abridged versions of the Robot, the Running Man, the Roger Rabbit, and Rolling the Dice, thinking that I’m actually stepping on my mother and father’s spine instead of this roof. I don't hear the sirens, the spotlights, the clicking and aiming of guns.
J. Bradley is the author of Bodies Made of Smoke (HOUSEFIRE, 2012). He lives at iheartfailure.net.