Brennan never knew he had an Uncle Joel.
So, when a package came in the mail detailing his uncle’s death out in the wilderness of western Virginia (no, not West Virginia, but western Virginia) he was equally mystified and underwhelmed.
“I mean, I feel for the guy….”
Emotional confusion aside, Brennan figured his mom or dad would soon receive a similar letter detailing their estranged brother’s death.
A day later, while cleaning his room, Brennan looked at the creased envelope once again.
He held it up to the light and soon realized he had missed a folded piece of paper sitting at the bottom.
With a quick shake, the scrap fell to the floor.
Brennan unfolded the document.
His initial thought focused on its quality.
“Prime rolling material”, he mused with a smile.
The page itself had been folded several times over and no drop of ink touched any of the creases.
“Dear Brennan”, the letter began.
“You probably don’t remember me but we met several times when you were a baby.”
“Your mother and father would drop you off at my farm while they took some time to themselves down here in the Shenandoah Valley.”
He held distant memories of those days but none stood out in particular.
It was soon revealed that Uncle Joel was, in fact, his great uncle.
This might be why he didn't see him as much.
“Some of my favorite memories are of taking you around the property and showing you all the different animals.”
This memory was vague but at least recognizable.
“I’d hold you the whole time and point out every last creature.”
Is this why he still held an unexplained affection for chickens?
“You’d clap and smile while bawking like a chicken.”
It was strange reading words from a distant relative who knew something so intimate.
The letter continued.
Stories about going into the woods, fishing on the dock, and summer nights with the windows open and a galaxy of stars an arm's length away.
The tenor then abruptly shifted to matters of commerce.
Turns out Uncle Joel had been hoarding a good bit of cash since the Clinton years.
He had invested in IBM and some other tech companies early on and cashed out when the going was good.
“I didn’t have anything more than a landline in my house, but I recognized the future.”
Brennan quizzically continued reading the letter.
“I became disillusioned with banks not long after and withdrew all I had and put it away here on the land.”
“I figured one day you could take it off my hands.”
“I never had a child of my own, but you allowed me to feel like a grandpa.”
“It’s an experience that constituted only a sliver of my time on earth, but one which has given me a sense of warmth little else ever could.”
Uncle Joel; the hardened softy.
“I’m not here to moan the other parts of my life, however, but to celebrate what you gave me.”
He was bequeathing every last cent to Brennan.
“All you have to do is come down here to western Virginia and get it from the house.”
“Once I kick the bucket the house will be taken, so time is of the essence once you get this letter.”
Aren't these things usually handled more formally?
"You can't involve anyone else in the family."
"They'll want to get lawyers and suits involved."
There goes formality.
"Even a solitary man such as myself knows nothing can be done alone, however, so, if need be, bring some confidants to help you out."
As Brennan finished the letter he began to consider what was at stake.
He was the sole heir to an untold amount of money no one else knew about.
Claiming said inheritance, however, would require going down to western Virginia, without telling his parents, and doing so almost immediately.
Whatever sense of spontaneity he had was often overridden by his tendency to over-analyze even the smallest of risks.
The whole scenario had enough variables to cause paralysis by analysis.
He calmed himself slightly with the self-assurance that he didn't have to do this alone.
Who, however, could he convince to go with him on such short notice?
“Are you fucking serious?”
Antonio wasn't having it.
“How are we gonna convince our parents to let us drive down to Virginia for the weekend?”
Trebor, however, was keen on the idea.
“How much are we talking here?”
Brennan figured the only way he was going to pull off the whole ordeal was to rope in Trebor and Antonio.
“Look, we just say we’re going camping-“
Antonio didn't like camping.
Apparently, Trebor didn’t either.
“We’re not literally going camping, numbnuts.”
Brennan was beginning to feel the dreaded combo of frustration and anxiety.
Hence the name calling.
Antonio was pissed.
“Don’t call me numbnuts, dipshit!”
“Why are you yelling!?”
There was always yelling.
“Everybody shut the fuck up and focus!”
Trebor was the only one capable of using his loud voice for clarity and calm.
Brennan explained how the plan was for everyone to tell their parents that they were going camping as part of their outdoor education class.
It would check out since two of the three (Brennan and Antonio) were actually in an outdoor education class, while the third (Trebor) could say he was tagging along for the ride.
Antonio continued to be a skeptic.
“This'll never work; someone’s parent will call the teacher to confirm this.”
He happened to be looking at Brennan.
“Why are you looking at me?”
“I’m speaking to you, aren’t I?”
The conversation dissolved once again.
“Are you saying my mom would do that?”
“I’m saying someone’s mom, not any mom in particular.”
“But you’re still looking at me and doing that thing with your voice.”
“That infliction when you say, ‘someone’.”
This was a common occurrence.
One party would address another party and, because of some perceived slight due to body language and/or tone, the other party would take offense to something said by the speaking party (and/or potentially a third party), which would then result in copious amounts of shouting, hand gesturing, and eye bulging.
It was like watching two owls argue in a Bensonhurst bagel shop.
“I’m just saying-“
“There you go, doing it again, the thing with your voice.”
“Just because my vocal range exceeds your prepubescent self…”
A line had been crossed.
Trebor jumped up.
“Woah, hey, cut it out!”
Antonio looked away while Brennan began prepping his eyes and arms for squawking.
“Everybody chill the fuck out!”
“I don’t get a word in after that!?”
“Brennan, stop being in your feelings and be a man, damn it!”
The three took a moment to compose themselves.
Trebor got the ball rolling again.
“Now, Brennan, what’s the plan once we tell our parents we’re going camping?”
Antonio was still beside himself.
“Are you serious with this shit?”
Now, Trebor was pissed.
“Antonio, I will backhand your ass if you don’t stop whining about Bambi and his friends potentially jumping your ass!”
Antonio raised his hands in mock surrender.
Brennan kept his hands in his pockets.
He gazed down.
“I’ll pick you guys up early Saturday at McNeal park, wherein-“
“Yes, wherein we’ll pick up 95, head south, get on 81, and then pull into town in the early afternoon.”
“We driving straight through?”
“No, we’ll make pitstops.”
Brennan explained how once they got to the house they would search for the money and bounce upon discovery.
Should there be a hitch in the plan, the three would spend the night at the cabin and make their way back early the next morning.
“We’ll get back in time for the Eagles game and no one will know what happened.”
Trebor nodded approvingly, while Antonio continued to stare with squinted eyes.
“You know our parents are gonna call each other, right?”
“If we all stick to the script, it’ll be fine.”
“Okay, well, some of us are a little more capable of that than others.”
He did that thing with his voice again.
Brennan knew it was all directed at him.
“Just say it, man, say you don’t think I can do it.”
“I’m not saying anyone in particular.”
Trebor chimed in.
“Dude, you do have a poor track record of proving you have balls.”
“What do you call this whole fucking plan?!”
“I’m just saying.”
“Oh, fuck both of you!”
“Brennan, you sound like you have something in your-“
“I swear, if you say what I think you're gonna say, I’ll kick your ass right here, right now!”
There was a pause.
“Like you’ve got sand in your grundle.”
Antonio was now tasked with being the adult in the room.
“Alright, alright, both of you shut your mouths!”
“Not my fault people have sand-“
“Trebor, focus it, damn it!”
The three soon hashed out a plan building off Brennan’s original pitch.
They would all go home that night, sell the camping idea to their parents, and tell them to call one another.
“Seriously, if we tell our parents to call each other, they’ll be less likely to believe we’re bullshitting.”
Trebor was right.
Many a hair-brained scheme had been vanquished with the simple uttering of, “let me call (insert idiot)’s parents and see what they think.
By turning the tables and encouraging their parents to call on another, The Three Caballeros believed success was guaranteed.
Well, at least two of the three.
"This is fucking stupid, you know that".
Antonio was still hostile.
While driving home, Brennan began to realize the gravity of this lie.
Lying about being late to dinner because of sneaking over to a girl’s place after school was one thing.
Taking a vehicle down to Deliverance country to retrieve a secret inheritance under the guise of camping with friends, who were normally terrified of venturing into any environment without a skyscraper in sight, was Inception-level deceit.
“So, mom, dad, you know how Antonio and I have been taking that outdoor ed class?”
“You mean the one where they make you canoe in the school pool?”
Brennan’s father had been fascinated by this tidbit.
“Yeah, that one, well, Antonio and I thought it’d be cool to test out some of the skills they’re teaching us by camping up in the Poconos for a night.”
“The two of you in the woods?”
“Well, Trebor would be coming as well.”
Brennan’s mom had questions.
“Why would you three choose this time of year, especially when it’s getting cold at night.”
“Well, we figured it’s not too cold, but cold enough that we’d have an excuse to make a fire.”
“Oh, Sweet Baby J, you three nitwits are making fires now?”
Brennan’s father was not so concerned.
“What, it’ll be good for the three of them to learn a thing or two about the wilderness.”
Mama Bear was still a tad worried.
“Don’t you need tents and gear for this kind of thing?”
“We’re gonna borrow some equipment from friends.”
“Who are these friends, do I know them?
Every time with that question.
“Mom, we’ve got the sleeping bags, we just need tents.”
“What about food, you don’t plan on killing anything, are you?”
“No, we never learned how to hunt.”
This was egregious in his father’s mind.
“An outdoor ed class without hunting?”
“What kind of racket is this?”
Here comes a rant.
“You know, back in the day, it wasn’t politically incorrect to kill a deer.”
“Dad, no one’s saying anything about the political prisms of deer hunting.”
“I’m just saying, it wasn’t a big deal back then.”
“And it isn’t now.”
“Obviously, since no one is allowed to teach it anymore.”
Maybe Brennan’s mom could circle everyone back.
“Honey, no one ever taught us how to kill a deer in school.”
“No, but at least it wasn’t a crime.”
“No one said it was a crime, right, Brennan?”
“Wait, they did say it was a crime?”
“The nerve of that teacher…”
“Mom, dad, the point is, we’re not reenacting The Deer Hunter-“
“Well, I hope you’re not.”
“No need to shout, I'm sitting right aside from you!”
“Sorry, I just…”
He took a moment to regain his composure.
It was at that moment that Brennan improvised.
He threaded a narrative no parent could fully deny without seeming cruel or insensitive.
Well, at least he thought so.
“Mom, dad, this might be one of the last times Trebor, Antonio, and I get a chance to do something together before heading off to college.”
Both parents leaned in.
Careful now, Brennan, cliches will only go so far.
“We wanted to do this for old time’s sake, you know?”
He stayed the course.
“It’s different, I know that, and Trebor and Antonio are hardly Lewis and Clark out there in the woods.”
Play to the humor, get ‘em laughing a little, let the endorphins kick in.
“If you want, you can call their parents and check-in for yourself.”
This was the moment of truth.
The plan had hit some snags but they had ultimately arrived at the doorstep of success.
Both parents looked at one another and gave each other a smile.
It was the kind they gave when recognizing their own youth.
Usually, this was a good sign, although, on occasion, it was followed by a severe grounding.
Brennan did his best to hold a poker face and not betray the fact that his stomach was now flipping like prime Kerri Strug.
After what seemed to be an hour (it was all of five, seven seconds tops), the parental panel came to a decision.
“Yeah, you can go.”
Holy shit, it’s happening.
“All we ask is that you bring back some Kielbasa from up there in New Philly, okay?”
Turns out there were some Polish markets in Virginia.
There was one in Vienna, right outside DC.
It wouldn't be too hard to get to once they started heading back towards 95.
It would add some time for the trip back but otherwise wouldn't be that bad.
The difficulty would be explaining the added detour to Antonio.
“What is this, a Brothers Grimm story?”
“We can easily stop in and grab the Kielbasa on the way back”
“Can you guarantee that?”
“’ Pretty much’, well that’s just great, isn’t it?”
Brennan had had enough.
“Don’t come, asshole.”
“Woah, nobody said anything about bailing.”
“You bitch and moan enough that it’s clear you don’t wanna come.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line.
“I never said that.”
“Here’s the deal, I’m picking Trebor up at the corner tomorrow morning around 5, 5:30 and if you’re in, you’ll be there.”
Ultimatums weren’t really Brennan’s thing.
He could yell, shout, wave his arms, and exasperate as well as anyone.
Declarations and finalities, however, were not familiar ground.
There plenty of times where he came within a step of putting his foot down.
More often than not, however, he'd flinch and talk himself out of it.
This time he stepped right into it.
Without thinking he closed his flip phone and began putting a bag together.
The morning came with shades of pink.
“Pink at morn is a sailor’s warn.”
Brennan’s grandmother had uttered the phrase countless times and it echoed with each instance of a pink-infested sunrise.
He made his way downstairs, grabbed his bag, poured some coffee into a thermos (never that gas station shit), and soon enough put his keys in the ignition.
For once, there weren’t racing thoughts and persistent doubts.
Instead of being the cautious one, Brennan was the leader pushing boundaries.
There was no guarantee any of this was going to work.
Perhaps Antonio’s concern should have been enough of a deterrent.
He was usually the middle ground between the cautious Brennan and the free-willing Trebor.
The ecosystem had been tipped on its head.
None of it mattered to Brennan.
He was ready to go at it alone at this point.
He appreciated the company but was now convinced he didn't need anyone to push him.
As eagerly as he would open the door for his two friends to climb in, he would just as easily drive by the corner should no-one be there.
There would be no self-pity or doubt.
Only the day ahead.
He rounded onto the road and made his way towards the intersection.
Trebor was in sight.
Brennan leaned over and manually unlocked the passenger side door in anticipation of Trebor attempting to get in while the truck was still in motion.
It used to piss Antonio off to no end.
The light turned red and Brennan braked.
Trebor ran over and did the unthinkable by getting in while the truck was stationary.
“Got some Dunkin’ for the road, man!”
Brennan smiled back and lifted his thermos.
A bus pulled up alongside them and made the familiar wheezing sound to signifying that passengers were getting off.
The light turned green and Brennan waved the bus driver to go ahead.
As the bus pulled away, he shifted into drive and slowly began pulling away.
A bang could be heard near the rear.
Brennan stopped and turned his head.
Trebor casually looked back as well.
“Well, look at this shit!”
The door opened and a voice bellowed.
“Move over, damn it!”
As he crammed into the cab, Antonio looked down at the bag of Dunkin’.
“There better be some Boston Crème in there.”
Trebor chuckled and handed him one.
“You bitch about it enough.”
Brennan shook his head and offered some coffee.
A horn blared from behind.
Not startled in the least, he lifted his foot off the brakes.
He pressed on the gas and never looked back.