The 2nd Floor of the Circuit Court Building

Submitted into Contest #126 in response to: Write a story about someone seeking a fresh start after a difficult year.... view prompt

25 comments

Coming of Age American Contemporary

“Stay off the 2nd floor of the Circuit Court building,” my older brother advises, lighting a cigarette directly under a No Smoking sign. 

“Why?” 

“Ain’t nothing good up here,” he replies, his cigarette ash falling on the paperwork declaring him my guardian. The clerk frowns at him while he signs, but he flashes her a dazzling smile when he hands the papers back to her. One look at his handsome face and all is forgiven. 

“What’s a ward?” I ask, squinting at the paper.  

“A dependent,” he replies, carefully writing out a check. “You are now my charge, my protégé, my apprentice, my pain in the ass. This paper officially makes you my problem.”

“So, if I’m your ward, does that make you my warden?”

“Sure. Why not? But instead of being in jail, you’ll sleep on the couch in my apartment. To be honest, jail might be a little more comfortable,” he mumbles, stubbing out his cigarette butt on the sole of his motorcycle boot. “Just do what I say. Promise me you’ll keep off the 2nd floor of the Circuit Court building, and we’ll get along fine. Remember, I’m your warden.”

“So then what are mom and dad?”

“Mom and dad are gone.”

“Are they dead?”

“I hope so.”

✵✵✵

“What’s the difference between dependency and delinquency?” My older brother asks, holding a clipboard with JUVENILE COURT - 2ND FLOOR written in black Sharpie permanent marker on the back.

“You idiot,” I say, taking the clipboard out of his callused hands. “Just check the box for dependency. I haven’t been arrested.”

“Apparently, you are habitually truant. I can’t believe I had to miss work because you’ve been hauled in for skipping school. That’s close enough to being arrested, you little hell beast.”

“Have you been to middle school lately? I’m much safer practically anywhere else in the city.”

“Well, that’s where the truant officers found you. Anywhere else than where you should have been.”

“Trust me. I’m learning more outside of school than in school. I swear we spend half of our time testing and the other half preparing to be tested.”

“The educational system is a complete farce, I agree. But you can’t miss school anymore,” he says matter-of-factly, pulling out his vape mod, a new skull skin decal covering the device. My birthday present to him.

“I’ve only skipped school a couple of days . . . I still have straight A’s,” I protest.

“You’ve missed 16 days, and it’s not even the second quarter. You keep this up, and I’ll have to drag you up here to the 2nd floor of the Circuit Court building to pee in a cup. Drug testing is no joke, sis. And I don’t need any more fines or court-appointed mandatory counseling sessions on your behalf. Just get it together.”  

“Say, bro. While we’re here on the 2nd floor of the Circuit Court building, should I ask the clerk to pull up your rap sheet? I’m sure the record of your arrests and prosecutions would make my few harmless excursions seem like field trips.”

“Listen, legal eagle. Rap sheets are confidential. Not everything is a public record.”

I key in a few words on my iPhone. I hold up the picture so he can see. “You mean public records like mugshots? I really like this one from 2018.”

“The charges were dropped—”

“And why are you smiling in this mugshot from 2019? This actually is better looking than your driver’s license.” I laugh when he winces.

“I think we’re done here,” he says, walking up with my paperwork to the clerk’s window. I trot after him, a puppy at his heels. 

“Did you pick up my tampons?”

“I did, and I’m sure I got the wrong kind. There are twelve million kinds, you know.”

"Thanks," I say, hugging him.

“No more skipping school. Promise?”

“I promise,” I reply. 

He shakes his head. “I am not coming to the 2nd floor of the Circuit Court building with you ever again.

✵✵✵

“Why do you even need a passport?” my older brother complains. He takes out the checkbook again, carefully adding up the fees. He takes out a piece of Nicorette Gum.

“Because our class won the school district’s French contest, and we are going to Paris.”

“NEXT!” A clerk from the 2nd floor of the Circuit Court yells. We dutifully follow the line that snakes around the corridor. We get a ticket with our call number and sit in orange plastic chairs. 

“How much is a passport going to cost?” he sighs.

“Nothing. Zéro dollar."

"You promise?"

"I promise! We have been fundraising all year. That reminds me—would you like to sell subpar candy at a ridiculous markup at your garage? I’m sure your fellow grease monkeys would love the grainy blandness of mass produced milk chocolate.”

“Nobody wants your trash candy. The candles you sold us last semester didn’t even have wicks!”

“Still, they were scented. A lovely pine and mimosa.” 

“Now the garage smells like a forest on a Caribbean island.” 

“We are selling wreaths next.”

“Christmas has been over for months!”

“Discount wreaths. They’ll sell. People buy Christmas shit all year long.”

“Agh! This line is going to take forever,” he moans. “Please tell me you have everything the bureaucracy needs to expedite your passport.”

“Of course I have everything. Remember when we were here for the evictions and a small claims filing? I had all of our proverbial ducks in a row. I got this. Don’t worry about it.”

“Worrying is all I do on the 2nd floor of the Circuit Court building.”

✵✵✵

“They close at 3:30 p.m.,” my older brother warns me.

“We have an appointment at 3:00 p.m.,” I say somberly. “Everything will be fine.”

“It’s been three days, right? You’ve read the handbook and taken the course?”

“We did. It’s all set.”

“You know I hate the 2nd floor of the Circuit Court building.” 

“You’ve been telling me that for a decade,” I smile. “It’s isn’t all bad up here.”

He reaches over and pats my hand. 

“How much did the fees set you back?”

“Let’s see. The marriage application, oath, issuance, sealing and recording of license was $86.00. The solemnizing matrimony service is going to be $30.00. Cashier’s check only.” 

My brother whistles. “That’s highway robbery. I don’t think either of my marriages cost that much.”

“They should have charged you by the hour. Neither of your marriages lasted that long.”

“Do you love him?”

“I do,” I say. “With all my heart.”

"You promise?"

"I promise."

“Because the Domestic Relations - Dissolution of Marriage Department is on the 2nd floor of the Circuit Court Building, too. Just in case.”



December 28, 2021 21:56

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25 comments

Shea West
02:57 Jan 06, 2022

I do love a good level of sass between siblings. Even though this was light hearted on some level with the way that they went back and forth with one another, I enjoyed the undertones of the heaviness in their lives. Dead parents, ward of her brother, truancy issues, etc etc etc. I loved how they stuck together through it all. I'm bummed I am just now reading this as a story like this is my fave kind!

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16:16 Jan 06, 2022

You are the QUEEN.

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K. Antonio
19:35 Dec 31, 2021

This was mad cute. It's funny, this almost mimicked mine and my sister's relationship (she even got married this year). Anyway I really enjoyed the characters' dynamics, how they evolved and grew and the little subtle details of them becoming different people and growing. The ending was great, warmed my cold-heart. BTW wish you and your family a great new year, Deidra! Hopefully 2022 will be an easier/better year!

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23:28 Dec 31, 2021

Feliz Ano Novo to my favorite writer in South (and probably North) America! I am envious of your close family relationship, as it was absolute zero in my childhood home (−459.67 °F or −273.15° Celsius . . . not sure about Kelvin, but you get the idea.) All the best to you and yours and your lucky students. I so look forward to your elegant, nuanced, and intelligence writing in 2022. Lots of love!! Deidra

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Zelda C. Thorne
06:45 Dec 29, 2021

Awwww I liked the little touches that hinted at the evolution of their relationship /life, like him switching from cigarettes to gum. Lovely read.

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20:03 Dec 29, 2021

You know what they say . . . nothing says love like a nicotine addiction. Wishing you and your sweet family all the best in 2022, Rachel. (2022 has to be better. Right?)

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Zelda C. Thorne
06:46 Dec 30, 2021

Thank you. Happy 2022 to you and your family. It's got to be better, fingers crossed!

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06:33 Jan 07, 2022

How did I miss that awesome detail? Lol

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❀Leo Fall❀
17:59 Mar 13, 2022

This gives me short story series vibes. Maybe like a little show? It's so adorable, the dynamic of the siblings, and then the little serious tidbits? Yes. Just yes.

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Barbara Burgess
07:26 Jan 05, 2022

loved your story and the banter between the siblings

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12:21 Jan 05, 2022

Thanks 🙏🏻 Barbara — I wrote (conjured up) the older brother I’ve always wanted. Ta da! The magic 🪄 of writing ✍️

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Barbara Burgess
15:23 Jan 05, 2022

that's the good thing about writing it can take us and the reader to unknown worlds.

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Bruce Friedman
03:21 Jan 03, 2022

As others have said Deidre, an insightful piece about an unusual sibling relationship. Keep them coming.

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00:02 Jan 05, 2022

Always appreciate the love, Bruce. Onward :)

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Bruce Friedman
00:47 Jan 05, 2022

Per your request, I am doing a new story about Phyllis and her "army" for next week. It won't really be a sequel but I will have her appear as the protagonist, now having a better understanding of her character.

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00:57 Jan 05, 2022

Phyllis has a lot of secrets... I am anxious to learn her backstory :)

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Deborah Razz
00:36 Jan 03, 2022

Warmly enjoyable.

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00:41 Jan 03, 2022

Thanks for the read and the lovely compliment. YAY :)

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20:28 Dec 31, 2021

I really, really loved this story! Like other people said, the siblings' relationship is amazing. Their bickering made me chuckle a lot. I enjoyed watching the narrator and her brother grow up and closer. Happy new year!

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23:22 Dec 31, 2021

Thanks, Phoenix! The Big Brother/Little Sister dynamic is fun to write. I had three brothers, but they'd have left me to fend for myself :) It was the 1970's -- a feral time (haha)

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Mary Sheehan
23:02 Dec 28, 2021

The 2nd floor of the Circuit Court Building is an excellent place to find a heartwarming sibling relationship/dynamic. Such a witty and enjoyable story!

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21:53 Dec 29, 2021

Thanks, Mary. The inspiration for this story came while I was with my son getting his passport renewed at our local circuit courthouse. In the elevator listed a placard of ALL the things on the 2nd floor -- most departments that I hope I never have to worry about...(and everybody carried around a clipboard and certified cashier's checks. haha)

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Daniel R. Hayes
07:03 Jan 14, 2022

Sorry I'm a little late to this one, but I will tell you that this was amazing!! Dude... you are the master at telling stories with dialogue. It feels like everything flows so natural while reading, and I wonder if it comes to you that way. I bet it's easy to let the characters run wild. This was a great read, and I loved it!!! :)

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Daniel Hafertepe
10:39 Jan 06, 2022

First, the boring stuff: //...with you ever again.// end quote //“Nothing. Zéro dollar."// consider Zero - with no acute accent //“It’s isn’t all bad up here.”// change It's to It First impressions: I think this character piece works really well. And your choice of dialogue to carry the story from visit to visit was clever. Especially, when the dialogue carried the emotion of each speaker. That is important (at least to me). We didn't need any heavy sighs, banging the table, or staring out the windows. I was most impressed with the tra...

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16:12 Jan 06, 2022

All great comments. Thank you for your in-depth analysis! I appreciate the gift of your time and talent. Onward :)

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