10 comments

Drama

In a large corner office of a law firm sat two men. The client sat so that he could see out the large window to the the city far below. But he didn’t notice the blue sky, the soft white clouds, or the bright sunlight coming in. He had more important things on his mind. He gestured to the lawyer sitting across from him.

“You see,” said Gerald. “I told you it was straightforward. I don’t know why you didn’t want to write this in the first place.”

“Because” said the lawyer, pointing at Gerald, “you’re going to have a few angry people at your funeral.”

“So? I’ll be dead.”

The lawyer picked up his nameplate which said George Panni on it. He put it down and leaned across his dark mahogany desk which was designed both to impress and to intimidate. “Yes, and I’ll be the poor sap dealing with those angry people.”

“Don’t worry.” Gerald’s thin lips stretched into what was a smile for him. “I’m making sure you’re well compensated in handling my affairs.”

Wonderful. God, thought George. Why am I in this line of work? I could have been a ditch digger and had much less stress in my life. But no...I wanted to go into law. And now I’ve got this miserly, miserable old geezer to deal with. Bah humbug.

He sighed and stared at the old man he secretly called Scrooge. Except the chances of him changing his ways was practically nil. The worse of it was that Gerald seemed to consider George a friend. Shows you how much he knew, George thought. He simply tolerated the guy because he played a good game of golf and had some very good business connections. And now here he was writing his will. Should have told him to go to hell, he thought, golf game or not. He’d tried nicely by telling Scrooge that estate planning wasn’t his thing and had been assured everything was straightforward and simple. On that score he was right.

“Okay, so let me get this straight,” he said to Gerald . “You’re leaving all your money to your church, your political party, that ugly cat of yours, and a bearded dragon. In that order.”

Gerald eyed the lawyer. He knew what George thought of him. But it didn’t matter. The man had ambitions. Gerald respected that so therefore George was a friend. Gerald had a very realistic view of the world after all. One couldn’t succeed in business if he let emotions get in the way. “You didn’t hear me the first time? And the cat’s not ugly.”

George sighed. For once he wanted the billable hours to end so he could get this guy out of here. “By your own admission he’s ugly. And I’m just making sure I heard you right. Thirty percent each to the church and the political party. The rest to the animals.”

“Well that’s all who I have left, now that Sara’s gone.”

  George made a note. “What about your son and grandson?”

Gerald pulled out an e-cigar. It was made to look like a Cubano. He hated them but his doctor had told him to quit smoking. This was his compromise. Besides, he didn’t have long for the world judging by his last lung scan. “I have no son and definitely no grandson,” he told George.

“Look, as a friend I’m telling you cut the crap, okay? I don’t care if you leave your money to Cthulhu, to be honest. But-”

“Who?”

George waved his hand. “Never mind. Point is, you do have a son who could lay claim to your estate if we don’t write this properly.”

“He won’t since he practically disowned me.”

George had a good idea of why Tom had done so. He’d been there at Sara’s funeral. Death bring out the worse in people and hers was no exception. Afterwards the tension between Tom and Gerald was so thick a chainsaw would be needed to destroy it. “You of all people know what money does,” he said. “Why not just leave something to the child? After all, isn’t he innocent in this?”

“He’s adopted.” Gerald made it sound like a curse. “Not my blood nor Tom’s. Therefore, I see no reason why I should include him in my will.”

“Wasn’t the child abandoned and Tom took him in?”

Gerald puffed on the e-cigar. “That man he’s with took him in.”

George tossed his pen on the desk. He knew when to argue and when it would be useless. “Okay whatever. We’ll put in a clause saying Tom is effectively disowned and that will take care of that. Better yet you leave him a minimum amount of money. Say something like a hundred dollars. That way he knows with complete certainty that is all you want him to have from your estate.”

“Tom is ruining his life in the eyes of God. And he’ll ruin the kid’s life too. It should be with a proper family, not calling two men Dad. How does that work anyway?”

“Seems to me they saved the kid’s life.”

 Gerald gave the lawyer another tight-lipped grimace. “If I wanted your opinion, I’d give it to you.”

“I’m a lawyer. People pay me for my opinion, as they should. There’s a reason why I say what I do.” George shrugged. “But after all, it is your money and your decision.” With that he began discussions about liquidating property and estate taxes. Finally, he finished and nodded. “I’ll write it up and call you when it’s ready for you to sign.”

Gerald rose and got his coat. He paused at the door and then turned. “Why do you care, anyway?”

“About what? Your will?”

“No. About Tom.”

George got up and walked to the window. He looked out over the city as he talked. “He used to caddy at the club for me. I remember he was a hard-working kid. And not only that.” George turned to face his client. “Tom tried hard to give good advice. He was one of the few caddies that really cared how we played. I just think-well anyway. It’s only my opinion as you said.” He held the door open for the old man who wore an expensive coat too big for his thin frame. “I’ll have my secretary call you when it’s ready.”

***

Gerald picked up a frozen meal for himself, food for the cat, and went home. He had barely set down the bags when the cat came up, meowed at him, then ran to her food bowl. She meowed again.

“Oh stop! Think you’d never eaten before. You could stand to skip a meal, cat.” Grudgingly he filled her dish. She meowed again. “No. That’s all you’re getting you useless thing. You want more, go catch a mouse.” He sat on the couch so he could lean over and pet her. She went back to eating. Gerald pushed up slowly and painfully from the couch. He went into his bedroom to change out of his dress clothes. As he did so he caught his reflection in the mirror, stopped and stared at it.

 Looking back at him was an older version of Tom. This realization brought out the unwanted ghosts. He had always wondered but denied, pushed it away, closed his mind to the voices. Tom had dated girls in high school, even if not seriously. But then there was the night he admitted his roommate was really something more. And Gerald was hit very hard, like an earthquake inside. First, he insisted Tom go to church, counsel with the pastor, that he must just be confused. But Tom wouldn’t go. Gerald, in a fury, had shouted no son of his could sin in such a way. At first Tom had been angry. Then somehow it turned to calm. But it was the calmness that comes in the eye of the storm.

 “Dad, this is who I am. I can’t be anything else. I’ve tried. I talked to the pastor, went to church, tried until it nearly broke my heart and soul. This is me and I can’t pretend. You either accept that as Mom has or I’m not coming around anymore.”

That was five years ago. Last year, Tom came for his mother’s funeral. They had been polite, Tom saying the usual Will you be okay, Dad?

Yes, Gerald answered. Don’t concern yourself. Then later he heard Tom talk to friends about James and the baby, then over a year old. He’d turned and walked away, saying no more to him, not even goodbye.  Later, there had been an email.

“You need to accept James,” he’d written. “You don’t have to like him although I think you two would get along. He has your sense of humor after all. But I know that’s asking too much. All you have to do is accept that we’re together. And acknowledge your grandson. I’ll come back, but not until then.”

Gerald stood at the mirror, wondering what went wrong. Once upon a time it had been different. He and Tom had done things together. Fishing. He’d taught him how to play golf, got him the job caddying at the club. They’d played together often, talked during these times. About all kinds of things, even girls. He thought Tom had enjoyed golfing or boating with him. Hadn’t he? Gerald thought of Tom talking about dances or what girl he wanted to take to homecoming-had he just been saying what he thought his old man wanted to hear?

“Oh go to hell,” Gerald told his reflection. “This is ridiculous.”

Still the voices echoed in his head. The last sentence of the email was in his mind. I really want to come home, for us to be a family again. But not at the expense of who I love.

***

“Look,” said the pastor of the First Church of Christ. “He’s, for the most part, a good man.” He’d told it to Tom many a time. Now he was telling it to the father, hoping he’d see it for himself before it was too late.

“What do you mean?” Gerald glared at him from across the desk. Damned pastor, he thought. I might have to rethink my will again. “You agree that Tom is an affront to God. Right?”

“He is…living in sin,” said Pastor Tim quietly. “The bible is clear on that.” Unfortunately. The pastor wanted to tell Gerald how upset Tom had been, the turmoil in him a category three hurricane and as devastating. He felt deeply for this young man who had desperately asked why was this so bad in the eyes of God? But Tim couldn’t betray a confidence. He also couldn’t say he’d like to have a few words with God about certain laws, omnipotent being or not. So, he said something else he’d told Tom. “Look, we’re all sinners before God. Every one of us including you and me. That’s why we are cautioned not to judge.”

Gerald recoiled from this. “Besides who he-he’s living with, he dishonored his father. And his Lord.”

“Before your wife died, God rest her soul, she told me the story. They took in a baby that no one else wanted. And according to Sara they had to. Didn’t the caseworker say she had no other place to put the child?”

Gerald grunted.

“So,” Pastor Tim went on, “they’ve done a good thing, something Jesus would bless them for. Focus on that.”

“How is that so? Look at how he’ll grow up! It’s-not normal. The boy will be ridiculed, made fun of, not accepted.”

“He’ll be loved,” said Tim, as softly as he could. “even if his father has flaws.” He leaned forward across the desk. “Do you know how many addicted families are in our flock? It’s not even drugs, or at least not always. It’s computers. These new games and phones are so very realistic. They give people such a beautiful experience. And they’re spiritually killing us.” He quoted a statistic. “In 2033 forty percent of Christians watch a 3D virtual service at home. On Easter Sunday. The holiest day of the year.” He sighed. “These families ignore their children or get them addicted too. Is Tom doing that?”

“Not as far as I know. Still, this child will be stunted emotionally and spiritually. He should have a mother and a father.”

Pastor Tim got up and paced back and forth in the small office, hands behind his back. He turned suddenly and faced the shrunken man sitting in the chair. “The bible also speaks of forgiveness,” he said. “The Lord’s prayer asks Jesus to forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us.”

“What’s your point?”

“Tell me, is how he’s living so bad you’d risk losing your only son and grandchild?”

Gerald sat back shocked at the man’s audacity. He would definitely have to rework his will. But more memories were surfacing. There was the day he’d taken the boy deep sea fishing off of Florida. Everyone had made bets on who would catch the prize fish. He could still see Tom’s joy at catching, among 15 men, the biggest bass, of collecting that hundred-dollar pool. The next day they had cooked it and determined it was indeed the best fish they’d ever had. He remembered the boy’s grin, holding up that fish as his mother took pictures. He thought of seeing George one day at the club, with his grandson. They had been playing in the pool, both laughing-

Gerald shook his head. There were more important things here. “So, I should ignore my concerns about the child’s life?”

“There is no evidence that your grandson will be emotionally or spiritually hurt just by living in Tom’s household. In fact,” Tim pulled on his tie, “He’s got a better chance than many in these uncertain times.” He shook his head, for society was ill, getting worse, and the weight upon him was back breaking. “If you have concerns, the best thing to do is involve yourself in the child’s life, lovingly, without judgment.” Lord, the pastor prayed, Please. Speak to him.

If the Lord did, Gerald didn’t listen. “This child isn’t my blood nor Tom’s.”

“So?” Tim asked. “Isn’t he one of God’s children?” He sat back across from Gerald. “What’s his name?”

Gerald couldn’t remember. It was Spanish, that’s all he knew.

“They’re hell-bound,” he said. “The bible states-“

“And Jesus said to a criminal, ‘truly this day you will be with me in paradise.’”

Gerald leaned across the desk, almost spitting out the words. “You have an answer for everything don’t you! What do you think you have up there on your high horse, a direct line to God?”

“No more than you do,” said Tim quietly, for he’d been shouted at before and had long gotten used to it. Or rather, numb to it. “I simply state we don’t know God’s plan for Tom, or anyone. You came to me for counsel; here it is. To heal yourself, for you to come closer to God, you should forgive Tom. He’s a sinner, perhaps. He’s also one of God’s people. And He turns his back on no one. Now what will you do?”

Gerald opened his mouth to threaten, to take back that gift he meant to give the small church. He knew the pastor worked another job and this money would mean much to him. Maybe then he’d agree that Gerald was right to disown his son. After all, money does something to people.

 Instead he said, almost a whisper, “It’s probably too late anyway.”

“Too late?”

“The last time we spoke it-didn’t go well. We haven’t talked since. Not really. He might not take my call.”

The pastor handed him his mobile phone. “Never know until you try.”

Gerald nodded and dialed the number. A voice answered, one that Gerald would know anywhere at all. “Hello?”

Gerald couldn’t speak. In the background was a toddler. “Da,” he said. “Da!”

Tom must be holding that child, Gerald thought. The voice was in his ear, now, a high-pitched sound. Gerald’s hearing aid shrieked, and he winced. “Dada!”

“Who is it?” said a man’s voice. “Here, let me take Azul.”

 That man, Gerald thought, anger running through him, is there. Tom’s not even alone. Why does he always have to be there?

“Azul hold on! Hello! No one. Probably an idiot telemarketer.”

Gerald ended the call and handed the phone back to the pastor. He swallowed hard. “Voice mail,” he said.

*****

That night he paced back and forth while the useless cat meowed, afraid. Something was wrong with her human. She just knew he kept holding that stupid rectangle device he always stared at, then tossing it aside. She meowed again.

Gerald sat on the couch and absent-mindedly petted her, thinking. He’s a sinner.

Yes. And he’s also a good man. And is this what you want, to live like this, in this empty house with just-a damned cat? A lizard and these ghosts?

Gerald picked up his wife’s portrait. “Sara what should I do?” But he knew that already.

You silly old man, she’d said. What year is this? As if that mattered. But she’d also continued. They say it’s not a choice. This is truly who he is and he can’t help it. He’s also our son. We shouldn’t just turn our back on him. Would God want that?

But he couldn’t just call. It was late. He might wake-what was his name? Azul.

Well, it’s not getting any earlier.

Finally, Gerald texted a message. “Tom. Are you awake?” Then he laid down. A ring startled him. Where am I? Oh…the couch. I fell asleep on the-where’s the damn phone?

On the screen, he saw a single word. “Dad?” Then there was another text. “Yes. I’m awake.”

September 05, 2020 03:53

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

10 comments

Charles Stucker
21:56 Sep 13, 2020

"Death bring out the worse in people and hers was no exception." brings Tom, the heir, and pastor Tim- big potential source of confusion and, since i and o are neighbors on a qwerty keyboard, typo's between the two can be tedious to find. Worse than Gerald and George. Are you trying to challenge your readers to forget which character has what name? You managed to avoid the talking heads (which plagued you in "An Act of Civil Disobedience") in this one by having the right amount of plot for the tale. It's very well done, aside from the...

Reply

Michele Duess
01:43 Sep 14, 2020

I had someone else point out Tim and Tom which I'm going to change in my copy. Thank you for your comments.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
07:25 Sep 11, 2020

Hey Paula, I really enjoyed your story. I'm particularly impressed by how you managed to fit in great character development (Gerald's) in this short story. It was very engaging, the exchange between Gerald and Pastor Tim was also great and clearly a marked turning point in Gerald's disposition. As a reader though, I would have loved to learn more about Gerald's upbringing or more about his memories with Tom, just out of curiosity, otherwise, it's still a great read!

Reply

Michele Duess
13:48 Sep 11, 2020

Hi Gloria actually this story is one of what's becoming a series. You can read the baby blue stories for background on James, Tom, and the baby they adopted. So perhaps for a future story I can continue with Tom meeting with his father and that struggle as they try to reconcile their issues. Thank you for the comments. I probably would've developed Gerald's memories more if it wasnt for that pesky 3000 word limit...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Andrew Krey
03:20 Sep 10, 2020

Hi Paula, I read your story as part of the critique circle and thought it was really good. You chose to incorporate several issues that some people have to face in their everyday lives, and you handle it delicately and more importantly successfully. I liked the characters you created, and liked how you included thoughts and email snippets within the narration. I enjoyed the exchange between the pastor more than with the lawyer, as I felt it flowed more naturally. As a suggestion, I would say to rely more on the dialogue at the begini...

Reply

Michele Duess
19:21 Sep 10, 2020

Thank you for your comments. Often I do start out stories with dialogue however I thought that was lacking. I'm working on more description, trying to figure out that balance between action, dialogue and description. And I'll watch the tags. Thanks for reading.

Reply

Andrew Krey
20:21 Sep 10, 2020

You're welcome, I do the same thing with these short story comps and use them to test out new styles too. One of the dialogue tips I read that really resonated with me was that the more you add to the dialogue, the more you remind the reader it's a written story - if you can keep it clear without using tags then it lets the reader deep dive into the story itself. As with all tips...easier said than done though! Lol

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
P. Jean
19:29 Sep 05, 2020

(George gave the lawyer another tight-lipped grimace. “If I wanted your opinion, I’d give it to you.” ) George is the lawyer? Should this be Gerald? You use sitting across from him twice in the very beginning. We got the seating idea without the repeat. I think all of the characters are well developed. The frustrated lawyer, the bitter, hurt, angry father. The Minister is very persuasive with scripture to bolster his thoughts. Good writing over all IMHO.

Reply

Michele Duess
12:55 Sep 06, 2020

I think it's a typo. It should be Gerald gave the lawyer, etc. Thanks for pointing it out and your comments. I'll change it.

Reply

P. Jean
14:50 Sep 06, 2020

You are welcome!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.