I stood in the middle of a large blank space…well almost blank it was split down the middle with black to my right and white to my left. I tried to move to one side then the other, something kept blocking me. “What’s going on?” My voice echoed throughout the space.
“Chase!” A voice yelled, I recognized it instantly,
“Brandon?” I turned to my right quickly and saw him running towards me from the black side of the space.
“Chase!” He yelled again, it was louder at that point. I tried to run over to him but I was still blocked by whatever it was. “Chase!” His yells became louder and I struggled harder to get to him. “Chase!” Louder once again, I stopped trying to break through the barrier or whatever was blocking me and began to cover my ears. The yells became a little too much and I needed to think. “CHA-!”
“BRANDON!” I was in the bed still; drenched with sweat. I held myself up by my hands on the mattress. Charlene ran in the room holding a spatula.
“Chase are you okay?!” She asked scared. I saw her and I couldn’t hide my horror. “Chase?”
“God damn it.” I said under my breath. I sighed and looked down. She came onto the bed and sat next to me.
“Chase, what’s the matter, why’d you scream Brandon?” I said nothing. She struggled with what she said next, “You had another dream didn’t you?” I was surprised but I nodded. She slowly wrapped her arms around me as I sat on the bed silently. She squeezed harder when I didn’t respond to her wrapped arms, “It’s fine love, you’ll be okay.” I stayed silent, at that point what could I really have said?
The silence was visibly unsettling her so I decided to break it, “Merry Christmas.” I said with the best chuckle I could muster; which wasn’t that great really, she let go of me slowly as if she wasn’t sure that it wasn’t a good idea. Once she fully released me I got off the bed, but she remained on it.
“…Chase?” I turned to her and became unnerved at the look she was giving me,
“Yeah?” I asked, “Something wrong?” Anyone could see that she was debating with what she was trying to say,
“Never mind.” She said shaking her head. I didn’t say anything but I knew she was lying, hell even a two year old could see that. But being a cops son lets you pick up a trick or two, interrogation was one of the few I picked up. If I asked her about anything now it wouldn’t do a bit of good; for me or her. I decided to go a different route. I took a quick whiff of the air and then asked,
“Do you smell something burning?” Her eyes went deer size at that point,
“My pancakes!” She exclaimed as she bolted from the bed and out of the room, I couldn’t help but laugh at that.
I did the daily routine and looked myself in the mirror for a few moments, I was shocked. To anyone else they probably wouldn’t have seen the changes, but I noticed every little thing; my hair had become longer, my body was less defined, my eyes looked rested. 'Who is this guy?' I asked myself as I looked in the mirror. One of the things that I wasn’t surprised at but still confused about was my left shoulder; there was a scar, one I didn’t remember having before. I came out of the bathroom wearing a t shirt, some shorts which I prayed were mine and a monogrammed towel over my shoulder, I still wondered why I had it but it really was soft so I guess I had a bit of taste in that regard.
I walked into the living room and found Charlene on the couch with a plate of pancakes, eggs and sausage with a glass of milk on the side on top of the coffee table.
She turned once she saw my reflection in the TV and put on a smile, “Hey there Rudolph.” She said with a smirk and some tone I couldn't place and I didn’t really want to analyze any further. “How you feelin’?”
“I’m fine.” I said she just looked me up and down quietly for a second. “Hey,” I said as I took a seat next to her, “if I said I’m fine, I’m fine. Let’s enjoy our Christmas alright?” She smiled, leaned over and kissed my cheek.
“Okay.” She told me,
It felt odd celebrating a holiday without my family. The breakfast was good; I always thought I took my coffee with only a bit of cream though. As good as it was though, I felt something missing. Jack’s crap talk which no one could get mad at since it was his way of lightening moods, the sarcasm of Mike which everyone for some reason took seriously, Cam and the way he would talk crap about how many ways America is messed up all while he adored an American girl, Dad and Lori’s smiles as they got tipsy off of eggnog, hell even Liz and the way she talked to her strange made up friends and the way everyone ignored it. But most of all, I missed the way Brandon would do something that made us unintentionally laugh. The last one was what stuck with me. 'Brandon…' “You ready Chase? Charlene asked,
“Huh? for what?” I asked, she looked at me like I was crazy for a minute. She got up from the couch, walked over to the tree, picked up a present and threw it at my head.
I caught it but it came really close to my head and that kind of worried me.
“Get it now?” I looked up and with a stupid smile and nodded, “Good.”
My taste seemed to have changed drastically over the time that has “passed”.
I’ve opened boxes of clothes, cologne, a few comedy movies by people I never heard of or didn’t like. 'Have I changed that much?' I asked myself, I didn’t want to accept it. Charlene got a lot of clothing as well, and she was happy with each thing she got, I was glad with that much.
The presents were finished and a mess laid on the floor of paper and boxes. We sat beside each other; each of us wore a content look on our faces. I sat there and said nothing, she was talking about something, didn’t really pay attention. 'Okay, clothes, cologne, bad comedian DVD’s, more clothes, underwear oh, and more clothes, that damned cat got this friggin’ scratchin’ post that looked friggin’ expensive…spoiled feline.' I thought as I ran through the list of things I had received. Of course my thoughts were finally interrupted when she said, “Chase!” I jumped a little bit and saw her looking at me expectantly.
“What’s up?” I asked,
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“You’re not gonna call your brothers?” My look changed now to one which I preferred to call me, “Are you shitting me?” look, my father even joked about getting it patented. 'Call?!'
“We’re not going to go see them?” I asked, she looked at me with that same look of confusion she has had throughout the time this whole thing started. 'I think that look is permanently plastered on her face from now on.' I thought.
“We’ve always called them before.” She told me.
“Oh, right.” I said, “Well…here, I got an idea.” I rose from the chair. “How about today, we go see our families today?” 'Yeah, that look ain’t leavin’ her face anytime soon.' I said to myself. “Just bear with me okay?” I asked, “We spend the day with our families and later tonight when we come back we can spend the rest of the night together.” I had put on the best smile I could muster, while she tried to hide one of hers.
“I don’t know Chase…” She said,
“It’s either that or I go the entire day wearing crotchless underwear.” I threatened; the smile disappeared from her face in a flash and replaced with one of desperation.
“Oh dear god, no. Okay let's go.” She said before she ran to the bedroom. I stood there with a chuckle and thought;
'I knew that would work.' I thought with a smirk, 'wait a minute…there's crotchless underwear in this place?!'
'Am I at the right place?' I asked myself as I drove into one of the suburbs just outside of the city. “Ready babe?” Charlene asked as I pulled up just outside a two story cream colored house with a fence, a single car garage and a friggin’ dog house. I was skeptical that this was the right place as I walked through the chain-linked fence. Jack was always the gruff leader of my brothers and myself. So believing he’s living in the suburbs was not that easy to take in. I mean the guy was in the marines, I would at least have expected a German shepherd or something. “BARK! BARK, BARK, BARK!”
Well at least he’s got a Rottweiler. The dog came running at me at a high speed that I was barely able to brace myself before it reached me and Charlene got behind me. I got in a solid stance and puffed out my chest in order to establish dominance. Never works well with dogs that can actually hurt you if they bite you. “Chase,” Charlene said, “What are you doing?” The dog and I locked eyes; it barked more while I growled slightly. “Trust me, I got this.” It got ready to attack, showed its teeth and everything. As it prepared to attack the front door flung open and a woman with shoulder length black hair and slightly tanned skin came out quickly and yelled, “No Rena! No, heel!” The dog didn’t attack but it still glared at me. I eased up slightly and saw that the woman was Yesinia; my Brother Jack’s wife.
She reached the dog and grabbed it firmly by its collar. “Thanks for the save Yesi.” I said, she looked up at me and smiled in slight surprise once she saw Charlene and myself,
“Oh, Chase,” She said, “We weren’t expecting you.”
“I told him that.” Charlene said,
“Hey Charlene,” Yesinia said with a smile.
“Hey Yesi.” She said with a smile and a light wave.
“Thought we’d just stop by, and spread the Christmas cheer.” I said with a smile.
“Here, go on inside while I put Rena back in her dog house.” She said pointing to the still open door.
“Alright, Jack up?” I asked, she nodded in response and we went to the door, the dog barked after me and I wanted to just try a round two with that thing.
I closed the door after Charlene and I had gotten inside and was amazed at the way my brother’s house looked. The paint was an off-color white and they had wooden flooring with stairs in the foyer leading to the second floor, and to the right was the entrance to what I guessed was the living room. 'What’s that smell?' I asked myself,
“Baby, did you find out why Rena was barking?” A voice asked, through the right there came a guy who was two or three inches taller than me with military cut, jet black hair, a very distinctive nose and a firmly built body despite a slight, but noticeable bulging stomach. “Well, howdy do little brother.” He said with a smile at seeing me.
“Nice to see you again big brother.” Is what I said, but what I thought was, 'What the hell is that thing he’s holding in his arms!?' In Jack’s arms was a small body wrapped in a blue and white blanket.
“Hey Junior, Tio Chase and Tia Charlene is here.” I tried desperately to make it look like that this wasn’t a surprise to me but on the inside I was saying,
'HOLY FRICKIN’ HELL, MY BROTHER HAS A BABY!' That kind of stuff I believed should never have been said, ever, at all. “Oh my god,” Charlene cooed, “He's so cute.” Charlene walked over to my brother and looked at the little body he held in his arms. It was his alright; hair, eyes, the distinctive nose. That kid was a mini-Marquez if I’ve ever saw one.
I must have looked a little too hard for Jacks liking, seeing as he did that clearing of his throat thing people do when they want attention. “You alright Chase?” He asked me,
“Oh no,” Charlene said, “He's fine, completely fine.”
“Yeah,” I said, “what makes you guys think I’m not?” I asked the two. The door opened then closed and was followed by an exasperated sigh, Yesi was back in. Jack eyed me for a quick second then spoke,
“Hey babe.” Jack called,
“Yeah?” She asked as she walked into the room. Without taking his eyes off me Jack asked her,
“Could you take Junior please? I think he’s hungry.” She took Junior from Jack’s hands and then said, “Hey cutie pie,” She used one of those baby voices which the kid laughed at. “Is your tummy going rumbly-wumbly?” 'Rumbly-wumbly?'
“Oh, I'll come with you.” Charlene said as she followed Yesinia.
The two left the room doing weird noises and left Jack and I to ourselves. “What’s the matter Chase?” Jack asked, I gave him my confused look, which wasn’t too hard to do seeing as I was very much confused.
“Why is everyone asking me that?” I asked with a very slight tone of agitation. “I had a long day yesterday, so I’m a little on edge, asking me if I'm okay doesn't really help the situation but I assure you,” I explained, “I’m fine.”
“Really?” He asked, “So running into Mike’s shop and asking where the hell our younger brother is despite him being dead for three years registers as fine to you Chase?” I wanted desperately to yell at Jack and say, 'BRANDON’S NOT DEAD!' but I thought it best not to say that, at least not now.
“You talked to Mike?” I asked, my tone must have seemed like that sounded impossible. Which in actuality, wasn’t that hard to believe; Jack and Mike have been at each others throats once or twice while growing up and when Jack left for the military they parted on some not so friendly terms with each other.
“Yeah Chase, we talked. That’s what brothers do.” He spoke sardonically. “Tell me what’s wrong Chase.” I sighed,
“Jack, all I wanted to do today was to go see my brothers and wish them a merry Christmas.” I said, “Well I’m here, Merry Christmas and I’ll see you later.” I turned and began to walk to the door.
“Chase, wait.” Jack said after me, I complied, “you goin’ to dad’s tonight?” He asked, I turned and faced him with a nod I said,
“Yeah, of course,” I replied. He smiled.
“Good, Yesi and I are going as well.” I returned the smile.
“Well I’ll see you there.” I said as I turned to leave again.
“I didn’t say you could leave yet Chase.” ‘Son of a bitch,’ I thought.
“Mike’s outwith Terry today Chase, he won’t be home and Dad and Lori are busy getting ready fortonight.” He said, “You came all this way why not take a load off?”
If I tried to leave he might have tried to stop me, or worse, call dad. I alwayshated doing what Jack told me to do but I took the seat. “Good choice.” He said takingthe chair next to the couch I sat in.
Jack and I started talking about stuff that I had to wing the hell out of. From life,work, all kinds of stuff I had to make guesses at. I honestly kept a guard up; all our livesJack had been good at getting stuff out of the guys and I, the older he got the easier hegot the stuff he wanted. “Read your article yesterday.” I tried to hide the continuousconfused look I wore and then remembered,
‘Oh right, I’m a news writer now.’ I said tomyself, “Really?” I asked, He nodded “How did you like it?”
“It was pretty good,” He said, “seems like this journalism thing works for you.” Ishook my head at that point,
“Strange huh?” I asked,
“Yeah,” He said with a chuckle. “I remember how you would always talk aboutbeing a cop. You used to come home all beaten up from kids you tried to arrest for thesmallest rule they broke.”
“Hey, I didn’t always get beaten up.” I protested,
“You’re right,” He said with a smile, “You also came home with bites from thedogs people sicced on you for trying to enforce leash laws.” This sent him into a small fitof laughter and I just sat there and shook my head.
“Don’t hold back on my account Jay.” He stopped after that but I could still seethat glimmer of enjoyment at my expense.
I left Jack’s a bit later, was driving on the highway. I thought about how strange itwas to see Jack like that. Suburbs, dog, a kid, actually taking an interest in my work; itwas like it wasn’t even Jack anymore. Charlene andI sat in my car driving and one thing decided to finally blurt itself out from mymouth. “Where are we going now dear?” It was true, where were we gonna go?
“Hmm...” She said, “Wanna try and call Mike?” I took one hand offthe wheel and began to feel in my pockets and around my general area to see if I hadbrought a phone with me.
After a minute or two of feeling around I finally came to the conclusion of, “Crap, Idon’t have my cell-phone.” I said aloud. “How am I supposed to Call Mike?” I asked.
“Call: Mike.” I heard from the speakers of my car, Charlene just looked at me with a sly smirk.
“What the hell?” Ringing soon followed. “Oh!” I said, “I keep forgetting about that damn thing...I don't like it.” I said as I glanced at Charlene.After several rings, Mike’s voice filled my car.
“Hey, you reached Mike Marquez, I don’t have my phone with me so pleaseleave me a message.” He said and then a little beep followed.
“Oh, uh… Hey Mike, just callin’ to say Merry Christmas, I just saw Jack and wasplanning to stop by and say hi but…” Sirens blared and a cop car appeared behind me.“I’m guessing that that will have to wait till we get to pops house.”I pulled off to the side of the road and sat in wait while the cop car did the same.
The officer got out and began walking over to my car, I rolled down my window and gotthe stuff I knew he was gonna ask for. “Is there a problem officer?” I asked, he took theitems from my hand and looked it over.
“Chase Marquez,” He said, “you write for the Review right?”
“Uh, yeah.” Something kept buzzing in my head as I looked at this guy. ‘I know you?’ I asked myself. Something caught my eye finally, a name tag which said
“Pochard?” I whispered, “Houston?” I asked the officer. He looked up from myinfo with a smile on his face. I shook my head and let out a laugh, “Houston, you son of abitch.” I said, “You’re messed up you know that?” I added,
“Yep.” He said with a tone of enjoyment.
“Houston?” Charlene asked,
“Oh baby,Houston was a class brother of mine during our martial arts training; he was mysenior brother. He was good; beat me six ways from Sunday every time we sparred.” I stated, “When I first met him, he was preparing to become a police officer and when he gotaccepted, he left for a while.” I explained.
“So how have you been man?” I asked, we had stopped at a rest station once wegot off the high way.
“I’ve been good man, just doin’ my job.” He replied.
“Man, wish I could say the same thing.” I said looking to the side,
“Hey, the job you’re doing is still technically helping.” He tried, in vain, to assureme.
“By writing about the stuff I always wanted to help put away?” I asked,
“Hey c’mon Chase.” He said putting a hand on my shoulder, “At least you don’thave to worry about bullet holes.” He said, I looked at him with a quirked eyebrow
“You touch me again, I swear I’ll Fu Shing you.” I said with a smirk,
“And I’ll arrest you for assaulting an officer.” He replied returning the smirk.
“Damn…that’s true.” We both laughed for a moment.
“Chase,” Charlene said, “honey?”
“Oh!” I exclaimed, “Houston, Charlene, Charlene this is Houston”
After a bit of small talk I began asking more questions, “How’s Sifu doing?” Iasked.“Oh, good,” He told me, “He and Jasmine-Sumu are actually having a kid.”
“I thought Sifu was married to Janine-sumu?” I asked,
“OH!” He said, “You mean Hernandez-Sifu. You thought I meant Man-Sifu.”
‘Okay, I knew Hernandez Sifu was getting married but now he has a kid?’ I thought to myself. “SifuLam left years ago Chase.” He told me,
“Where?” He shrugged slightly, “I thought you and Sifu kept in touch?”
“Well…I haven’t heard from him in a while, has he spoke to Sifu Zamora?” Heshook his head. “I see…” I’ve always hated that look Houston gave me when I wasconfused, it let me know that he was getting inside my head. ‘Damn it.’
“You alright Chase?” He asked,
“See!” Charlene said, “I told him he's been acting weird but does he own up to it?” She asked, “Nnnnooooooo.” ‘God will people stop asking me that?!’ I thoughtto myself.
“Yeah, I am.” I said glancing at Charlene “Why?”
“Well, you’re out on Christmas Day; which you usually spend with family, youdon’t remember the last time you’ve talked to Sifu, and to top it all off, you didn’t cometo the annual party for the association.”
“Sifu tried calling you, but couldn’t get a hold of you.” I didn’t say anything for aminute. I kept on asking myself what was going on but I couldn’t think too hard. I looked at Charlene who only shrugged in confusion. Houstonkept watching my face for anything to hone in on. “Chase?”
“Listen Houston, I'm actually on a little trip with Charlene here,” I said, “We gotta make the rounds to the family and get ready to go to my parentstonight okay?” He nodded,
“Of course man,” He replied, “call me, we should catch up.” I nodded and walkedback to my car. 'I’m starting to hate this dream more and more.’ I thought to myself. ‘It’s starting to feel more like a nightmare.’…Nightmare?