Cascades of warm rain washed atop the fortifications of Surrey Memorial Hospital windows, as lugubrious health care professionals dutifully fought through the storm, sheltered from the downpour but not from hard circumstance. Lethal winds had disabled Surrey’s power grid, and the hospital switched to auxiliary. With the city in blackout, the city’s IV drug population had witnessed a sudden carfentanyl outbreak. Overdoses happened at record levels, and the media and police had set up camp on the hospital grounds to further antagonize an already destabilized workforce.
On the sixth floor, an anaerobically fit and dopey eyed custodian hypnotically swirled the head of her mop, listening to earbuds. Day dreaming, and focusing on the task at hand, she accidentally yanked her Apple earbuds from her skull, and overheard the conversation of two white coats from the psychiatric unit.
“Princess snowflake checks out. Mom gave us an earful. Hasn’t seen her flesh and blood in years.”
“I won’t even give her an Ativan anymore. But mark my words, three months, tops, she’ll come back. Back to hotel unit six.”
One sunken face winked and nudged the other; the second doctor turned back, grimacing, then with his colleague edged ever further down the hall, looking over his shoulder like a crack dealer.
On the ground floor, which had recently been renovated and painted green and red like some banana republic flag, Emily idled by the glass wall of the atrium, tearing at her wrist bracelet with what remained of her savagely chewed nails.
A glance in the mirror set her neurotic self-laceration in motion, and she swore at the reflection. Her unwashed hair draped over her flushed face, as her puffy eyes palpitated and twitched. She lingered close to a low traffic exit, where to her right an East Indian barista meditated over his morning duties, wiping his already pristine coffee shop with manic focus. Hoping for a distraction, she scanned the menu. A spasm in her chest eliminated the suggestion that she needed coffee just then.
As Emily stepped towards the exit, headlights flooded the curb beneath the sleet and rain. She recognized the vehicle’s distinctive driving style. Her mom was as non-linear a thinker as Emily, and had boorishly pulled into a “no stopping,” tow away zone at a bizarre, impractical angle, then innocently scanned the vicinity for her daughter, oblivious to the burly security guards descending on her vehicle, carrying flashlights.
Holding the US Magazine she had snagged from the waiting room over her head like an umbrella, because of the sleet more than the rain (all Vancouver locals are immune to rain), the estranged daughter yelled at the security guards while running through the downpour. They backed away, allowing Emily to collapse into the passenger seat. Madeleine greeted her daughter, “You’re shivering.”
The door slammed and the guards staggered out of the way as the Jetta sped off. Madeleine’s typically rapid-fire eye movements shifted from the road ahead, to Emily’s face, then back to the flooding road, several times a second, as she breathlessly piloted her rusting Jetta through the tempest.
The inclement weather brought out the worst in other drivers and the traffic was bedlam. A tail gating Mercedes almost forced Madeleine out of her lane. Recovering her composure, she turned to the scruffy deviant in the passenger seat. “I don’t suppose you want to tell me what happened.”
The daughter laughed imperiously. “Mom can you not be a total bitch right now?”
“Emily, I LEFT WORK TO come get you from the hospital, in this freak storm. We haven’t spoken in two years. You won’t let me know where you are, and why? Was I such a bad mother? Oh. I’m sure you have your reasons?”
“I was assaulted, okay! I was drugged!”
Madeleine flipped her turn signal, sped around a lagging Oldsmobile, then jerked the steering wheel hard enough to impressively slide across a puddle into the unoccupied stretches of a used car lot, then braked hard, stopping the car so fast Emily bit her tongue. “Mom!”
“Em, Are you okay? Did you go to the police?” her tired eyes showed complete deference, all of the sudden.
Emily snorted, seething up towards the sullen clouds.
“No. Because there was no medical evidence and I don’t remember anything. It’s fuzzy.”
“What do you mean? How do you know, then…”
Emily leaned into her seatbelt, watching rain. “Well. Someone drugged me.”
“Drugged?” Madeleine echoed, twirling her hair, considering her words.
“They must have slipped something in a drink … Or maybe a joint.”
“Oh so you were doing drugs?”
“Mom! I wasn’t doing … GHB or roofies or whatever this person gave me.”
The aggrieved and fatigued mother folded her sleeves and rolled down the window, then put her hand out into the cool rain and closed her eyes to think. Emily looked across the street and asked if they could stop at a convenience store.
“Oh you’re still smoking? Whatever happened to quitting before you finish college?”
“I never finished. I dropped out.”
“Oh. So. No need to quit then.”
“Mom I fucking DON’T NEED THIS-” Emily lost her voice in a spasm of coughing.
“No. I’m sorry. I know this is not what you need,” Madeleine droned, twirling her short hair.
The estranged mother backed out of the dealership lot, sped up onto the freeway, then after a pregnant pause, hit the turn signal and merged with traffic. She asked Emily to describe what she remembered.
“Just let me get my smokes first. I’ll smoke outside.”
“Of course,” Madeleine acquiesced, slowing at an exit. The Jetta parked at a Chevron.
Emily bought her cigarettes from a mixed-race man with combed, neatly parted hair. He bore an uncanny resemblance to Jian Ghomeshi, making her shudder. She got back in the car and tried to explain to her hapless mother the events leading to the incident. Details to do with Michael were omitted. Madeleine prodded and pressed but Emily couldn’t produce a believable explanation without this aspect and eventually she just stopped trying to make any sense. Exasperated, the mother threw up her hands, perplexed by Emily’s obstinate stonewalling.
“I need another smoke. I was in there for three days,” Emily bit her lower lip, as her mom patiently sat in the car, shaking her head. Standing by a railing the daughter lit a second Benson and Hedges.
“Don’t know if your dad told you,” Madeleine segued, “Lewis, John and Carolyn’s oldest son. Killed himself, overdose.”
“Serves them right.”
The mom scoffed, stunned, bearing the whites of her eyes. “Why would you say that!?!”
After taking another drag, Emily dropped her smirk. “I’m sorry. That was insensitive.”
“It’s just… Too much, too much for one family. After losing their younger son… Both of their sons, now.”
“Just shows you money can’t buy happiness, I guess. 4000 square feet in West Van and a garage full of Lambos and Ferraris, and two sons dead by suicide.”
Madeleine choked and sucked back snot, as Emily took lightning inhales from her smoke under the silver rain, looking thoughtful and pensive.
With an agonized expression, the mother called to the daughter through the rain, “Will you give me a call? Where are you staying right now?”
Emily shuddered, and became alert. Thinking on her feet she gave her mom directions to her old apartment, neglecting to mention that she’d been evicted.
They hugged as Madeleine whimpered and swallowed tears. Emily shook off her feelings of guilt and stepped away from the Jetta to breezily enter the apartment foyer, acting like she owned the place. Dripping rain, with no immediate destination, she hung around the lobby, and tried to connect to the wifi. Her data had long ago exceeded its limit. The loitering girl then went to the bathroom to fix her hair before switching over to Facebook messenger and sent an emoticon laced text to sometimes contact and unfortunate hookup Tobias, whose modest suite was on the fourth floor.
Exiled to his posh West Vancouver abode, in a house purchased at 10 million dollars, Jordan sat listless at his desktop gazing at the blinking cursor, as blood curdling wails flooded his bedroom from the dining room below. He tried to drown the piercing cries by blaring Andre 3000 over his computer speakers, while with divided concentration he skimmed his chemistry text, hopelessly guessing at the answers. The doorbell rang.
Jordan descended the elegant spiral stairs. He cracked the great door, and beneath the warm glow of chandelier light received his guest Andrew, along with a uniformed Vancouver police escort in a tactical vest.
“Do you both have to be here?” Jordan asked, raising an eyebrow at the cop.
The officer removed his Oakley sunglasses, and with a diffident expression, folded and abruptly agreed to “a few minutes of privacy.”
As the officer returned to his squad car, Andrew looked confused. “Is he supposed to do that?”
Jordan shrugged. “Did you bring my reading list?”
“Course. Mrs. Thompson assigned Walden.”
“I’m not going to read it. Seriously, have you fucking looked at that thing?”
A high pitched scream from down the hall prompted Jordan to slam on the wall and yell for his sister to shut the fuck up. Then he turned to Andrew, and relaxed.
“I don’t know if you’ve met Denise. She has Down syndrome so she’s a fucking handful.”
Andrew nodded, “Oh, no but I remember you telling me about her.”
“It sucks man. Anyway, I’ve been wondering if anyone at school has been saying anything about this whole thing. You know, Tom and I. I haven’t been in touch you know.”
Andrew looked out the window at the police officer, who looked like a pug. The bald head stared back at him with an expression that said, “I’m watching you.”
“No one’s said anything really,” Andrew answered, “… I think everyone’s really shocked.”
Jordan considered this. Then he said, “Stephen hasn’t said anything?”
Andrew raised his eyebrows. “… No. What do you mean?”
“Nothing. Nothing. How is Stephen?”
“… Uh … Good? I think he’s doing well.”
“Yeah. He with Rebecca now?”
“As far as I know … They aren’t really together though.”
Jordan suppressed a laugh and stretched his pockets. “No. No, I know they’re not. It’s probably hard to be with someone like Stephen.”
“What do you mean?”
Andrew did not understand the disbelief on his quarantined classmate’s face.
“I mean haven’t you ever noticed certain things just aren’t as they should be. When he goes off on say, his views about women.”
Denise opened the basement door. Jordan shifted his gaze to the street.
“Well anyway. Thanks for stopping in. The cop’s giving me a weird look.”
Andrew squinted to see the police officer and turned to Jordan to concur.
The classmates separated and while stepping out the front door Andrew turned back to Jordan to muse, “Do you think they treat us differently than people who don’t have any money?”
Jordan waved this off, “No, but they should.”
Andrew stepped in to his Mercedes and turned on the ignition then pulled out of the driveway and followed the police escort back towards the city.
Gymnastic toned Rebecca performed a Bhujangasana pose on the soccer field, savoring the last moments of shade as the new sun peaked through cloud cover that had hung like alien space crafts over Meadow Ridge for three days. The ambitious student had started her school day two hours early to do yoga and prepare her presentation about the class trip to New Zealand from earlier in the year. “Kia Ora!”
Adorning herself in the trappings of her adopted culture, Rebecca wore her hair in a traditional Maori topknot. Her headdress included elegant, red streaming feathers. Bare foot on Meadow Ridge’s freshly mowed lawn Rebecca set down a mug of Blueberry Merlot organic tea, as the first vehicles of the morning started to appear in the parking lot. She picked up the beverage, sipped it with an appreciative murmur, and rolled up her yoga mat.
“Does Stephen do yoga at all?” Nicole, Rebecca’s classmate and yoga partner, asked while following her to the school entrance.
“You’re kidding. It’s for ‘fags’.”
Nicole made her face say, “whoa.”
“Did he really say that?”
“Yes. I’m trying to stamp those attitudes out of him.”
“So low class.”
“Oh I know. It’s probably because his family is poor.”
Nicole checked her skin colored lipstick. “I thought Michael was a lawyer?”
“An alcoholic lawyer. They live in a bungalow, in Surrey, remember.”
“Ew. Well at least Stephen knows what he wants out of life. He’s got ambition.”
Rebecca texted someone on her Nexus 5, then took an impromptu selfie.
“I do sometimes catch him saying “fuckin’”, as in, he’ll be saying something and insert “fuckin’” into the sentence. Like, “I have to go to the fuckin’ dentist.”
“Almost like he’s from Alberta.”
“It’s not that bad. Mostly he talks like a civilized person. He speaks in full sentences.”
“Is he really going to Harvard?”
“I know he plans on it. I doubt he’ll get in, I mean I threw off a few applications to Ivy league schools, naturally, but I don’t know why he didn’t apply somewhere less selective. But he’s Stephen… Does things his own way.”
The girls visited their lockers and put away their bags, then went to the gym change room. Rebecca took off her clothes.
“Oh my God your boobs are so huge.”
They each put on their uniforms and then left the gym. In the hallway, they were intercepted by a tense, gangly man with curly brown hair, whose oversized blazer had elbow pads.
Rebecca stopped and squinted at the man.
“I’m detective Mills.” The officer extended his hand and Rebecca shook it hesitantly.
“I work narcotics. I’m investigating the charges against two of your fellow students, I’m sure you know who I’m talking about. You’re not in trouble miss. Would you be willing to answer some questions? Won’t take long.”
“I don’t really know anything,” Rebecca insisted, as classmates gawked and eavesdropped.
“I’m not investigating you. There’s no reason to be anxious,” The detective told the suddenly flushed eighteen year old.
Rebecca turned to Nicole and told her friend to see to the New Zealand backdrop being set up. Then, with her interrogator, she made for an unoccupied classroom. Together they locked the door behind them.
Stephen had seen and heard the whole thing. As soon as they were out of sight he ran to his locker and grabbed his phone, then exited a side door and jogged towards the McDonalds on Dewdney Trunk road. Inside he ordered a triple triple coffee and paid in cash then took the cardboard cup on to the patio and hammered out a text message. His phone chimed at the response and Stephen clenched his jaw and opened his Uber app.
Stephen spotted a rusting beige Hyundai from his stool and entered the car and told the driver to take him to Yaletown. With a black toque covering his head, he cracked his knuckles, brooding.
Joggers in Cooper’s park waved at passing boats. A four person basketball game under the bridge had become heated. Kendrick Lamar blasted over the stereo.
“Up the pay for him then.”
“Chill. Take a shot.”
David blocked his rival’s three point shot and then froze in place. His partner cursed in Spanish and threw up his hands. Dave brushed it off, imploring patience with downward palms.
“Back in five,” the friends fist bumped and Dave hopped the broken fence.
“Why do you keep fucking doing this?” He snapped at Stephen as the boy stomped towards him, flexing his shoulders.
The private school student stopped a meter away from the drug supplier, unflinching.
“You haven’t done anything yet. I want to know when you are going to.”
Upon realizing the nature of the visit, Dave waved at his basketball partners, then held up a finger to his lips, signaling Stephen quiet down.
“… It’s too heat Stephen. The cops are watching those houses.”
“No. They aren’t. Not around the clock.”
“How do you know?”
“Well anyway man, I can’t do it. Too much risk.”
Stephen scrutinized the older man icily. The ‘cryptkeeper’ picked up on something and looked quizzically at the young man. “What?”
“Nothing Dave. It’s just curious. You know that if those boys testify you’re all going to go down together.”
Dave frowned and looked at the rowing champion’s steel blue eyes.
“Is there something you want to say Stephen? Mister private school?”
The blonde boy stood perfectly still, lips sealed, his empty eyes blank, hands at his sides, inscrutable.
“I want to know what you are planning on doing to fix the problem you guys caused.”
“My hands are tied.”
“Your hands are tied. In the future … Don’t ignore my texts. Stop making me hunt you down.”
“Well I don’t know what more business we have.”
For a brief second it looked like Stephen was winking.
“Who knows what the future could hold,” Stephen shrugged. David bumped his fist. He tried once more to stare the younger boy into backing down, but Stephen was unrelenting, and he gave up, and stepped back over the broken fence.
The dealer dismissed the concerns of his basketball friends and returned to the game. “Who was that damn gringo?”
“Make America Great Again!” Stephen called from the overpass.
The sun reached its apex and the clouds broke for a rainbow. Dave took out his phone and frantically searched his texts.