Disclaimer: I do not own Life with Derek, nor do I own A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, a novel which heavily influenced the writing of this story.
Chapter One: When You Dream
And there she was, on a beach, staring back at me from her pink towel. Bright blue waves crashed against the shoreline, spraying water gently over her scantily clad figure. She brushed her hair out of her face, revealing her eyes, willing me to walk towards her. As I sat down next to her, I brushed a stand of hair away from her mouth and pulled her in. As she opened her mouth, I could her whispering to me softly, sweetly.
Our lips locked and, after some tongue dancing, she stopped for a breath. A gasp escaped her mouth and I could hear it clearly.
My hand started reaching for the phone before my eyes could confirm that it was really early. Not since college had I seen pitch-black 3:27 on a Thursday night. I put the phone to my head and grumbled a greeting, expecting to hear Lizzie or Edwin, the only people who would call me at this hour of the night.
Instead, a lucid stranger returned my unintelligible greeting. "Is this Derek Venturi?"
What kind of a stupid question was that? She was the one calling me at this ungodly hour. But then I noticed the sounds of strange machines whirring in the background. "Yes, but if this is some sort of…"
Her voice went from clear to serious. "This is Dr. Long from University Hospital and you are listed as the emergency contact for George Venturi and Nora MacDonald and there has been an accident."
Her voice went soft as my numb hand dropped the phone on the ground. I managed to pick up the phone in time to hear more details. Michael's on the Thames restaurant; a drunk driver ran the light at Wharncliffe Road and blindsided them. They were rushed to the hospital right away, and the doctor called as soon as they were stable.
"So now what?" I said, clutching the phone to my head as well as I could while putting on my pants.
"Your parents are stable, but you will need to contact your lawyer in the morning," the doctor continued.
"What? Why do I need to call the lawyer?" I nearly dropped the phone as I shoved my socks on my feet.
"There are some legal matters that we will need to take into consideration moving forward with their treatment…"
"Listen, cut the bureaucratic nonsense. These are my parents you're talking about!"
There was a long, sustained pause. On her end, I could hear the blips of machines again, perhaps those hooked up to Dad and Nora. "No, you listen; I don't like giving any news over the phone, whether it's good or bad."
"That means it's really bad, doesn't it."
More blips and whirs. "I'm not going to discuss that with you now Mr. Venturi. I would suggest that you alert your lawyer and family first thing in the morning and come down here before 10 so I can talk with you in person."
I muttered a goodbye hastily as I grabbed my car keys. I threw on a jacket and ran out of my apartment, running down the three flights of stairs to my car. There was only one thought that ran through my head: Marti.
Around 4AM I pulled into the familiar driveway, next to a covered Prince. Normally I would've laughed at Dad's reluctance to sell that old car, insisting that it was good enough for me, Casey, Edwin, Lizzie, and that one day it'll be good enough for Marti and Simon. But tonight it was different. I lingered as I got out of the car, touching the cold fabric that kept the car in its persistently worn condition, hoping that Dad would notice and come out to stop me from doing further damage to his precious car. But the lights remained off, the door bolted shut.
I walked up the steps and took out my old key, slowly unlocking the door like I'd done countless times in high school. I snuck in, careful not to step on the treacherous squeaky plank that had woken up Dad and Nora dozens of times. I silently shut the door and groped for the switch to turn on the hall light, but then I noticed Marti passed out on the couch, waiting for her parents to come home and relieve her of babysitting duties.
Smirking, I gently picked up the eleven year-old, draped in a pink blanket I gave her before I went to Queen's University six years ago. I carried her up the stairs to her room and gently set her down on their bed. There was a sigh of relief, but a quiet voice asked, "Derek, is that you?"
What do I tell her? Yes Marti, it's Derek. Dad and Nora could be near death at University Hospital. But don't worry because I'm here.
Tell me the truth, her eyes seemed to say. Tell me what I need to hear, Smerek. Tell me.
No Smarti, I can't tell you. I can't make you worry, I can't keep you up on a school night.
Der-ek, she replied in her best Casey impression, you aren't really going to make me go to school tomorrow. Besides, I'm eleven years-old. You can tell me.
I can't Smarti. One day you'll understand.
A tear ran down my face as I lied. "You're dreaming."
"Ok," came the soft response, followed shortly by deep breathing.
Collapsing on the couch, I set a cell phone alarm for 7AM. Three hours and counting until the longest day of my life. Hell, it already began an hour ago.
This time, there was no woman luring me back to the land of the living. Instead, it was a small, brown haired boy staring at me. Our eyes met, before Simon suddenly spoke. "Derek, what are you doing here?"
Gently sitting up on the couch, I decided that the best course of action would be to ignore his question. "Making breakfast buddy. What do you want?"
The five year-old in his blue footie pajamas looked up at me blankly. "It's six in the morning. I'm not hungry."
Sure enough my phone agreed with my half-brother's assessment. So much for three hours. Turning off my alarms, I asked him, "Do you like your coffee black or with cream and sugar?"
He giggled as he sat down next to me on the couch. "You're silly. Can I watch TV?"
"Sure buddy," I said, getting up to go into the kitchen. "Just keep the volume down. Don't wake up your sister." I rubbed my eyes as I started the coffeemaker, listening to the sounds of the Wiggles permeate the house. "Not so loud!"
Rummaging through the cupboard for a mug, I remembered all the people I needed to call. Casey and Edwin in Kingston. Lizzie in Montreal. Marti and Simon's school. The Lawyer, presumably someone at dad's firm.
On the fridge were all of our numbers. In case of an emergency. "Mom, cell, work; Dad, cell, work; Derek, School, Casey, Edwin, Lizzie, Marti." I smirked, never having realized that I was the third person on the list, above Casey even. But then again, I'm the only sibling currently living in the area. I picked up the phone and dialed the school number.
"Hello, Thames Valley District absentee line." A cold voice answered. I was slightly taken aback that I was talking to a real person, given that it was still dark outside, but then again normal parents started their day around this time.
"Yes, I'd like to call out Martina Venturi and Simon McDonald-Venturi from school today."
"Mmhm," she said, loudly typing. "Yes, and to whom am I speaking?"
"I'm sorry, your name isn't on their file. I see only George Venturi and Nora McDonald."
"I'm their older brother and I'm calling under," I paused, making sure that Simon was still glued to the television. "Under extenuating circumstances"
"I'm sorry, but that is not an acceptable excuse. I will mark them both absent, but it will be an unexcused absence until we receive a note signed by either parent."
"That might not be possible," I said, rubbing my palm against my face.
"Yes, well then we might have to determine how 'extenuating' your circumstances are at a later date. Until then, have a nice day." The line went dead, and somehow I wasn't comforted by her faux kindness at the end of the message, though I was glad she didn't give me a chance to argue and potentially reveal the severity of the situation to Marti and Simon.
The coffeemaker beeped twice, and I quickly poured myself a cup, mixing in some sugar and milk before downing it in one gulp. It was going to be a long day, so I poured myself another.
How was I supposed to explain to two elementary school students that they were going to spend the day with me in the hospital, and that I have no idea what condition our parents are in?
How do you call your siblings and tell them the news? Hey, I know you busy and hundreds of miles from home, but get on a train because our parents were in a car accident.
I looked at the clock. 6:12. It really was going to be a long day.
"Simon!" Marti's voice rang loudly from upstairs. Apparently her hearing was more sensitive than I thought. "Mom and Dad told you that you're not allowed to watch TV before school!"
"Derek said I could!" he shouted back.
"DAD!" Marti shouted, "Simon's watching TV AND lying. I need my sleep!"
Once again all I could hear was the sound of the Wiggles, cutting into the silence like a butcher's knife. The unanswered question permeated through the air.
"Marti," I called back to her. "Simon's telling the truth."
There was a sudden thud as Marti jumped out of bed, followed by the steady pitter patter of her feet through the hall and down the stairs. She ran into the kitchen and jumped into my open arms for a big bear hug. "Smerek! I thought I was dreaming last night!"
"No, I was the one that put you to bed last night. You weren't dreaming." Her enthusiastic smile disappeared from her face, perhaps as she noticed the bags under my eyes, the frown on my face, or the somewhat serious tone in my voice. Though it could be that my little sister realized that I'm never awake at this time in the morning, let alone in my parent's house.
"Why?" Such a simple question, begging a complicated answer that I was still not ready to divulge.
"I'm making pancakes. Do you want chocolate chips?" I lied, finding a box of mix in the pantry.
"Oh," she said, pulling up a seat at the counter. "Sure." I smiled to myself, content that my lie was working. I poured the mix, eggs, milk, and chocolate chips in a bowl and turned on the beater when suddenly Marti spoke again, "But why aren't Dad and Nora home?"
All my attempts at keeping my cool were ruined when I dropped the beater and the pancake batter sprayed the counter and Marti. "Um, they aren't?"
"Der-ek!" My little sister had certainly mastered that tone of voice that made me feel like I'd done something awful. "What aren't you telling me?"
"Listen Marti, you need to keep your voice down because Simon doesn't know." She nodded carefully. "Actually, Lizzie and Edwin don't know either. Not even Casey." She nodded again, slower this time. "Dad and Nora were in an accident last night and they're in the hospital."
Tears began streaming down her face as she quietly choked out, "Are they ok?" I just returned her stare, not willing to hurt her more. But her sobs compelled me to walk over and hug her.
After a few minutes, she slowed down her tears and looked up at me. She was expecting reassurance, the verbal kind. "So, how about those pancakes?" She nodded quietly as I poured the batter onto the pan. I made about a dozen and the three of us ate in silence.
I never thought this house would be quiet again. It seemed that we only ever added more people, never really taking them away. I guess it must've become quiet once Casey and I moved out to go to college, but add in a baby's crying and it should've offset the loss. This was just eerie.
"When are we going?" Marti suddenly asked.
"The bus comes at 7:30 just like every day," Simon said.
"The doctor said to come in before 10," I replied.
"No, the teacher's there by 8, just like the rest of us."
"So what time do you want to leave?"
"When the bus comes!"
"I still have to call Casey, Edwin, and Lizzie."
"Does that mean I have time to shower?"
"NO THE BUS IS COMING!"
Marti and I turned to look at Simon, who was smiling as he ate his pancakes in his pajamas. We then exchanged a quick look and she excused herself to take that shower, leaving me alone with my younger half-brother. "Simon, you're not going to school today."
He looked up at me confused. "I'm not sick."
I honestly didn't know what to make of that comment. What kind a Venturi was he? If that were me, I would've run to the couch and turned the TV back on. "You should be happy. You're not going to school today."
"I like school. I like my friends. I like my teacher. And I'm not sick. So I should go to school. Mom and Dad say…"
"Mom and Dad," I began carefully, "are sick."
"Oh," he said, taking another bite out of his pancakes. "So I'm not going to school because Mom and Dad are sick." He continued on with his breakfast as though this was a perfectly normal occurrence, like the sun rising in the east or the Maple Leafs failing to make the playoffs.
"Yeah. We're going to the hospital to see Mom and Dad…because they're sick." I watched Simon smear maple syrup all over his face, and for some reason I felt guilty. Guilty that I wasn't able to make him see the severity of the situation. Guilty that he didn't understand. But mostly guilty because telling him was easy.
"May I be excused?" He asked suddenly.
"Sure, but clean up and get dressed before you watch more TV."
"Ok," he said as he put his dish in the sink.
"And use soap!" I yelled after him, smirking at the family's unofficial catchphrase.
While I was cleaning up the kitchen, the phone rang. I was slightly surprised, considering Nora and Dad were usually at work now. But, I did technically have a right to answer the phone.
"Derek?" My head and heart started pounding, loudly. "Hello? Derek, is that you?" Casey asked.
"Yeah. Hi Casey, how's Kingston treating you?" I rubbed my hand against my face. God, I longed for those days at Queen's, back when there was no car crash.
"It's fine. Why are you home? Is Mom there?"
"Oh, I um came to take Marti and Simon to school." I banged my head against the wall, knowing what a stupid lie that was. School started an hour ago.
"School started an hour ago." Damn, she was smart. "What aren't you telling me?"
I sighed. "Last night, there was accident. Dad and Nora are at the hospital."
"When did this happen?" she cried out in a sob.
"Last night. I got the call around 3:30 and came right over here to make sure Marti and Simon were alright."
"What did they say?" They. Maybe she wasn't so smart.
"The doctor said I should go down there today to talk to her."
"The doctor! You didn't even talk to them? Oh this is bad!"
"Stop overreacting Casey," I said with my usual charm. Well, I tried to anyway. It sort of came out as a sob.
"Derek, I'm going to load up my car and head out. Call Edwin and tell him to meet me at my apartment in an hour. We'll be home before nightfall." Suddenly, she sounded call and collected.
"You sure you'll be able to drive?"
"Yeah. Just call Edwin. And Lizzie. She'll need to find a plane or train home today."
"Ok. See you later sis."
Click. One down.
I grabbed my cell phone and dialed Edwin's number. "Derek? Why are you calling me so early in the morning?" he asked groggily.
"Sorry to wake you up Ed. Life as a business major is so tough." I laughed at my own joke. It felt good to laugh.
"Did you call me just to make fun of me?"
"No. Dad and Nora were in an accident."
"Oh." His voice was completely lucid, waking up from a dream and into a nightmare.
"Drunk driver hit them. They're in the hospital."
"Oh." He was continuing to take it all in. I could hear his breathing, short and ragged, over the phone.
"Casey's driving home today. Be at her apartment in an hour. She'll tell you the rest."
"See you tonight then."
Click. Two down.
"Derek, I don't have time to talk!" Lizzie shouted after the first ring. "I have statics homework due in two hours! And a thermo exam at 3!" I could hear her slamming away at the keys of her laptop.
"Sorry, Lizzie. I know it's hard with the whole engineering thing."
"Seriously, don't have time."
"You can't take that exam if you're going to come home today."
"I don't understand." Her tone changed from harsh to confused. Scared even.
"Dad and Nora were in an accident. Drunk driver. I think you should come home."
The typing stopped. "How serious is it?"
"Serious enough that I'll pay for you to get on the next flight home from Montreal."
"Ok. I'll call you when I land."
Click. Three down. I collapsed on the sofa, relieved that I held it together. I shoved my head into a pillow on the sofa and screamed my frustrations away.
The couch shifted a little as a smaller figure sat down. "Smerek? Are we ready to go?"
Again, that guilty feeling sank in the pit of my stomach. Because calling my siblings was easier than actually dealing with the truth.
I hope you all enjoyed this chapter. I tried to remain faithful to the characters and the tone of the show while at the same time adding my own flair of postmodernism that will hopefully shine in the next chapters. Please note that the rating is more for the writing style and dark humor than for language.
Please take the time to review, especially since you have already read the chapter. It makes writing a lot easier.