Suburban Mysteries – Season Finale – All in the Family

Today is the first day of NaNoWriMo, so of course I spent it working on something that ISN’T a 50k word novel.  I’ve been working on this story for well over a year, mostly because I keep forgetting I want to finish it.  Today it’s done, and I’m ready to move on to a new season of the Suburban Mysteries – after November, of course!  As all of the mysteries are based on true stories, sometimes the trouble with writing them is finding real life mysteries.  So if you have any true life mysteries that you’d like to see lampooned in the form of Kendall and Chad, stumbling their way through suburban life, leave me a comment or send me an email.

Until then, enjoy the season finale!

Suburban Mysteries Finale – All in the Family

 

Chad stepped outside into the cold wind and lit a cigarette behind his cupped hand.  He normally didn’t smoke cigarettes but it had been a really hard month, and he’d reverted to the bad habit he’d developed back in college during stressful exam times.  Kendall watched him worriedly from the window.  

 

Chad’s estranged father had just passed away, after a brief downhill battle with heart disease.  When Chad had received the phone call about his father’s first minor heart attack, he’d joked about it.  “That old coot never had a heart to begin with, so of course it was minor” Chad told Kendall.  “I’m surprised he felt anything at all!”

 

The jokes had stopped after his father’s second heart attack, and Chad had become uncomfortable even talking about his father after the stroke.  He’d visited the hospital a few times, but after the strokes started, the person laying in the bed in front him was barely recognizable as the man who’d caused him so much anguish growing up.  The arrogant, brash person who’d never hesitated to criticize Chad or Chad’s siblings had become weak and powerless.  Chad had expected to feel some sort of silent vindication while standing over the prone semi-conscious body, but instead he’d just felt empty.  His father was a shell of a human being, and Chad felt that the past years and their lives together had been a waste.  

 

[FLASHBACK]

It was the late 70s, and Chad had just gotten kicked off the co-ed indoor soccer team for being the worst player on record.  Chad’s older sister, on the other hand, had just been made an attacking midfielder, which was no surprise to Chad any time she demonstrated her powerful tactical abilities by kicking him in the shin with her cleats.  

 

“You’re such a pussy even your sister can kick your ass!”  His dad said, poking Chad in the chest.  “I’ll sign you up for needlepoint.  If you think you can handle the sharp objects.”  

 

Chad’s sister had snickered at this and run her cleat into the back of Chad’s ankle, making a scar that he would carry with him the rest of his life.

“That’s my girl!”  His dad said, picking up Amanda and spinning her around.  “Ice cream for you tonight, baby!”

 

Chad, of course, had gone to bed without dinner.  Dinner was for winners.  

 

[REAL TIME – BUT WHAT IS TIME?]

 

Kendall greeted Chad with a hug when he came back inside.  She didn’t know what to say to him, because both of her parents were alive, and she had fairly good relationships with both of them.  She and her mom argued like sorority sisters, but that was just the shallow surface of their relationship.  Underneath the arguments about whether or not Kendall’s highlights looked too brassy was a solid foundation of trust and truthfulness.

 

“I texted Amanda, and she says they expect the funeral to be next week” Kendall told him, taking Chad’s coat and discreetly blasting it with a burst of Febreeze.

 

“Great.  Maybe I’ll go.”  Chad sat down glumly at the kitchen table and held out an open hand.  “Beer please.”

 

Kendall put a can of Coors in his hand and took the seat opposite him.  “Of course you’ll go.  

The funeral isn’t for your dad, it’s for the family.  Your family. Of which you are a part.” She clarified, in case he had missed that connection somewhere.  

 

“I’ll be surprised if anyone but Amanda goes.   He was terrible to all of us.  He even walked out on mom.  Did I tell you he emptied their retirement accounts first?”

 

“Yes, you told me at quite a high volume” Kendall said, remembering.  “It was all I could hear for days.”

 

“I know he gave some of that money to Amanda.  That’s not the point.  He can do what he wants with his own money.  But he really screwed mom over.  And then there were the legal fees!  It’s going to be tied up in probate forever now, and the court will probably take most of that money.  But whatever he gave to Amanda is under the radar.  Unless she decides to help mom out, it’s gone for good.”

 

Kendall was relieved to see that Chad had slipped into accountant mode.  He loved his job and focusing on the business side of his father’s death was going to help him handle it a little better.  Ordinarily she’d be furious with Chad for smoking and for drinking before noon, but this was a time of crisis.  In times of crisis, people were prone to consume alcohol at strange hours, revert to former bad habits, and work strange hours.  It was oddly like Christmas in that aspect, only instead of a gift you were presented with the body of someone you’d come to despise.  Kendall wasn’t comfortable with this train of thought, and distracted herself by stuffing Oreos mechanically into her mouth.  She wasn’t sure how to help Chad, but at least he wouldn’t eat all the Oreos and outgrow his pants.  She would make that sacrifice for him, taking one for the team.  That was the kind of dedicated wife Kendall was.

 

Chad had gotten up from the table and was anxiously pacing back and forth in front of the refrigerator.  Kendall hugged the Oreos a little closer to her chest, lest Chad realize he was hungry for some sweet double stuffed action.  “I’m going to bed” he suddenly announced.  

 

“You just got up” Kendall said through a mouth full of crumbs.

 

“I know” Chad said shortly.  He chugged his beer and tossed the empty in the sink with blatant disregard for the household’s pro-recycling policy, and trudged out of the kitchen.  Kendall could hear his heavy footsteps on the stairs and sighed.  Chad was going to have to find a better coping strategy in the next few days.  His sister was going to be in town, and she couldn’t entertain Amanda all by herself.  Not without murdering her and hiding the body.  She was not cleaning out their closets for a corpse.  Chad had enough on his plate with just the one family death.  Kendall didn’t even know if his mom was going to make an appearance.  She wouldn’t blame his mother if she just decided to stay home and celebrate.  Kendall wasn’t sure how to handle this family drama. Her own family would have had a shouting match over mimosas and then they’d be crying and making up by tea time.  How do adults go for years without making amends with their own families?

 

[FLAAAAAASHBAAAAAAAACK]

 

“I bet you’re adopted and that’s why you suck” Amanda said, hitting Chad in the back with her fundraising suitcase.   She and Chad were attending the same school that year, and they were fundraising for a new gym by selling magazines door to door.  This was the eighties, and no one thought it would be dangerous to send their kids door to door, to invite themselves into strangers’ homes and sell them crap they didn’t want or need.  Their dad had been delighted at this fundraising event, seeing it as an opportunity to groom his children to follow in his own footsteps.  He was a salesman of the worst type, calling people “tiger” and taking clients to strip clubs.  Chad had just learned what such places were, and the idea that his mother tolerated this sort of thing disturbed him a little.  

 

“You gotta give the clients what they want” his dad had said when they came home with the project, winking at Amanda and clapping Chad on the back so hard that Chad had fallen down onto one knee.  “You and your sister get out there and sell those rags.  The winner gets a special prize from your old dad here. “

 

Chad had rolled his eyes as he struggled back up into a standing position.  Next to him, Amanda looked like a pre-teen angel, wearing a headband and shiny shoes.  Unfairly, adolescence had not treated Chad very well.  He had started to break out, and his nose, hands, and feet seemed disproportionate to the rest of his body.  As he watched Amanda preen out of the corner of his eye, he already knew who was going to sell the most magazines.  

 

He and Amanda had spent all afternoon going around the neighborhood, doing rock paper scissors to determine who got which side of the street.  He could tell halfway through that it wasn’t going well. Amanda’s cardboard suitcase was starting to look stuffed with the cash she’d collected for the subscriptions, and Chad had only sold two subscriptions to a woman who’d probably just signed up to get Chad off of her porch.

 

“You suck at this” Amanda gleefully pointed out, kicking at his cardboard suitcase with her Mary Jane shoe.  “You’re such a loser.”  They’d rounded the final block and were headed back towards their house.  Amanda’s gloating seemed more joyous than usual, and Chad was tired.   “I bet mom and dad regret adopting a loser like you.”

“Shut up!”  Chad yelled, swinging his suitcase into her shoulder.  Amanda, who had been very firmly standing strong on her athletic legs, gave a dramatic scream and threw herself theatrically into a conveniently nearby puddle.  “You jerk!”  She wailed, opening her suitcase and stuffing some the money into her dress, into her training bra.  The large ruffle over the front hid the bulge.  “Knocking me down!”  Chad stared at her, bewildered.  “You let those bullies take my money!”  she continued, smoothing the ruffle over her chest.  She got to her feet with lightning speed, dashing off towards the house and screaming “DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD!”

 

Chad didn’t even try to catch up with her.  He couldn’t.  It didn’t matter anyway, he knew who his dad was going to believe.  And neither parent was going to search her.  His dad would call him a pervert for even mentioning her training bra, and his mother would tell him to stop upsetting his father.  It wasn’t fair!  She’d already won the competition, there was no need to throw him under the bus on top of it.

 

Chad took his sweet time getting back to the house, where sure enough, his father was comforting Amanda with the promise of her special prize – a trip to the mall for shopping and a movie.  Chad tried to sneak by, but his dad grabbed him by the collar and hauled him into a chair.

 

After a half hour of being screamed at for not protecting his vulnerable, sweet, innocent baby sister, Chad was allowed to go to his room, where he would spend the next month.  Grounded.  

 

[REAL TIME – OR IS IT?]

 

Chad and Kendall met Amanda at the funeral home the next day.  Chad had been content to roll out of bed, throw on some track pants, and shove a baseball cap over his greasy hair, but Kendall made him shower, shave, and dress in nice business casual clothes.  She didn’t want Amanda to have more any reason to nag Chad while she was in town.  He’d had enough of that in his childhood.  They parked next to a fancy BMW and it was obvious that the car belonged to Amanda.  Maybe it was the chrome trim that said “respectable, yet spoiled,” or the padded leather steering wheel cover.  Or maybe it was the vanity plate that said “AH-MANDA.”

 

“Well, you’re looking like crap” Amanda said, as Chad and Kendall entered the waiting room next to the manager’s office.  “Kendall, you look lovely.”

Kendall wasn’t sure how to reply to this.  The Miss Manners part of her personality wanted to thank Amanda for the compliment, but the wife part wanted to punch Amanda in the face.  She responded the way she usually did in awkward situations, by talking about the weather.

 

“It’s surprisingly nice outside, for Cleveland in January” Kendall started.

 

“Yeah, and it had better stay that way.  I’ve got a date tonight and I don’t want to get my hair wet” Amanda said, reaching into her purse for some gum.  She did not offer any to Chad or Kendall.  “As soon as I knew I was going to have to spend more than two days in this stupid rust belt town I lined up a few matches on Tindr to keep me busy.”

 

Upon closer inspection, Amanda did look more like someone about to go hit a martini bar than a woman making burial arrangements for her deceased father.

 

“That’s a…nice…dress” Kendall said, eyeing the sparkling new cleavage popping out of Amanda’s short black bandage dress.  

 

“She probably bought it with Dad’s money” Chad said, the first words he’d uttered since getting into the car.  “Just like that BMW and those jugs.”

 

“Dad gave me that money because he knew I’d make something of it.  He couldn’t trust you not to spend yours on cheap beer, bowling, and gambling at the Racino.”  Amanda snapped her gum defiantly at Chad, as though she were 13 and not pushing 40.

 

“You look like a Russian mafia bride!”  Chad shouted.  “You know what dad would say if he could see you now?  He’d ask you if those ‘dates’ are for money, because you look like you charge by the hour!”

 

“You have a lot of nerve calling him Dad.  Considering your…heritage.” Amanda said coolly, arching a waxed, dyed eyebrow.  

 

Chad responded with a stunned silence.  Kendall looked at Chad in confusion.  Amanda studied her manicure.  Suddenly, the door to the manager’s office swung open.

 

“Pre funeral jitters, eh?”  The funeral director boomed out, inappropriately jovial.  In truth, this was the third fighting family he’d had to break up today, and he’d discovered that cheerfully bulldozing over the nerves of the irritated bereaved got them out of his office faster.  “Come on, let’s finalize those plans before he decides to get up and leave.  Hah ha!  Just kidding!”  He ushered the silent, stunned Johnson family into his inner sanctum and rolled his eyes as the door slammed behind them.

 

“That was the longest hour of my life” Chad moaned into his hands, as Kendall steered expertly around a group of cars that had just stopped on the highway for no apparent reason at all.  The interesting thing about Cleveland traffic was that for a city known for its spontaneous rain and snow, people still liked to slam on their brakes at the first sign of precipitation.  “Who cares if the coffin is teak or mahogany?  They’re both endangered.  He’s dead, just burn him and let’s move on with life.”

“I thought the walnut stain looked elegant” Kendall said diplomatically, not wanting to get sidetracked into a discussion about sustainability.  “It really harmonized with the colors of the slumber suite he showed us.”

 

“Slumber suite!  Slumber suite?  Where the hell does that greasy death salesman get off calling a viewing room a slumber suite?!”  Chad removed one hand from his face and pounded the dash for emphasis.  “It’s just an excuse to jack up the price.  No one’s going to visit, anyway. Mom’s washed her hands of us and Amanda’s probably going to be giving some dude a blowie right outside.  This whole thing is a pointless waste of my time.”

Secretly, Kendall agreed.  No one was happy about this situation.  Not that anyone was happy with a death and funeral, exactly, but pretending to be a happy family and speak nicely about a monster merely because he’d passed on seemed oddly disconnected from reality.  Ordinarily Kendall loved a party, and could have found some comfort in arranging the funeral lunch with matching centerpieces on every table and tapas instead of casseroles, but even she had to admit that this event was shaping up to be a real cabbage noodle and chicken soup event.  Ooh, but maybe they could make comfort food festive somehow.  A theme!  The romance of Communist Europe, something like that!  She vaguely became aware that Chad was still ranting.

 

“…did she even mean by that comment?  My heritage?  I’m Irish-Italian, just as she is.  Does she suddenly think she’s better than that?  Does she suddenly think that she’s above the immigrant background that makes up this glorious city?”  Chad reached into his jacket pocket, and confirming Kendall’s awakening suspicions, pulled out a flask.  

 

“Damn it, Chad!”  she shrieked, jerking the car onto the berm to pass some people rubbernecking at a snowflake.  “Open container is illegal, and I’ll get the ticket.  Put it away!”  

 

Chad stuck the flask in his pocket, pouting like a child.  “I want to know what she meant by that.  I don’t care if she was his favorite, to imply that I wasn’t a good son is horse crap!  She knows I was, because she cheated her way to get ahead!  She had to resort to trickery to make me look bad!  It was one thing when dad was alive, but who does she think she’s kidding now?”  He pulled out his cell phone. “Siri!  Call that sea cow Amanda!”  

 

“Calling That Sea Cow Amanda” Siri sing-songed in her pleasant but asexual voice.  

 

“That’s how you saved her in your contacts list?”  Kendall asked, grinning.  She and Chad started to laugh, but were abruptly cut off as Amanda picked up the call.

 

“What, loser?”  Amanda asked over the speakerphone, in a voice that suggested she called Chad a loser so reflexively that it had lost all meaning.  

 

“I’m too old to tolerate your passive aggressive crap anymore.  What the hell did you mean making a jab about my heritage?  Say what you mean or shut up, Sea Cow!”

 

Amanda chuckled softly over the line.  “I thought you would have had your suspicions by now” she said.  “I mean, you don’t even look like him.  By the time you came along, mom could barely stand to sleep in the same room with him.”

 

“Marriage is hard, Amanda!  Sometimes I find it hard to be in the same room with Kendall, that doesn’t mean I’m fathering children with other women, or that she’s carrying someone else’s baby!”

 

Kendall started to protest but then decided to take Chad’s comment was rather sweet.  Sometimes she didn’t want to share a bed with him either, especially not after taco Tuesday, but that also meant she wanted to share a bed with anyone after taco Tuesday.

 

“All I know is what he told me the last time I visited him, Chad” Amanda said.  “It’s not my insinuation.  It’s straight from Dad.  Or maybe you want to call him Norman.”

 

Chad ended the call without comment.  He seethed silently in the seat besides Kendall, and marched silently into the house before the car had come to a complete stop in their driveway.  Kendall wanted to go chase after him, but decided for once that she could dial back her own need for gossip and drama and give Chad the space he needed.  She wasn’t sure if Amanda was telling the truth, but she silently vowed that if Amanda was lying, Kendall would destroy her.  Wild coyotes would not find her body, not in one piece at least.

 

***

 

“I’m not sure whether it’s the right thing to do or not” Chad told Kendall later that night.  They were tucked into bed after Kendall had confirmed that with Chad that this was one of the days he could stand being in the same room with her.

 

“Are you going to be stewing about this for the rest of your life?”  Kendall asked.  “Obviously you think there’s some truth to it, or you this wouldn’t bug you so much.”

 

“She’s just getting under my skin” Chad said, scooting down and curling his arms over his head.  “I’ll feel better after I sleep.  If I can sleep.”

 

Kendall turned over and snuggled her back up against Chad, knowing that he was going to snore in his current position.  Tonight she wouldn’t shove him over onto his side.  She didn’t say what she was thinking, which was that Chad’s dad had been such a jerk that it wouldn’t be a huge tragedy if they turned out not to share a genetic background.  She figured there was still some kind of deep emotional trauma associated with finding out that you’d been lied to about your parentage.  Kendall had no interest in pop psychology but was slowly learning to be better at tact.

 

“I think I’m going to do it” Chad murmured, moments before emitting a sound like a truck using its engine brake.  The deep exhaustion of one who has made up his mind had carried Chad off to Slumbertown.  Kendall closed her eyes and took the next sleep Uber to join him.

 

***

 

The funeral director looked at Chad as thought Chad were performing some kind of joke in an elaborate routine to deflect his own grief.  

“I understand that this trauma has opened up some old wounds” he began, in the diplomatic tone he reserved for the bereaved and crazy “but what you’re asking me to do is technically illegal.  It’s tampering with a…a…a person who has since passed.”  He stumbled over the word “corpse.”  No one loves a corpse.

 

Chad looked down at his lap, crushed.  His estranged relationship with his father meant that he didn’t have any old sweaters, or combs, or mustache trimmers. Nothing with nail clippings.  Even if he did, they’d probably be too old to use.  “Is this the craziest thing anyone has ever asked you?”  he finally asked the funeral director, avoiding his eyes.

 

The director leaned back in his chair and remembered all of the people who had hinted that they wanted some quality alone time with their dearly departed, and shuddered.  “No, and I understand your frustration over this situation.  It would have been nice if your sister had said something before, and I am not without sympathy.  But I can’t make allowances.  I have a license to maintain, and the reputation of the company.  You understand.”

 

Chad nodded without another word and got up, walking slowly out of the room.  Kendall remained seated while the door shut behind him.  She looked the funeral director full in the face, eyes pleading.

 

“You know” the funeral director started, then paused, “sometimes people make requests out of grief, and it’s part of my job to interpret what will be best for the family, and to adhere to the deceased’s wishes to the best of my ability.  Aunt Myrna might think that she wants her husband buried in his expensive wedding ring, but I know from experience that she’ll want that ring later.  Sometimes I have to gently steer people in the best direction for their own mental health.”  

 

Kendall nodded, sensing that he was about to come to some kind of compromise with her.

 

“I know it’s not technically my place to do so, but sometimes I try to defer to the wishes of a family member who seems slightly less affected by the tragedy.  I see that you love your husband and are trying to preserve some of the dignity of the family.”

“All I want is to see Chad have some peace with his family” she said.

 

He stood, abruptly, peering through the window over Kendall’s shoulder.  “I’m going to go talk to Chad for a few minutes.  I can see that he’s out by your car smoking.  I’ll probably be gone for at least five minutes.  If you get up to visit the restroom, please make sure no one goes in the door to the left of this room.  I’d hate for anyone to disturb Harold.  I have a duty to maintain the sanctity of death, after all” he said, straight faced.  He practically bolted from the room, not looking back.

 

Well hot damn.  Kendall dug through her purse until she found the little plastic baggie she’d packed, just in case.  She shoved it in her jacket pocket and pulled out her manicure case, putting the scissors and nail cutters in the other pocket.  When she heard the front door shut more loudly than it should have, she crept out of the office and gently tried the doorknob on the room next door.

 

It was unlocked.  Kendall wasn’t sure if they were in the habit of leaving these rooms unlocked, or if he’d quickly done it after he left the office.  She really hoped it was the latter, because she’d seen an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where a lot of perverts hung around funeral parlors and morgues.  She wasn’t sure what she’d do if she came face to face with a pervert, but she was pretty sure it would slow her little caper down.

 

Creeping up to the table, she pulled out her bag and manicure tools and held them at the ready.  If she could give herself a manicure on jerky, unreliable, crowded public transportation, she sure as hell could gather enough DNA for a mail-in test in under five minutes.  

 

It took three.  She made sure to snip hairs from various spots on Harold’s head.  She was hesitant to pull any from the roots, for fear of contamination by embalming chemicals.  That hair had been there for almost 70 years, it would have some value.  She also trimmed a few half crescents from a few different fingers, not enough that anyone would notice, but enough for a good sample.  She’d sealed the bag and gently closed the door behind her before Chad had even stubbed out his cigarette.  Chad so owed her at Christmas this year.  

 

“Well, I certainly shouldn’t have had all that coffee” she sing-songed as the opened the front doors rather too forcefully, stumbling forth like Kool Aid man through a brick wall.  “Very nice powder room you have here” she said to the funeral director, nodding.  She was so good at this whole “acting casual” business.  Maybe in her next career she could be a spy, or a private detective!  She grabbed Chad’s arm and gently directed him towards the car.  “Thanks for all you do here.  I know how difficult your job must be.  You’ve been a wonderful guide through all of this.  We’ll see you at the funeral!”  She wrestled Chad into the car, eager to speed away.

 

“I don’t know why you’re so perky” Chad said.  “We didn’t get what we wanted, and now I’ll never know the truth.  Amanda’s going to lord this over me forever.  I hate this!”

 

“Didn’t we?”  Kendall asked, giving Chad a knowing look as she pulled up to a red light.  

 

“Oh my god, Kendall, you’re a criminal!”

 

“You love it!”  she laughed.  “Now let’s go home and give you a little haircut and manicure!”

 

***

Twelve weeks later, Harold was at rest. Amanda was back and home, and Chad had slowed down on the smoking and day drinking.  Healing had started in the Johnson household, and life was returning to normal.

 

“Damn it, Reginald!”  Chad yelled, as their cat leapt onto the kitchen table and skidded across a pile of mail, knocking it everywhere.  There’d been so much more mail than usual that he’d been piling it up and ignoring it.  Letters from lawyers, insurance companies, cards, letters of condolences, all of it.  He’d just thrown it on the pile.  He grabbed Reginald around his beefy middle and sat down at the table, putting the cat in his lap for the moment to prevent further damage.  

 

“Are you finally going to deal with that mail?”  Kendall asked, walking into the kitchen with her hair wrapped in a towel.  “I know you told me you’d handle it but I was really thinking about dealing with it behind your back.”

 

“I told you I’d get to it, and I will” Chad said, in the tone of a man who has promised to perform many a household chore, on his own time, which may or may not be within the same year.  “Besides, a lot of these are estate related and I’m the accountant here.  This is my business.”

 

“Whatever” Kendall muttered, thinking about the time Chad had chosen a credit card with an astronomical rate because the card had some kind of superhero on it.  She’d been fiddling with her coffee preparation for a few minutes before realizing Chad had gone too quiet.  She whirled around from the milk she was steaming.   “What’s wrong?”

 

Chad was holding a big, flat, gold envelope and had a very funny look on his face.  A cross between sad and constipated.  “DNA results.”

“You knew they were coming though, right? Remember?  I trimmed your hair, and we mailed the kit out?”  She sat down next to him and gently scratched Reginald.  

 

“I know” he said.  “But it seemed…it seemed different then.”

 

“Nothing’s changed” she said.  “Amanda was so nasty to you at the funeral that I kept checking to see if we were being followed around by some kind of reality TV show.”

 

“Right, but now she’s gone back home.  Realistically, I don’t have to see her ever again if I don’t want to.  The will’s pretty clear that dad left everything to her.  And there’s nothing at his house that I want.”  

 

“But don’t you want to know?”  Kendall asked.  “Just to be sure?  For medical purposes?  So you stop wondering?”

 

“I never wondered at all, until she said something at the funeral home.  And she’s crazy.  She loves to torment me.  You know all she really wanted to do was upset me.  It was easy for her, she’s been upsetting me her whole life.”

 

“I guess that’s true” Kendall said.  “But you can’t unhear it.”

 

“No.  But I can un-care it.”  He stood decisively and popped the envelope into the garbage can.  “I don’t know if that’s a word, but I don’t care.  I’m taking back my own mental health.  I’m going for a jog.”

 

This was the second time in three months a man had left Kendall alone with something she was going to tamper with.  She waited until she heard Chad gallop down the stairs and out the door before she stood up and lifted the full bag out of the garbage can.  This was the one time in her married life that she’d been glad of his habit of constantly cramming garbage down further and further in order to avoid having to take the bag out.  Now she had an excuse to empty it.  She pulled the envelope off the top and tore it open, discarding the coffee ground stained envelope back in the bag with disgust.

 

Her hands were shaking as she unfolded the letters.  Chad might have something to be proud of, with his newfound self control and peace with his identity.  He was on his way to self growth.  But Kendall had something else to be proud of, too.  She was getting better at looking at the big picture.

 

Amanda’s insincere air kisses at the funeral home had done more than leave lipstick on Kendall’s cheek, causing mouth shaped breakouts along her jaw.  She’d also left behind several long hairs, tangled in Kendall’s black sweater and silk scarf.  Kendall had sent those hairs in, along with Chad and Harold’s samples.  

 

She chuckled softly as she read the results, pausing to sip her coffee.  Oh Chad.  Dear, sweet, Chad.  Somehow he’d managed not to inherit his dad’s temper, competitive streak, or lack of empathy.  He’d fought those genetic tendencies.  Because Harold was, in fact, his father.  

 

But he wasn’t Amanda’s father.  Kendall’s giggles escalated into a full throated cackling laugh that she was powerless to stop.  She laughed until she cried, and then realized she couldn’t stop crying.  Chad had been right – this DNA test meant nothing.  Nothing would change.  It hadn’t mattered then, and it didn’t matter now.  

 

But at least that bitch wasn’t really Chad’s sister.  The laugh-crying slowed down eventually and Reginald, who’d fled the kitchen in terror, crept back in and leaned against her ankles.  Kendall ripped the letters into tiny pieces and stuffed them into the bag, still sitting on the floor.  

 

“Out of the way, Reginald, I’ve got some garbage to deal with” she said, flinging open the side door and stepping out into the bright April day with the overflowing bag.  It was going to be a mild spring, and a beautiful rest of their lives.

 

THE END

 

 

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