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The Stairs – Part 1

I woke up in a different bed. The walls were different, and I saw pictures and other random things I didn’t recognize. Then I remembered, I was visiting my sister.

“Yeah,” I said, holding a hand over my eyes. “Jet lag sucks.”

Staggering to my feet, I found my bags and rummaged for a change of clothes and a shower kit.

Shuffling to the hallway I ran into Emily, Candice’s oldest daughter. All of fourteen. I spot the metal band encircling her head.

Tapping her on the shoulder, I say, “Emily, right? Where are the towels?”

Needless to say, she screams like a sorority pledge at a summer camp lake in the middle of the night. A quick knee to my groin she darts to a room and slams the door with shouts of mom and intruder.

I’m doubled over on the wood floor when Candice shows up. “What did you do, Butch?” The lights behind her makes her look like an angel. The angel of death.

It hurts to talk, but I squeeze out, “Looking for a towel.”

Candice opened a cabinet or closet and tossed a towel on top of me. Next, she moved to where Emily ran off and explained who I was and where I came from.

“My plane was delayed,” I muttered, correcting the story Candice had decided was the truth. There is no way I’m missing my parents fiftieth wedding anniversary. It wasn’t my fault I had to travel from Norway. Nothing like being employed by the largest tech company on the planet. At least the way the company tells it.

I have to wait a few minutes for the water to get hot, but the shower washes away the last of the last three days of travel. Refreshed, I dress and head downstairs for breakfast.

“Candy,” I shouted. “You got mom’s famous waffle recipe? I could go for a few of those.” My stomach rumbled at the mention of food.

“Uncle Butch?”

Looking down, I saw another crumb-snatcher. “You’re Barnaby, aren’t you?”

The red head kid nodded. “Yeah. Just like you.”

“No kid,” I said. “I’m Butch.” Putting on a smile, I ruffle his hair.

“It’s past dinner time,” he said looking up at me.

“What?” I look at my cell. Dead. “Shit!”

“I’m tellin’,” Barnaby said, his voice rose in pitch. “Mom! Uncle Barnaby used a bad word.” He turned and headed for the stairs, beating me by several steps. Crap on a cracker.

Why was I worried? I’m an adult. At least my bank says I am. Them and my credit card debt.

At the top of the stairs, my foot slid. I couldn’t tell what it was, but it felt slicker than vegetable oil on ice. My foot took my leg, and both went airborne. My other leg was still cocked back in walking stance. Gravity did what gravity does and yanked.

My head, along with both shoulders hit every step on the way down. I heard cracks and snaps as I took the express route from the second floor. The carpet was soft and warm where I sprawled at the base.

“Oh, my God,” someone said. “Butch!”

“I wanna pony,” I said. Or that is what Barnaby said I said. I don’t believe him.

A glass door opened in front of me and I saw a security guard smile at me.

Two older women were in front of me, wearing matching light blue blouses.

A long table with a digital clock set to 13:07 and 04/15/2017 as a date. There was some pens and a small sign in the middle of the table. It said free checking when you set up direct deposit.

Tellers at a counter waited on two other people.

It was cold and my steps echoed as I walked.

I smiled at the two old ladies that turned to look at me.

Then a bright orange light appeared. I felt warm then unbearably hot.

When my eyes next opened, I recognized my surroundings. Dull grey walls. Machines that made beeping noises. A tall pole with a two bags dangling from hooks. Pillows that weren’t comfortable.

“At least it ain’t the morgue.”

A male voice called my name from the shadows. “Butch.”

“Vic?” I said.

“What the hell happened?” Vic stepped from the shadows and into the light around my bed. “It sounded like a herd of elephants running through the house. The banister is broken in several places. Not to mention the gouges in the wall.”

“Tripped at the top of the stairs,” I said. The lighting in the room increased. Mom stepped away from the window.

“Barnaby,” she tusked. “You had us all scared to death.” Her round face and piercing blue eyes looked at me. Anger and fear floated just behind those eyes.

“Sorry,” I said. “Still jet lagged.”

“We know,” Candice said. “We’ve talked to Barnaby about his stuff in the hallway. You broke his favorite remote controlled car.” Her head tilted and her eyes flashed. “He hasn’t stopped crying about it. Plus Emily is still calling you a pervert. Why is that?”

I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose. “If I remember correctly, I put in a surveillance system for your house. It monitors exterior as well as interior.” My hand went to the side table, and I my fingers curled around my phone. Touching the power button, it flared to life. I felt the cord tug. “I have access to the cloud storage where footage is kept. Maybe I should have my lawyers look at it and see what kind of settlement I should ask for.”

My mother, sister, and brother-in-law looked like statues. Their collective mouths shut with a snap like a nail gun. Blotchy red marks covered their faces.

“It’s about time, boy,” another male voice said from the door.

“Dad!” I smiled at the only person who never gave me a hard time.

“How’re you feeling?” He stepped in closer. “The docs say there’s nothing wrong with you.”

“Aside from being tired and pissed off,” I cut my eyes at the three people on my left, then looked back at Dad. “I’m right as rain.”

“Good to hear,” he said and shook my hand.

“I still say you should be here overnight for observations,” another man entered the room. He had on the customary long white coat and stethoscope around his neck.

“I might take you up on that offer,” I said.

“No, please,” Candice said stepping forward. “You can stay with us. It’s just for a week.”

“Whatever,” Vic muttered. My mother was silent.

After all was said and done, I was headed to the cashier’s desk.

Dad leaned in close as we strode down the hall. His voice pretended to be a whisper as he said, “Son, you should probably have Vic and Candy pay. After all, it was on their property.”

Vic’s footfalls staggered and Candice groaned.

“Dad,” I said, patting him on the shoulder. “I like how you’re thinking, but to be honest, it was just an accident. Besides, I have medical coverage.”

In a not-so-quiet voice, Vic said, “I’m sure Battle Tech Games has excellent coverage.”

Turning to look at him, I said, “I used to work for Battle Tech. They were a great company. So great that Sherman, Inc. bought them.”

“Wait.” Vic stopped where he was. “You mean that Sherman, Inc. owns Battle Tech Games? The Sherman that manages networks for multi-billion dollar companies, on top of the Fed?”

I nodded. “They did. Then shut them down and incorporated all of their property and employees into their systems. I was one of them. Network administrator. I did a lateral move.”

“You’re lying,” Vic said and Candice nodded her head as she clutched her husband’s arm.

“Check,” I said. “Use the brain in your pocket and confirm.”

“Barnaby,” Mom said.

Vic pulled his phone out and flicked his finger over the screen.

“Since I’ve been there over four years, I’ve used some of my other benefits,” I said. “Tuition reimbursement to get a Masters in Computer Security. Stock purchases to set up my retirement. And let’s not forget about the miles on my card to pay for my ticket here from Stockholm.”

“Dammit,” Vic spat as he scrolled through whatever he was reading on his screen.

“I stopped several breaches and the next thing I know, I’m heading up their IT SecOps teams.” I pulled a business card from my pocket. “Here.” Extending my fingers, I held the card toward my sister so she could read it.

“IT Security Operations,” Candice read out loud. “Are you kidding me?”

“You got the card in your hand,” I said with a smirk. “Keep it.” Turning back to my original direction, I kept walking.

“He’s not a little boy anymore,” my mother said to dad. A compliment. Begrudgingly, but still.

“He hasn’t been a little boy since he was fifteen,” dad responded. “He knew what he was doing. Just because you all didn’t have faith in him.”

“He needed help through school,” mom said, lowering her voice a smidge.

“No,” dad said. “He didn’t. Sure he was falling asleep. But the reality is he was bored. How do you think he graduated with honors? None of the teachers could explain it.”

An older woman with a lite blue blouse appeared in my vision. I knew her. Mrs. Harrington. One of my high school teachers. She was standing next to another woman. This one I didn’t know.

“Are you OK, son?” My father and mother were touching my shoulder.

“Yeah,” I said, rubbing the side of my head. “Not fully recovered from the jet lag and ambulance ride.”

“I’ll fix you some waffles when we get home,” mom said. “They’re your favorite.”

“Yes. They. Are.”

Approaching the cashier window, I slid my insurance cards, my driver’s license, and one of my credit cards to the man behind the counter. He copied my license and insurance cards. Processed my credit card and handed me the receipt.

The date above my signature read 04/14/2017.

A digital clock flashed in my vision with a time of 13:07 and a date of 04/15/2017.

The receipt came into focus.

“Is that the correct date?” I looked at the cashier.

“It is,” he responded with a smile. “All day.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Looks like I’ve been out two days.” Touching my cellphone, I call up my email receipt for my airplane ticket.

“You slept most of yesterday,” Candice said. “You’ve been in here only ten hours.” Glancing at her watch, I saw her fingers twitch then she nodded.

“Interesting,” I said, then signed the receipt. Taking my copy, I left.

“Barnaby,” my mom said, walking up behind me. “You can ride with me and Dad. Candy and Vic have their sports car.”

“Thanks, mom,” I said and showed a smile as we walked through the parking lot. “Why do you call Candy, Candy and not Candice? You’ve always called me Barnaby instead of Butch.”

“That is your father’s name and you should be proud of it,” she said. “It’s like a tradition.”

“I see that Candy named her youngest kid Barnaby,” I said as the lights on their Lexus blinked. “I bet that kid won’t get called a purple dinosaur.”

“Is that why you kept introducing yourself as Butch?” she said stoping at the passenger side door. “I never knew.”

“The constant stuffed replica wasn’t a give away?” I opened her door as dad approached. “Everyone except you and dad got me one.”

“I never noticed,” she said as she slid into the leather seat. “I guess I should have.” Her ears turned red.

Dad drove us to Candy’s house.

During the quiet, I ran over the movie that played in my head. I had never been in that building that I remembered, but it seemed familiar. We passed by several buildings as we passed through downtown. One of them was Ridgemont Bank and Trust. “A bank,” I whispered. “Why would I be in a bank?”

“What was that dear?” My mom turned and looked at me.

“Nothing,” I said. It wasn’t nothing, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

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