Story: The Conference.

“Mrs. Gear?” said the principal.
“Hollett.” Corey said.
“What was that?” The principal asked.
“My name is Corey Hollett.”
“…And you’re Dana’s mother?”
“We must have a mistake on our records-”
“It’s no mistake. I gave Dana her father’s last name.”
“Oh. For what reason?”
“A very personal one that I’m not willing to divulge, Miss…”
“Penny Caldwell.”
“Got it.”

Principal Caldwell opened up a small file folder that was sitting on her desk. It was marked with a label at the top: GEAR, DANA, A.

“Mrs. Hollett-” Principal Caldwell was interrupted.
“Don’t call me that.” Corey said.
“…Okay. Miss-”
“‘Corey’ will suffice. I’ve never been a ‘Mrs.’ in my life.”
“Very well.”

Principal Caldwell shuffled through the papers until she got to a page with handwritten notes on large, mostly-empty white paper.

“Dana isn’t normally a problem student…” Principal Caldwell said.
“I hope not.” Corey said.
“It has only been recently that she has acted out.”
“Acted out?”
“Well, this particular incident is fairly disturbing.”
“We’ll wait until Rebecca’s parents arrive to talk about that.”

Corey sat in the office chair that the principal provided for her. Occasionally, she looked at her watch – a cumbersome LED timepiece given to her by her daughter, Dana after she overheard her mother discussing how hard it was to find watches that kept working after a day of constant physical stress.

A few minutes later, the office doors behind Corey opened, and in came the mother of Rebecca Owens, a fellow student. Along with her came her attorney.

“Sorry I’m late, Penny. Jim couldn’t make it, so I brought our attorney instead.” Rebecca’s mother said.
“You’re fine,” Principal Caldwell said, “Dana’s mother is already here.

The attorney sat in a chair near Rebecca’s mother, who stared at Corey.

“So you’re the mother of that maniac?” said Rebecca’s mother.

Corey stood up and and stared the woman in the eye, as if she was a gazelle wandering into the den of a lion. Corey cleared her throat and spoke, half to the parents and half to the principal:

“I’m going to be very, very clear here: I would like to see your security footage of this incident. And I would like that to happen immediately.”

“To hell with that! Your daughter-” Rebecca’s mother was interrupted.
“Shut up. Not another goddamn word.” Corey said.
“We don’t have any security footage-” The principal attempted to speak, but was interrupted.
“Your school is required by law to have security cameras in every hallway on the campus.” Corey said.
“That’s only a requirement of-” the principal said, clearly startled.
“Crighton Anderson is your school’s security officer, correct?” Corey asked.
“How do you know that?” The principal asked.

Corey reached into her pocket and took out a small square of leather. On the other side was a metal badge: OFFICER CORIANDER HOLLETT, FMPD

“Don’t fuck around with me, lady.” Corey said.

Corey put her badge away and sighed heavily.

“Call Crighton and tell him to bring footage from yesterday’s ‘incident’.” Corey said.

The principal made a few phone calls. The first was to make sure Crighton Anderson was still on the property. The second was to ensure he could bring the footage from the day before into the principal’s office, and the third was for a television, because Halter Lake High School didn’t think that giving their principal an office computer with a working audio/visual input on it fit their budget for the quarter. After an eternity of awkward waiting, Officer Crighton Anderson came in with a mobile shelf containing a television and the school’s security system DVR.

After a few minutes of hooking it up and finding power for the TV and DVR, the footage played. Crighton set it to the proper time for playback, plus a few minutes before.

“Crighton, can you stand between me and the other two?” Corey asked.
“I was planning to.” Crighton said.
“It’s for their safety, not mine.” Corey said.

The security footage continued. It was in full color, unlike a lot of other school camera footage in the area. Halter Lake wanted to ensure students’ safety, and this was ostensibly a way to do it. After three minutes’ worth of no movement at all, suddenly the clock struck 2:30 and all of the students left their classes to get to their lockers. Dana’s was in the middle of the screen. As Dana was retrieving her books from her locker, someone came walking up to her with a math textbook.

“This is it.” said Rebecca’s mother.
“Shut it.” Corey said.

The girl with the book was Rebecca Owens, a relatively-popular girl at Halter Lake High School. Rebecca’s parents had initially wanted her to go to a private school when she graduated middle school, but they hit some hard times financially and had to scale back. Still, Rebecca treated herself and her friends as if they were a cut above the rest of the students. This gave Rebecca a reputation of being an extremely gorgeous and extremely stuck-up girl.

Not that her parents would ever know that, anyway. As far as they knew, Rebecca was a straight-a student who had a flawless life. And, to their credit, they weren’t wrong. Rebecca was more or less the top of the food chain at HLHS. If there was ever a problem, Rebecca dealt with it. This included a number of things: Most notably, she spread rumors about people she didn’t like, and people believed her. It was Rebecca’s word over someone else’s, and the other person’s arguments didn’t matter. High school is cruel like that.

Imagine the surprise on the face of Rebecca’s mother when she saw her only daughter, the flawless, straight-a student, slam a large algebra textbook right into Dana’s head. The impact caused Dana to bump her forehead on her side of the locker, with the metal door-locking mechanism barely missing her left eye.

The video feed stayed crisp and clear for the next part.

Dana turned around and landed a large right hook square into Rebecca’s jaw. It was probably at this point that Rebecca realized that she had bitten off significantly more than she could chew; especially since that right hook was going to require her to have her jaw wired shut for a while.

Dana didn’t have a bad life growing up. She was raised by her mother, as her father wasn’t in the picture. Not by choice, mind you, but suffice to say, he wasn’t around. Dana was always fairly quiet. She spent a lot of time at the precinct after school, doing homework and watching television on a television in her mother’s office. Occasionally, Dana would put a few quarters into the Bosconian arcade machine that was housed in the precinct break room, which lead Dana to often wonder how such an obscure arcade game made its way into the breakroom of a Southwest Florida police department.

Her school life was fairly generic, but her mother always worried about her safety since Dana opted to go to a public school. Corey briefly enrolled Dana in self-defense training to keep her safe, and, needless to say, it left an impression. Dana would probably have a decent rank in Krav Maga had she stuck with it for more than a month or two, but schoolwork was more important than learning how to beat the hell out of someone. The short time learning the art taught her one very important thing, however: “Girl fighting” is useless. If you’re going to fight, you fight. Not like a girl – no hair-pulling, shirt-ripping or bitch-calling. You just fight.

And, in Dana’s case, you win.

Whenever a student attempted to pull Dana off of Rebecca, she came back, hit after hit, despite Rebecca’s fruitless attempt at hurting Dana by moving her legs or grabbing at her hair. Dana stopped her barrage and returned to getting her stuff from her locker, only to see Rebecca try to grab at Dana’s hair and push her to the ground from behind her.

Once again, this didn’t end well for Rebecca. Dana landed a few swift shots to the stomach, which prevented any more retaliation from Rebecca.

The footage kept going after that, but the incident was done.

Rebecca’s mother was speechless. Her attorney spoke up:

“If you’ll excuse me…” the attorney said.

He promptly got up and walked out of the office. Rebecca’s mother was still speechless.

“Now, Penny, was it?” Corey said.
“Yes.” Principal Caldwell said.
“Well, Penny,” Corey said, saying the word as slowly and disdainfully as possible, “It looks a hell of a lot like Dana was defending herself.”
“That appears to be true, yes, but-” Principal Caldwell said.
“But nothing. This is self-defense.”
“Self-defense or not, we can’t have this sort of violence in school.”
“This sort of violence wouldn’t have happened without Rebecca starting with it.”
“Who started what doesn’t matter, Ms. Hollett-”
“For the last goddamn time, it is Corey. Corey Hollett.”
“It doesn’t matter who started the fight.”
“Are you kidding me? Of course it does!”
“Our school runs a zero-tolerance initiative, which means that during a physical altercation, both students are to be reprimanded.”
“Dana was defending herself!”
“She still attacked a straight-a student.”
“She defended herself.”
“It doesn’t matter.”

Rebecca’s mother spoke up, which led Corey to look at her:

“You better believe that I am pressing charges against Dana, and the school as well if you are planning on reprimanding my daughter.” Rebecca’s mother said.
“Go ahead. No jury in the world would convict my daughter.” Corey said.

Rebecca’s mother clearly didn’t expect to hear that.

Corey turned to the principal.

“Are every one of your conferences a fucking ambush like this?” Corey said.
“What do you mean? Principal Caldwell asked.
“Having Rebecca’s mother bring her attorney? Intentionally playing dumb about school policy?”
“How was I supposed to know-”

Corey slammed her hands on the principal’s desk.

“Fuck off with that. Know this: If any punishment comes to my Dana, I will sue you and this entire school district, and personally call for your resignation in a public goddamn forum.”

Corey turned to the door and walked out of the room.

“Dana is suspended until further notice.” Principal Caldwell said, just before Corey was through the doors.

Corey looked back and briefly moved towards the door, but she ultimately stayed away from it.

Principal Caldwell’s secretary sat outside the door, and spoke to Corey:

“They usually make these decisions in a week or so. You’ll have a final answer from them on Monday.” said the secretary.

“Good,” Corey said, “I think both Dana and I need a vacation…”

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Story: Waiting ‘Til Monday.

Corey Hollett walked out the front doors of her daughter’s high school. She stepped into the driver’s seat of her car, where her daughter, Dana, sat in the passenger’s seat.

“Christ, Dana…” Corey said.
“What? Me? I’m in the wrong, here?” Dana said.
“Dana, this is a pretty big problem-”
“Rebecca whacked me upside the head with a goddamn math textbook, Mom! I-” Dana was interrupted.
“Let me finish, Dana. Please.” Corey said. She took a deep breath.

“By all accounts, you did the right thing. You defended yourself.” Corey said.
“Then why are you-”
“Dana. Let me finish.”

“You defended yourself. You had to. I get that. I saw the footage. Plain as day. No jury in the world would convict you. But this is serious. That girl is in the hospital. Her parents are saying they’re going to press charges.”

“Why didn’t they tell me this when I talked with the principal?” Dana asked.
“Because they didn’t want to make a decision until meeting with me.” Corey said.
“So what happened in there?” Dana asked.

Corey opened the driver-side window and took a pack of cigarettes from her shirt pocket.

“Rebecca’s mother wanted your head to roll.” Corey said.
“Yeah. I figured.” Dana said.
“I didn’t say anything one way or the other until I saw the security camera video.” Corey said, lighting a cigarette.
“Didn’t know they had cameras.”
“All the schools do now. It’s part of their security overhaul. Nobody wants another Columbine.”
“What did the cameras show?”
“Pretty much the whole thing, Dana.”

Corey took a drag of her cigarette and sighed.

“Dana, you beat the hell out of that girl.” Corey said.
“She attacked me! I mean, I feel awful about it, but still! She did this, not me.” Dana said.
“I know. They don’t care. Most schools have a zero-tolerance policy on this sort of stuff.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that they see you as being just as responsible as Rebecca was.”
“That’s….” Dana paused.
“It’s a whole lot of bullshit.” Corey said.

Dana sighed.

“So what did they decide?” Dana asked.
“They didn’t give me an answer.” Corey said.
“What do you mean?”
“We’ll know next week. They said by Monday.”
“A week?”
“What do I do until then?”
“You’re suspended.”

Corey put her keys into the ignition and started the car.

“Suspended? For defending myself?” Dana said.
“Yeah. For defending yourself.” Corey said.
“How could they even convince themselves this is my fault?” Dana asked.
“They have to right now.”
“Because you put someone in the hospital.”
“I didn’t do it intentionally, Mom! You know that.”
“Yes. I know. But they just see a quiet girl lashing out at a straight-A student.”
“What was I supposed to do, Mom? Let her beat me with a textbook? Bash my head in?”

Corey didn’t answer immediately. A tear came to her eye.

“I’m sorry, Dana.”
“For what?”
“For teaching you all of that stuff.”
“You don’t need to apologize, Mom.”
“If I didn’t teach you self-defense, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Dana spoke loudly.

“Mom, if you didn’t teach me this, I’d have brain damage right now. I’d be in a goddamn hospital bed breathing through a tube, hopped up on morphine, and Rebecca would have gotten off because her parents would have just made some donation to the school to make the situation go away. And you know what? If I managed to get out of it, I’d probably have still been punished because of their zero-tolerance bullshit.”

Corey didn’t speak.

“Let’s get out of here.” Corey said after some time.

Corey put the car into reverse to leave the parking lot. he two remained silent until they got home. When they finally got inside the house, Corey gave Dana a hug.

“You know, you’re pretty much all I have left.” Corey said.
“I know.” Dana said.
“I already lost the other person I loved and I don’t want to go through that again.”
“You won’t.”

Dana headed to her bedroom. Corey followed.

“One more thing, Dana…”
“Consider this a break from school, not a suspension.”
“What about the principal? And the school policy?”
“I’ll deal with that next week. You’ve fought enough.”

Corey left Dana’s bedroom and headed to the kitchen, where she poured a large cup of coffee from a half-full pot that was still on the burner.

Corey wouldn’t sleep any time soon.

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Story: The DMV Situation.

This is a sequel to this story as well as this other story. Enjoy!

On a bench outside the Pinnacle City Department of Motor Vehicles, Colin Gear sat next to an Arcast Technologies Model-1 Android. He shuffled a small stack of note cards in an attempt to organize them.

“Alright, It’s 11:55. Let’s go through this again before Janet arrives,” Colin said, “I want this to be flawless.”

Colin cleared his throat.

“Alright… What is your name? First and last.” Colin asked.

The android spoke without pause.

“My name is Norah Curtis.”

Colin moved to the next page of his notes.

“And where are you from?” Colin asked.
“I am from Pinnacle City, California.” Norah said.
“And what is your date of birth?”
“December 17th, 1990.”
“What is the correct answer?”
“For you, it’s December 17th, 1987. Janet changed it, remember? She said you looked older than 24.”
“Ah! Yes. Janet did change that. I remember.”
“Good. I’m starting over.”

Colin began again.

“What is your name?” Colin asked.
“My name is Norah Curtis.” Norah said.
“Where are you from?”
“Pinnacle City, California.”
“And what is your date of birth?”
“December 17th, 1987.”
“And your current occupation?”
“I am currently working as an account manager for Arcast Technologies.”
“What is your current address?”
“2401 Blue Horizon Drive, Pinnacle City, California, 94102.”
“Do you have another form of identification?”
“I have a Social Security card in my pocket.”

Colin placed his notes into his shirt pocket and stood up, motioning for Norah to do so as well.

“Well? How was it?” Norah asked.
“Everything you said was complete and utter bullshit.” Colin said.
“I don’t understand.” Norah said.
“Believe it or not, that’s a good thing right now. Keep it up, and you’ll have an ID in no time.” Colin said.

After Colin finished speaking, a dark blue Ford Fusion pulled into a parking space in the DMV parking lot. Colin looked over to see his girlfriend, Janet Blue, stepping out of the vehicle. Janet walked towards Colin, locking her car with a keyless remote.

Norah made her way into the DMV building itself.

“How do you think she’ll do?” Janet asked.
“No clue, Tron. No clue.” Colin said.
“How long do you think she’ll be in there?”
“Tron, it’s the DMV. We’ll be lucky if we see her before rush hour.”

Janet sighed.

“I was kind of hoping that DMVs over here would be a little less crowded…” Janet said.
“Nope. Pinnacle is one of the worst cities for the DMV.” Colin said.
“And we just let an android walk right in to make a real attempt to get a real ID.” Janet said.
“Yeah. We did.” Colin said.

Janet and Colin looked at each other for a moment.

“Shit.” Colin said.
“What do you want me to do?” Janet asked.
“Just go sit in the car. I’ll head inside to make sure everything goes well.”
“And if it doesn’t?”

Colin started walking towards the entrance to the DMV.

“Well, In that case, I hope Norah can improvise…” Colin said.

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Music That Inspired “The Process.”

I tend to listen to music a lot when I write, as you’d expect, and a lot of the music can bleed into the writing. It’s just as much of an inspiration as any number of other things.

The music that I’m posting here may not necessarily have had a direct influence on the story itself (some did, especially the first three!), but they are a good start at getting into my head and see where I was at when writing and polishing “The Process.”

If you haven’t read it, here you go. That’s the first part. I encourage you to check it out before continuing.

O Positive was a rock band from Boston, Massachusetts, that has one hell of a cult following established since their breakup in the early 1990s. Their first EP, Only Breathing, contained the introductory track “With You”, a song that is about dealing with a loved one who is going through drug addiction and rehabilitation. That part isn’t reflected in the story (nor do I want it to be: drugs are bad, kids), but one of the lines from the song definitely is.

Feeder’s track “Whooey” is an interesting one. The track got its name from the “Woo-hoo” non-word sounds made during the chorus, while the vocals made the statement that “we’re just floating by…” I sort of fell in love with a line from the first verse.

Nada Surf’s “The Plan” is a great track from a band that became successful due to a fluke hit in the mid-to-late 1990s. Most of their stuff sounds nothing like their hit “Popular”, though that isn’t a bad thing. “The Plan” comes from the same album as that single, High/Low. It’s a song that I can relate too a little too much, as it’s a song about a desire to leave your hometown, and the restlessness that occurs when you can’t do so. I used a little bit of this song’s lyrics in the title of another story I wrote, called “Hardwired”, but that’s for another time. A line in the chorus is used in the third part of “The Process”, mostly due to the visceral edge that it had.

“Leave”, at its core, is about dealing with the death of a loved one. More importantly, it’s about dealing with their presence around you and the intrusion they can be on your life when all you want to do is move on from a dark time in your life. The lyrics in the bridge are particularly chilling:

Apparitions still won’t leave me alone / It’s as if you’ve never left
How am I supposed to remember you / If you won’t let me forget?

You can sort of see why I’d choose this song as an influence.

This one isn’t a direct influence, but it’s just something that I was listening to at the time for some of it. It’s, uh, well, it’s definitely an Elliott Smith song.

I’ve always thought of this as the music that Arcast Technologies would play over their speakers. It’s calming, it has a bit of a retro vibe to it, and there’s a bit of irony in the lyrics that people could pick up on if it were being played in a huge tech company’s lobby. I’m a huge sucker for Stereolab, too. It’s like a band traveled from the 1960s to the 1990s.

The third part of “The Process” was originally called “Outside”, named after this song because it was what I was listening to at the time, as well as being a pretty generic title and description of the story. The song itself doesn’t have much to do with the story, but I’ve always imagined it as the exit music for the story itself. Kind of an end credits sort of thing.

As a last note: that band mentioned in the story? That is a real band. Here is one of their songs, on the SoundCloud page for the band The Vivs, which you could sort of consider the spiritual successor to Edith, as the same woman is writing the songs and most of the original members are still in the band. Just putting this here in case you were curious about that.

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Story: The Android In Janet Blue’s Apartment.

The android made a loud screeching sound as the vocal replicator was installed in her expansion bay, located in the back of her neck. Sitting in her office chair, Janet turned the android around.

“Well? How is the voicebox working?” Janet asked.

The android blinked, and spoke.

“L’expansion a été installé correctement.” said the android.

Janet turned the android around.

“Whoops. Wrong dip switch configuration…” Janet said.

Janet took out the vocal replicator and turned to her documentation, a portrait-style CRT monitor with a rainbow-colored Apple logo in the left corner of the monitor bezel. She double-checked the dip switch on the small circuit board that made up most of the vocal replicator part, made the necessary adjustments, and loaded it back into the android.

After another round of screeching, the android spoke.

“It seems the chip is working properly.” the android said.
“Good. That solves that.” Janet said.
“I appreciate the work you have done, Ms. Blue.” the android said.
“Think nothing of it. I’m kind of amazed that you were even put into production.” Janet said.
“What do you mean?” the android asked.

Janet showed the android a newspaper article on the same table as the monitor with the documentation.

“I saw you – well, your model, at a consumer electronics show last fall.”

The newspaper article showed a trade show floor, with five androids, identical in appearance to the android in Janet’s apartment.

“Those are… Those androids in that photo… Are me.”
“Sort of. Most likely they were un-functional prototypes.”
“That picture is… hard to comprehend..”
“It’s fascinating that you don’t… well, that you don’t really talk like a robot.”
“That is because I am not, strictly speaking, a robot in the science-fiction sense.”

Janet looked at the android.

“No… No you aren’t.” Janet said.

Janet got up off of her office chair and headed to her bedroom. The android stayed in place where she was.

“I just did my laundry. I think I have some spare clothes you can wear. It’s infinitely better than the dress…” Janet yelled from across the apartment.

When she came back, Janet handed the android a grey athletic t-shirt, a pair of dark blue jeans, and a pair of black Converse high-tops.

“Here. Put these on.”
“The dress isn’t subtle, I assume.”
“About as subtle as a fireworks display.”

After putting the clothing on, the android stood in the same spot she was in before.

“You can move around, you know.” Janet said.
“I didn’t want to interfere with anything.” the android said.
“Any other person would find it hard to stand that still for that long.”
“I don’t get tired in the traditional sense.”
“What about battery power?”
“According to the documentation, I run on a solar fuel cell.”
“That doesn’t sound remotely plausible.”
“Perhaps that is because I was created by Arcast Technologies in their experimental wing.”
“Alright, fair enough.”

Janet checked the monitor with the android’s documentation for a minute and promptly shut off the monitor.

“What do you remember before being in that bar?” Janet asked.
“Nothing. I was activated by the bar owner.” the android said.
“But… You know where you were made.”
“It is in my documentation, and I was programmed to know this.”
“That’s so… Well, that’s amazing.”

Janet looked at the android, who continued to stand in the same place.

“Before I got the vocal part installed, you wrote that you left the bar because of mistreatment by the owner. That’s fascinating. Seems like you have some degree of free will.” Janet said.

“Perhaps.” the android said.
“And yet you don’t even have a name of your own.” Janet said.
“I am an Arcast Technologies Model-1 Android Unit.” the android said
“Yes, I know that. But you don’t have a name.” Janet said.
“I do not, no.” the android said.

Janet reached into her pocket and took out her wallet. Inside, next to her ID was a picture of Janet kissing her boyfriend.

“See, my name is Janet Blue. I was born in Boulder, Colorado, but I moved to Chicago to work. My boyfriend calls me by a nickname: “Tron”, because I have seen that movie more times than I can count. It’s what made me into a programmer, and, during part of college and grad school, an engineer. That is who I am.”

Janet put away her wallet as the android spoke:

“How do you choose a name?” the android asked.
“Well, anything, really.” Janet said.

The android broke from her standing position to turn around to face the windows of Janet’s apartment. Outside, ads and billboards dotted the skyline.

“I think I’ve decided.” the android said.
“That quickly?” Janet asked.
“Yes.” the android said.
“Great! Let’s hear it!” Janet said.

The android walked slowly to the slightly-open window directly in front of her, and spoke clearly.

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Story: The Process: Finale: The Wake.

Leah had planned the funeral completely, with Dana’s input from her mother’s will. The wake took place in Fort Myers, Florida, in a small funeral home near the police department where Dana’s mother worked. Everything was exactly to Leah and Dana’s specifications, save for a single difference: Dana’s mother, Corey Hollett, was a police officer, and a decorated one at that. The chief of police for her precinct demanded that the wake be an open-casket one, with Corey in full uniform. The latter part wasn’t a huge concern for Dana, but the former was.

The light emitted from the overcast sky was unnatural. Dana Gear stood in the funeral home courtyard, far away from the door to the building itself. She made no attempt to go in.

Dana stood with Adam Greyloch, who made the trip from Pinnacle City after Dana told him the plans.

“You’ll need to come in eventually.” Adam said to Dana, who was smoking a cigarette.
“I’ll go in when I’m ready.” Dana said.
“You need to do this.”
“I didn’t want it to be open casket, Adam.”
“It gives you closure.”
“The only thing it will give me is a goddamn nightmare. I don’t want that to be my last memory of her.”
“I’m going to go back in. Come in when you are able.”

Adam left Dana in the courtyard and walked into the building. Dana threw her spent cigarette to the ground and lit another with her back to the funeral home.

Dana continued to stand there. Every so often, she would try to get to the door, but her body prevented her from doing so. A cold chill ran through her spine.

Dana was so distressed she didn’t seem to notice the man standing behind her.

“What brand do you smoke?” the man asked.

Dana nearly jumped. She turned around to look at the man addressing her. He was in his mid-40s, wearing a navy blue dress shirt and black dress pants. A pair of red sunglasses stuck out from his shirt pocket. His hair should have been graying, but it was jet black.

Dana hesitated.

“Sapphire 99s.” she said.
“Unfiltered. Impressive.” The man said. “My dad used to smoke like that. He was up to three packs a day before he died.”
“Jesus. That man must have loved his cigarettes.”
“If he had redeemed his Marlboro miles, they probably would have built a statue in his honor.”

“How is everything going inside?” Dana asked.

“Haven’t gone in yet. The two-dozen cop cars outside are kind of intimidating.”
“The chief practically demanded that she be dressed in uniform.”
“I could imagine. It’s hard to refuse something like that.”
“I wish I did. They’re acting like they’ve supported me and my mom forever. The police chief fired her after she got cancer. Fuck him. I‘ll kick him in the head if I can.”
“That’s awful.”
“I have nothing now. She was it. I never knew my father. No family, no future…”
“Oh, come on. That can’t be true.”
“Oh, it is. Trust me.”
“You know, I think this conversation would go a little better if you told me your name.”

Dana cleared her throat.

“My name is Dana. I’m Corey’s daughter.”
“Dana Hollett. It’s a lovely name.”
“It’s ‘Gear’, actually. Dana Gear. My mother gave me my father’s last name. I don’t really know why.”
“I see.”
“What about you?”
“I met Corey at a Radiohead concert in 1995.”
“That’s… Well, that’s interesting.”

Dana finished her cigarette and lit another.

“You should probably head in soon.” The man said.
“I… I can’t.” Dana said.
“Why not?”
“Because it’s an open-casket. The cops demanded that, too. I can’t stand to see my mother like that.”
“You won’t get another chance to see her at all.”
“I can’t have that be my last memory of her. I want to remember her alive.”
“You still do.”
“If I go in there, that image will haunt me.”
“Only if you let it.”

Dana took a drag of her cigarette.

“I want to remember the woman who taught me how to defend myself in a fight. Or the woman who nearly threw my high school principal across his office for threatening to suspend me for wearing a leather jacket to school.” Dana said.

“A leather jacket? Really” The man asked.
“They had this idea that people who wore leather jackets were in a gang, or something. My mom changed that.” Dana said.
“Seems like your mother was a hell of a woman.”
“She was.”
“I’ve got a hypothetical question to ask you, Dana.”
“Go ahead.”
“If you were in that casket, where would your mother be?”

Dana stood in silence for about 15 seconds. She began to tear up.

“Right next to it.” Dana said.
“Seems like she wouldn’t have minded if she saw you like that.”
“Nothing really fazed her, so, no. Probably not.”
“You don’t have to go in there. But I’m sure you’ll miss out on a lot if you don’t.”
“You think?”
“It’s not a tomb in there or anything like that.”
“I know that.”
“Judging by the half mile line of cars along the sidewalk and the cops redirecting traffic at the light, I’d say there are a lot of people here to see your mom one last time.”

Dana took another drag.

“I’d bet a bunch of those people are here to get a glimpse of Leah Arcast, too.” Dana said.
“Wait, Leah Arcast is here?” The man asked.
“We are talking about the woman from Repeat Defender, right?”
“Yeah. She actually helped me put this together. I live with her daughter, Edith.”
“That definitely explains the bouncer at the front door.”
“Yeah. Leah’s been running her father’s company for the better part of 15 years, now. Seems like the USA network keeps re-running her show, though.”

The man took a look at Dana, who was a little more relaxed than before.

“I’m sure you have people to see in there.” The man said.
“Yeah, I guess I do.” Dana said.
“Just give it a shot. What can happen?”
“You’d need to do a lot more than pay your respects at a funeral before that’ll happen.”
“I guess.”
“Plus, there are probably a hundred people in there. If you aren’t confortable, they’ll be there to talk with, too.”
“I didn’t think of it that way.”

Adam Greyloch came out from the funeral home building. He made his way to the courtyard where Dana and the man were talking. Dana put out her cigarette as Adam approached.

“How’s it going?” Adam asked.
“I… I think I’m ready to go in.” Dana said.
“That’s good to hear.” Adam said.

As Dana began to walk to the door of the funeral home, she stopped and turned around.

“Thanks for talking to me. I feel a lot better now. A whole lot better.” Dana went to the unknown man and gave him a hug.

The man reached into his front shirt pocket to retrieve the sunglasses that had been placed there.

“Make sure your mother gets these.” The man said as he passed the sunglasses to Dana.
“Are they hers?” Dana asked.
“She left them at my apartment. I never got the chance to give them back.” The man said.
“I’ll make sure she has them.” Dana said.
“Good.” The man said.
“Aren’t you going to go in?” Dana asked.

The man looked at Adam and looked around the courtyard.

“I’ll be inside in a minute.” The man said.

Dana made her way into the funeral home, passing through two large double doors into a crowd of dozens of people.

Adam stood in the courtyard with the unknown man. He smiled, proceeded to shake the man’s hand.

“God dammit, Colin. You could have called.” Adam said.

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Story: The Process, Part Two: The Meeting.

“Dana Gear?” The woman said.
“Yes. That’s me.” Dana said.

The woman rushed towards Dana and embraced her. Dana stared blankly over the woman’s shoulder.

“My name is Leah Arcast.” said the woman, “And I’m sorry we had to meet like this.”
“It’s fine.” Dana said. “I’ve got the certificate right here.”
“Alright.” Leah said. “Come into my office. We’ll get this worked out.”

Dana followed Leah into her office, which wasn’t too far from the elevator. Leah used a key card to unlock the door from the outside.

“It’s not much, but it’s what I need.” Leah said.
“I would have expected you to be on a higher floor.” Dana said.
“I figured I could run a company on the 10th floor just as effectively as on the 50th.” Leah said.

Inside the office, Leah sat down at a large mahogany desk. Dana sat down at one of the chairs on the other side and handed the death certificate to Leah.

“How old was your mother, Dana?” Leah asked.
“44.” Dana said.
“It says here that the cause of death was a… Pulmonary embolism?” Leah said.

Dana covered her mouth and made a throat-clearing noise.

“Sorry.” Leah said.
“You’re fine.” Dana said. “It’s just… It was sudden.”
“I’m sorry, Dana.”

Dana took a deep breath.

“Yeah. Embolism. But it was due to breast cancer.” Dana said.
“I see.” Leah said. “Her medical bills must have been very high.”
“Fucking astronomical.” Dana said. “Sorry. But they were.”
“It’s alright.” Leah said.
“That’s part of the reason I’m here. I don’t really have any family I can go to.” Dana said.
“You haven’t got any relatives?” Leah asked.
“My mother didn’t keep in touch with her family.” Dana said, “They kind of abandoned her after she got pregnant.”

Leah looked at Dana, who was staring at the death certificate on the desk..

“So. You’ve got no one.” Leah said.
“Not a soul.” Dana said. “I’m kind of at an impasse, here.”
“Well, I’m willing to help.”
“Your daughter was gracious enough to get me into this meeting.” Dana said.
“Edith always talks about you, Dana.” Leah said. “Says you’re the best roommate she’s ever had.”
“I’m glad.” Dana said.

Leah pointed to a framed poster on the wall of her office. It was a black-and-white photo of two women and three men. The only visible face on the poster belonged to a young blonde woman. The one un-obscured women was in the foreground and the rest were in the back.

“See that poster over there?” Leah asked.
“Yeah. What’s so special about it?” Dana asked.
“They were a band called “Edith,” from Boston, Massachusetts. My hometown.” Leah said.
“Ah. I assume that’s where you got your daughter’s name from?” Dana said.
“Yep.” Leah said. “I saw that band play at the a bar when I was in college. I decided that night that my daughter needed that name. It’s a shame that my ex-husband didn’t share the feeling.”

Dana stared at the poster for about a minute.

“I never did get to thank you for helping Edith when my ex-husband tracked her down in Fort Myers.” Leah said.
“It was nothing.”
“I read the police reports, Dana. That was an ordeal I could never have dealt with.”
“He broke into our apartment. Didn’t even know who he was. All I heard was Edith yelling.”
“It’s good you were home at the time.”
“He never laid a hand on her. I didn’t let him.”
“I’m very grateful for that.”

“So. Dana.” Leah said.
“Yes?” Dana said.
“How are you planning to pay for the funeral costs?”
“At this point, I’m starting to think that a loan shark is worth it.” Dana said.
“That bad, huh?” Leah asked.
“I don’t have a dime to my name.” Dana said. “The insurance company is giving me trouble because my last name isn’t ‘Hollett‘, and any saved cash was used for medical bills.”
“I see.” Leah said. “Well, what were you hoping to do?”
“A wake and a funeral.” Dana said. “My mom had the details put in her will.”
“Alright.” Leah said. “Done and done.”
“Huh?” Dana said.
“I’ll cover the expenses.” Leah said.
“I was just hoping for a loan.” Dana said.
“Well, I’ll do you one better.” Leah said. “It’ll be taken care of.”
“You really don’t need to-” Dana was cut off.
“I may not need to, but I want to.” Leah said.
“I’m… I’m going to find a way to repay you.” Dana said.
“Don’t even think about it.” Leah said.
“I… I have to. This is going to cost something like $10,000.” Dana said.
“Dana, consider this a ‘thank you’ for helping my daughter.” Leah said.

Leah got up from her desk. As she walked to the door of her office, Dana jumped from her chair and gave Leah a hug.

“This means the world to me. Thank you.” Dana said.
“It’s no trouble at all.” Leah said. “Now, we need to make some phone calls. Let’s grab some lunch first. Then we can come back to this office.”

Leah opened the door to her office and walked with Dana to the elevator.

Three days passed.

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