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Justin Campbell Justin Campbell
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Daniel Morgan [13]


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Under the Double Star - Chapter One

August 28, 2005



       “We’ll be right back after this commercial break,” Daniel said. A second later, the “on air” sign went out, and the camera pointed towards him lowered on its dolly, the cameraman leaving it to rest while he asked an assistant to grab him an orange juice. The audience in front of the soundstage, now allowed, generated a low murmur.


       Daniel turned to his guest, a young up-and-coming musician who had just scored #1 on the Canadian charts with his debut hit “Deeply Taken.” His name was Alex Scowl – a stage name in lieu of Alex Pantinsi – and they were halfway through the interview.


       “How’s it going, Alex?” He asked this in a reassuring stage voice; this was the young man’s first round of publicity stunts.


       “It’s good. The lights are a bit bright but it isn’t too difficult.”


       “How many other promos are you making?”


       “Four. Then there’s the tour, like I mentioned.”


       “They won’t stay bright. You’ll get used to it. It took me sixteen years to get used to them, everything.”


       “Really?”


       “Really. I wasn’t sure of myself. But if you are, you’ll be brilliant.”


       “Thank you, man.”


       “Anything I can do to make it easier after the break?”


       “Uh…I don’t know. I’ve never had anyone on TV ask me that before.”


       “Okay. Well let me know if I get too personal or nagging in what I ask you. I know, we’ll devise a secret signal. If you move your index finger like this” – he flicked his finger against his middle finger once – “I’ll change the subject. Okay?” He wanted Alex’s first television appearance to go flawlessly – not necessarily for his and the show’s benefit, but for Alex’s benefit as well. Daniel knew too well how difficult dealing with any kind of fame was, and promotional tours, and he wanted whomever he took under his wing on air to feel good about themselves with little restraint or discomfort.


       “Wow, okay, thanks. Yeah, I’ll do that,” Alex said, looking slightly less anxious. Daniel smiled.
Beyond camera, a stage assistant quieted the audience. In the darkness beyond the bright studio lights, someone said, “Okay, we’re on in 5…4…3…” The cameras rose on their dollies again, the audience hushed, and Daniel said, “Okay! We’re here this morning with Alex Scowl, who just hit #1 with “Deeply Taken…”
--
       Daniel left the studio early that afternoon and drove to the airport. It was Thursday, and he’d just taped Friday morning’s show. His weekend differed from most peoples because it was Friday to Saturday instead of Saturday to Sunday; Sunday he taped Monday morning’s program.


       Normally he would drive back to Ottawa, but he wasn’t up to four hours behind the wheel, and one of the perks included in his job was paid airfare via Air Canada – that as well as paid train travel via Via Rail – so he took the thirty-three-minute flight to the nation’s capital over the long drive.
He called his wife after he parked, asking her to pick him up at the Ottawa airport, and then took off half an hour later. By 3 o’clock, Daniel was back home.


       Colin was in charge of the place when both Daniel and Lauren were at work – he was sixteen now, and starting eleventh grade in September, only a week away. The teen was at Merivale High School, just like Daniel had been, although it had been a bit of a dilemma at first. Daniel didn’t want his son to go to the same place he’d gone, especially with his difficult memories of the place. What’s more, while he relied on routines to keep his life easier, Colin was horrible for starting them for the first time and keeping them. He always had long fingernails that were prone to getting dirty, and he always needed to be told to shower every morning. Not that Colin preferred to be unwashed, he just didn’t have it at a high enough priority. He also preferred a certain kind of clothing that was comfortable to him – a typical thing of people with Asperger’s – so he always wore loose track pants and nondescript blank shirts that had no stitching on the inside or big labels. Combine all this with his quirks, and he’d be an easy target for bullying at a place where what you wore and how you looked and smelled took priority over everything else.


       “I don’t want to be popular,” was a statement Colin often made whenever Daniel pointed this out to him.
“I don’t want to be like everyone else.” It was hard to make him realize that it wasn’t an issue of popularity and conformity as it was simply an issue of making him less easy to pick on. In the summer before he started at Merivale, Daniel and Lauren had looked around at other high schools in the area – namely Laurentian and J.S. Woodsworth, or Brookfield – but Colin had been adamant that he go to Merivale because everyone he knew at Century and Sir Winston would be going. To prepare, they’d met with the principal and also had his I.E.P. transferred so that he’d have access to special services the school offered, and they went to an info night held there in the spring of that year so Colin could tour the buildings and get acquainted with the environment. To Daniel’s light reassurance, the place had changed a bit since his time there in the early ‘70s – while all the infrastructure was the same (down to the scarred and graffitied desks and cafeteria benches) there was a lot more support available and the school atmosphere just appeared a lot more enlightened, with clubs ranging from a comic book outfit to even a gay-straight student alliance. None of that existed while he’d been there; the only new thing he’d been witness to had been the library when it was relocated to a new add-on in 1974. And that didn’t make anything better for him. Now a wide-range of options were available, and the teachers were immediately helpful and engaging. Colin’s first two years went by with little incident (he did get the random attention of a cruel student but it was unusual) and while he had only a couple of constant friends, he had the companionship of several of his teachers, people who always helped him on a social issue or a learning one, whatever came first. This was not something Daniel had ever expected, and he was immensely happy for his son. It was a much less superficial, pressuring environment. It made something in him finally let go.


       Edwin had none of Daniel’s worries. He didn’t have a large social group but he was easy-going, got involved in extra-curricular activities, and was generally liked by his peers. He shared virtually none of Colin’s quirks. In a way, he saw the contrast between Colin and Edwin almost similar to the contrast between himself and Nick back when they’d been in high school – Daniel being twitchy and anxious and bullied and different, and Nick being easy-going and girl-crazy. Not that Colin was anxious or bullied, but he was different in his own way, and he hoped in Edwin’s case that he wouldn’t be bringing home dozens of different girls. Edwin had tried asking one out at the final dance at the end of the school year back in June. She’d said yes, and they’d  gone out – for four days. Then she dumped him. Both Daniel and Lauren had spent a lot of time consoling him, explaining that it was her loss – the reasoning behind her dumping him was because school was over and it “wasn’t as if we’re going to spend all our time trying to see each other every day” which made no sense as they were perfectly able to see each other, it was summer and they lived only ten minutes away from each other. It was just a lame excuse, and her loss, in their words.


       Brooke was someone to worry about, but only because, like Edwin, she would be starting at a new level in a different school. While Edwin was off to Merivale the coming week, she would be starting where he’d just finished, at Sir Winston. Middle School. That period was always awkward because most kids would be making the transition from uninhibited childhood innocence and freedom to hormone-fuelled pre-teen social pressure and self-discovery, times of questioning and puberty, which could be messy. She only had her first period this past spring, and it made her very anxious – “what if it happened in class?” Lauren had to explain to her how a tampon worked, how it stopped the blood from leaking, but she wasn’t truly consoled until it actually did work. Despite Brooke’s worries and anxieties about new people in the classes and beginning a new scheduling system wherein she had to change rooms for almost every class, she stayed positive about everything, and the three of them – Daniel, Lauren and Brooke – worked together to help breed enough self-confidence in her so she could join a school club or team, something she felt she wanted to get involved with once she got used to the school. One thing Daniel was constantly thankful for, for all his kids’ sake, was the school board’s decision, years ago, to eliminate grade thirteen. If only they’d done away with it when he’d been in school…
--


      When Daniel entered his house on Falaise Road, Colin was on his computer while Edwin was in his room, listening to music with a friend. Brooke was the only one on the main floor, reading a book in the kitchen. It was something she did often, apart from her brothers and the rest of the family if they were watching TV in the living room together; she simply just preferred to read. Colin was playing SimCity 4 on his computer – a city simulation game that he obsessed over, for hours a day, if not all day, during the summer. He preferred that to most music, which was Edwin’s specialty, particularly music from the 80s and 90s. As Daniel put his suitcase and briefcase on the bed in the master bedroom, what sounded like Ace of Base filtered from Edwin’s room next door. He unpacked, put things away, and returned downstairs to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, saying hi to his daughter as he entered.


       Brooke looked up at him. “Hey dad.”


       “Brooke, how was your day? Your brothers treating you all right?”


       “Oh yeah, they’re good. They always have their friends over so I just read. Sammy’s upstairs with Colin.”


       Daniel remembered Nick’s firstborn son. At the moment, Nick and his wife and daughter were living in Ottawa altogether, Nick having quit his job in Toronto to buy another studio here in Ottawa so he could be here full-time. Well, he hadn’t bought a recording studio, but rather a small, nondescript building in the city’s east-end. His intentions were to build it as a recording studio himself. Daniel had been there a few times. Nick had taken ownership of the building in 2004 and since then had it sound-proofed and renovated. It was just the stocking up on audio hardware he was working on now, like stands and microphones and consoles and removable boundary walls for booths, etc. He’d simply called it “Masterson Studios.”


       “Sam’s up there? I heard them listening to ‘All That She Wants,’” Daniel said. “How’s mom doing?” Though he and Lauren had talked while she drove him home before heading back to work, he liked the idea of getting his children’s perspectives as well.


       “Good.”


       “Has she taken all of you school-supply shopping yet?”


       “No.”


       “Really? Well, why don’t we do that then? After I finish my tea we’ll go.”


       “Okay.”


       Daniel sat down at the table with her and opened up his laptop, which had been charging since he’d gotten home. While she read and he drank, he checked his e-mails. Most were from Nelson, a few were from Lauren, and others were from executives at the CBC, as well as Alex Scowl’s agent Jimmy Keane. He was expecting a message from another agent, someone named Nellens, who represented George Carson, a Canadian comedian who had just finished a show recently at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal. He was going to be Monday’s guest for next week.


       Instead he found a message from something called “Reunions.ca.” It looked like it might be spam, but it was probably a website thing. Clicking on it, he saw a poster in the message body instead of prose.
It was bright and colorful and nostalgic-looking. In big letters, it said “The Class of ’76 Invites You to our Big Reunion After 30 Years!” It gave a date for May of next year, making it a neat thirty years since the class had finished at the school.


       Daniel’s brow furrowed. Why would he be invited to a high school reunion? He hardly had any friends from back then other than Nick and one or two others he hardly kept in touch with at all. He didn’t have a fun time back then, either. This was just silly. He closed the message and immediately deleted it. He had no patience for retrospective nonsense like that.


       He finished his tea and his online browsing, and then got everyone packed into the SUV in the driveway; he and Lauren had gotten rid of the Previa back in 2003 because it kept developing issues and always kind of looked silly to drive. Colin wasn’t in the mood to go school shopping as Daniel hadn’t let him finish the song he was listening to, and Sam came along because there was no need to separate people and disrupt everything that much. Nick’s son was always a cheery, pleasant kid to have around anyway, and Daniel felt a minor paternal responsibility for him; it was something he’d felt ever since he was born.


       They drove west towards Merivale Road, over the hill, and Daniel chose to shop at the Zellers in the Meadowlands Mall. They could go eat at Wendy’s after, if they wanted. He parked in front of the building, which had just had a facelift. In Daniel’s eyes it was one of many, the last obvious one happening in 1991 when Zellers had first taken occupancy of that main portion of the building. It was a place he’d taken all three of his children for years.


       They went in and Daniel let Brooke and Edwin wander off by themselves while Colin and Sam stayed by, to help him find the right supplies. Colin was pretty adept at remembering exactly the right kinds of stationary and binders the three of them would need for middle school and high school, and he even bought Sam a couple of things (“Don’t tell your mother”). Eventually they checked out with everything they needed. Daniel rounded Brooke and Edwin up, and after depositing the supplies in the back of the SUV, they walked down the parking lot to the combination Wendys’/Tim Hortons for an early dinner (or late lunch, as the four kids had gotten up late and had breakfast closer to noon than early in the morning). It wasn’t often that Daniel took his kids out for fast food, so it was almost like a treat.


       Thankfully, Daniel was able to do things like this and not be pestered or held up or otherwise caught as the centre of attention if and when people recognized him. It was rare for someone to stare at him, and even rarer for anyone to walk up and dote on how they loved him and his show or his voice or acting or whatever, and ask for an autograph. It wasn’t something he liked the possibility of dealing with. In the early days, if someone recognized him and took advantage of the circumstance, he would be as polite and open and welcoming as possible even though he had other, better things to do, but although those fans walked away glowing and happy, Nelson had advised him to be rather aloof and discouraging so it wouldn’t happen more often. Though he felt impolite acting that way at first, he realized it served him well and he got quickly comfortable with that street persona.


       They finished their meals and walked out of the Wendy’s feeling full and content. The day had been simple and pretty good. He had two days to be at home with his wife and kids, they had their school supplies, and things were simply just good.


       He was driving around the side of the building to the lane that connected the side parking lot to Meadowlands and Grant Carman Drive, when he noticed a big truck slowly coming to a stop on his left, along the back of the building. It was a freight truck, with a long trailer hitched to the back, obviously just leaving from the loading dock after having made a delivery to Zellers or one of the other stores. A logo on the sidewalls of the trailer proclaimed the company to be RW Trade & Delivery, Co. As he passed, he got a good look at the driver, up in the high windshield. Like those rare die-hard fans, Daniel did a double take. The driver was familiar to him in every way even this many years later; at the same time, the driver stared down at him, with a shocked expression on his face. Then he shook his head.


       Daniel’s mind was racing. Neal Ashwood. The guy who had a knack for spotting Daniel in a crowd, and making him sorry for even coming to school, from grade nine to eleven, by which time Neal had dropped out. Neil had been a big, broad-shouldered fat kid who loved to smack the back of your head from behind before roughly pushing you to the side, out of his way. He was still big to this day, Daniel now saw.


       Daniel suddenly accelerated away from the truck, now stopped at the corner of the building, and raced up the curved lane towards the intersection with Meadowlands and Grant Carman. To his dismay, he saw the truck in his mirrors pull out from along the building, into the lane behind him. Turning wide, it slowly loomed up behind him. Daniel suddenly remembered the 1971 film Duel, a made-for-TV film he’d seen with his parents one night when he was thirteen. In the film, a middle-aged man is chased on a lonely desert road by a huge Peterbilt tanker truck that is trying to kill him. He hadn’t seen the film in over thirty years, yet it suddenly became visually intense in his mind. As he sat at the red light, he felt like the helpless character of David Mann in his puny red Plymouth Valiant, even though the SUV was filled with the constant chatter of the young teens.


       Behind him, the truck suddenly inched forward a little. The hairs on Daniel’s neck pricked up. Was Neil Ashwood teasing him again? He hadn’t come face-to-face with any of his old school bullies in such a long time that this was unusual and gave him a huge unease. He didn’t expect he’d feel so small all over again even after the years of success he’d had in life’s affairs, whether it be career milestones or getting married, raising his own kids. Yet this old feeling was so natural and immediate.


       Would the truck follow him?


      The light turned green. Daniel rushed forward, speeding the SUV into a left-turn that caused it to rock a little. Colin, Edwin, Sam and Brooke all cried out, and Daniel yelled, “Get your seatbelts on, don’t make me tell you again!” He sped up the hill, praying there wouldn’t be another red light at the intersection with Chesterton Drive, which was only a few hundred feet away. Daniel suddenly realized in this moment how stupidly the road had been built, with such a busy four-lane throughfare having two intersections so close to each other on a hill like that.


       The truck followed, making the same left turn, although much more slowly. Naturally, the light turned yellow, and then red (remarkably fast) and Daniel had to come to a stop. He didn’t want Neil following along behind him, in his big truck, able to see where he lived. As he came to a stop, Daniel suddenly decided he would turn right, onto Chesterton, so he could perhaps fool his old bully. Maybe make him think he lived off of Chesterton, or something. Abruptly, he changed into the outer lane, cutting off another car that had been coming from behind, and as the driver swore and yelled at him in response, Daniel felt that old feeling of insecurity and self-pity as he quickly turned into the street, and left the freight truck behind.


       “Where are we going, Dad?” Edwin asked from behind him. “I thought we were going home.”


       “We are,” Daniel said in a monotone voice. He suddenly turned left again, onto Mulvagh Avenue, where Sir Winston Churchill, the school Brooke was starting at, was located. “We’re just driving past Brooke’s new school so she can see it before she starts.”


       “Well, I’ve seen it before,” Brooke said, mystified. “I’ve been there several times. When we picked up Edwin or Colin or went to information nights.”


       “It’s always a good idea to see it again,” Daniel said quickly, not being able to come up with any satisfying answer. “Anyway, we’ve passed it now, it’s gone, we’re going home now.”


       He hoped he wouldn’t see Neil or his truck ever again. He would date Andrea and start at CJOH and marry Lauren and have his children and do all his voiceover and acting work and pitch and film his morning show all over again from the start not to feel that way ever again.
--
       “Why’d you speed away like that?” Lauren asked him in annoyance when he told her of the run-in he’d had earlier that day.


       Daniel suddenly felt unsure. That was the question, wasn’t it? Why did he over-react? Was that normal?


       “I, uh, well, I just, I just hadn’t seen the guy for so long.”


       “Uh-huh. So you wanted to jump on the gas and get away from him?”


       “I didn’t want him following me. And I told you how I felt.”


       “Yes, Daniel, and how you felt isn’t good, is it? Don’t you think that’s a step backwards?”


       “Probably, yes.”


       “I thought you’d gotten over that. I thought you’d gotten past feeling sorry for yourself in those kinds of situations. Do you realize how long it’s been? Eh? Do you realize what you’ve accomplished and done since high school?”


       “Yes, I do Lauren, I know what I’ve done, it was just automatic, okay?” Daniel felt flustered and annoyed.


       “Well that’s the issue, isn’t it? It was just automatic. Well, I think you should go to that reunion next year.”


       “What? No. There’s nothing for me there.” He’d told Lauren about the e-mail he’d received.


       “Nothing for you there? Daniel, don’t be so pessimistic. It’s not like they scarred you for life, is it? I’m sure you’ll reconnect with some people.”


       “Yes, I’ll reconnect with their fists!”


       “Dan, I think going to that kind of thing will be the best thing that’ll ever happen to you.”


       “How?”


       “Don’t you realize it? You need to see the people you had a difficult time with for who they are. You need to face them. You need to realize that they aren’t there to keep ruining your life for the difficulty of yourself and everyone around you.”


       “Really? Everyone around me?”


       “Every time you turn up like this, Dan, you’re not the only one who’s affected. I’m hurt just as much. I hate to see you like this. I feel your pain. Your children can sense it too. Beatrice. Leonard, whether he’s in L.A. or not. Nick. And you know that.” She was standing close to him now, looking up at him softly. “I don’t want you to be like this. I don’t want the person I love the most feel this way. I want you to be happy.”
Daniel’s vision blurred a little, and he realized he’d come to the verge of tears. It was almost too much, Neil in his truck, and now Lauren standing there, looking up at him, just existing and saying everything and being who she was. Such a huge contrast. Putting his arms around her, he put his face into her shoulder and hugged her tight, as she held him.


       “Thank you. I needed that.”


       “I know. I know you all too well. Daniel, you’re a good person. You’re smart. You’re gifted. You’re the most nurturing father those three kids can have. I love you for who you are. And, when you know it and feel it, you can be strong, too. I need you to be strong not just for me and our family but for people like this Neil and everyone else. Go to that reunion. Stand up for yourself.” She looked at him hard. “I know you can.”


       “Okay. I will. I will. Geez, I was just crazy today, wasn’t I?” They kissed.


       He was crazy, he would go on to think. Boy. Just because he saw an old bully in a truck? Was he really going to follow him like that? Yeah, of course. Like life worked like that. Life worked in mysterious, sometimes miraculous, sometimes mundane ways, but it wasn’t like the movies. It was what you made of it, full of your own choosing. And Daniel was ready to make the right choices, right away.


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Justin Campbell's website: http://justincottawa.blogspot.ca/

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