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Justin Campbell Justin Campbell
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Daniel Morgan [14]

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Under the Double Star - Chapter One

      December 23, 2008

       Marie dimmed the lights and said, “Quiet down now, everyone. The show’s about to begin.” The entire family – Daniel, Lauren and company, Beatrice and her son, and even Leonard and his fiancé, Leah, filled the living room. Rounding out the place was Nick, his son Sam, wife Ana, and daughter Isobel, plus Andrea and the elder Mastersons, Lawrence and Margaret. The place was basically packed, which was rare.

       They were sitting in the living room of Evan and Marie’s house, which still basically looked the same as it had always been. Evan was now 73 years old, Marie 71. Despite their old age they were comfortable in their ways and habits, and still had a lot of energy for when the grandchildren stopped by, or for hosting family dinners in the large dining room that took up the add-on they’d built in 1982. Evan’s hair was thinning out, and Marie’s face was deeply lined with wrinkles, though she dyed her hair a light blonde color and still had a beauty about her that had always been natural. Now it was a day away from Christmas, and they’d decided to put together a great big slideshow bash for the family and their close friends.

       Daniel was happy and comfortable as he sat with Lauren. He’d lost virtually all of the blonde in his hair but unlike his mother stayed well-away from hair dye. He disliked the idea of trying to look younger when he obviously wasn’t, as it seemed fake and silly and immature to him. He didn’t need to look like a poser, whether he was on TV or not. In fact he’d wrapped up his morning show earlier that year, after six years on air, because he’d finally gotten tired of a day-to-day taping schedule and opted instead for a more relaxed job. So, since September, he’d started hosting a show called Canada’s Greatest Comic, which had a more lenient shooting schedule and allowed him to return to a more journalist-like approach to how he appeared on camera. It was a reality show taped in Toronto that basically showcased competing up-and-coming comedians for the top prize of a coveted headlining act at a major Toronto venue and a stand-up contract that guaranteed national exposure, and Daniel found it fun. Next to him, Lauren leaned against him while she had an arm around Brooke, who was now in the midst of her second year at Merivale High School. Like Marie, Lauren dyed her hair because she couldn’t stand the dull silvery grey her hair was turning, especially as it was coming out wiry. It had been auburn in her youth, and wavy, but now it was constantly tangling and getting split ends and just being a nuisance. She was forty-seven now, while Daniel had reached the age of fifty back in May. She still worked in graphic design, though by now she was running the firm all on her own as well as getting involved in its day-to-day projects.

       Colin was nineteen now, and finished high school, and he’d changed somewhat over the past three years. No longer into sweatpants and blank styles and SimCity 4, he’d grown a beard and like Daniel required glasses. He was in his second year at college, studying professional writing, as it was an easy, generic field in which he could apply himself, especially in a city like Ottawa. Though he still lacked a lot of self-discipline, both Daniel and Lauren ensured he finished his homework. Edwin was in his senior year in high school, and had spent the past couple of months on the school’s swim team; Daniel, Lauren, Brooke, and Evan and Marie had been present at the Sportsplex when he’d made it to finals, to watch him compete with several other high schools in an NCSSAA tournament. He’d had a personal best in his timing. Edwin had already applied to Carleton University, to study architecture for next year.

       Brooke on the other hand had involved herself in five different school clubs, outfits, and councils since starting high school, achieving the confidence to run for the grade nine representative spot on student council (and winning). She participated in Student Council, the Earth Club, the Drama club, something called “Mint,” and something else called ‘Live it Up.’ While she didn’t participate in huge groups or try to be popular among all the students in the school, she involved herself in school life and accomplished almost everything she worked for just on determination and skill alone, helped along with encouragement from Daniel and Lauren, who were both extremely proud of their daughter.

       All three of Daniel’s children now had part-time jobs, at the Independent, Zellers, and McDonalds. Sam, Nick’s son, also worked with Edwin at Independent. Nick and Ana both worked, with Nick moving between the two studios he owned and Ana managing a store in the Rideau Centre. Their nine-year-old daughter, Isobel, was the youngest of the children there and often interacted with Beatrice’s song Ewan, who was closest to her in age. Beatrice had finally left Alan in 2004 after realizing that sticking to a marriage “for the sake of the child” wasn’t necessarily better for the child at all. She’d tried to obtain full custody of Ewan during the divorce proceedings in 2005, but Alan had fought vigorously for shared custody, leaving it to poor Ewan, who, under pressure, chose to live with his mother entirely. This devastated Alan, who would go on to fight for visitation rights, which he would win, under a clause that it had to be supervised.

       The rest of the family had been angered and surprised at Beatrice for her harsh, judgmental, and one-sided approach to the whole matter, making her son choose in court who would gain custody of him while she clearly coached him to pick her. Alan wasn’t the horrible miscreant she made him out to be, even by Daniel’s history with the man, and putting that much pressure on Ewan, who was only nine at that time, was crazy. Evan and Marie had fought with her several times on her approach to the situation, and both Daniel and Leonard had openly disagreed with her methods, contending that Alan wasn’t entirely the unsuitable father figure she was painting him as; she’d created an entire case against him that was overly negative, full of exaggeration, and hostility.

       “Don’t gang up on me,” she’d angrily responded. “I had to deal with that man for over ten years, and everything we did was against each other. He had no reason to fight with me on every possible issue, and he did it just to annoy me.”

       “Beatrice, I agree he has is faults and his points of view, but from my knowledge of him, he didn’t abuse Ewan at all. That statement is over-the-top,” Daniel had said to her. He hadn’t seen Alan often by that time, and though he generally didn’t enjoy him that much, he wasn’t a bad guy, just a desperate, unfortunate one. None of the Morgans maintained much contact with him, knowing he’d just vent and talk interminably about every bothersome issue, but Daniel, Leonard, Evan, Marie, and Lauren all felt sorry for him to a degree. They all worried about Ewan’s sake as well. Since then, Beatrice had continued to raise him on her own, with visits from Alan at least once a month; he also paid child support.

      “Don’t think we’re going to supervise his visits with your son,” Evan had told her bitterly. “You didn’t need to remove him from the equation that much. Shame on you.” Eventually Marie supervised Alan’s time with Ewan, which was awkward and tense and not in any way positive. Eventually she confirmed to him that, in a small way, the rest of the family supported him to a degree, and that made things easier with him, but it still wasn’t fun duty, and above all it was completely unnecessary. Tonight, Ewan spent most of his time playing with Nick’s daughter Isobel, as they were closest in age and got along very well. He didn’t seem troubled, just very quiet.

       At the back of the room sat Leonard and his fiancé, Leah, who was five months pregnant. She was five years younger than Leonard and had worked with him. She was a casting agent and they’d worked on the same film in 2006, called Eight Seconds, which was a project that had been in development hell for thirteen years until Leonard had been brought on to re-write the script, upon which studio executives and the original author of the novel it was based on were happy enough to avoid putting it through anymore treatments; it had been released to warm critical reception and a relatively profitable theatre run. It was rare for Leonard to come up to Ottawa from L.A., where he lived and worked, usually visiting once or twice a year, and he dated Leah for a few years before deciding he felt it was right to get engaged, especially since it would make his mother very happy, so they’d gotten engaged that September and planned a May wedding for next year. Marie had been overjoyed at the news, and the whole family was happy. They’d all vacationed in L.A. a second time for a week in the summer of 2007 and got to know Leah very well, all liking her for her personality and for perfectly meshing with Leonard, who had always been slightly different from the rest of the family, always a bit odd. Unlike Daniel, Leonard still had all of his natural brown hair color, with the smallest bit of grey here and there. In early 2008, he published his first full-length novel, called Jet Lag, and went on a book tour that covered most of North America. It didn’t make the New York Times Bestseller list, but sold relatively well and was praised as a good effort for a first-time author.

       Andrea, Margaret, and Lawrence Masterson rounded out the back of the living room; Nick’s parents had long-since retired, like Evan and Marie, and the two pairs were good friends who often played cards together or had each other over for dinner. Andrea had over the years worked as an accountant at various high-tech companies in the city, and she’d married a fellow accountant while at Research in Motion, having a daughter in 1992 named Marietta. Unfortunately, like Beatrice, her marriage had ended in divorce, though not in such a nasty way. She had filled out a little, and her hair was now a dull grey at the age of fifty-four, but she still reminded Daniel of how attractive and alluring she’d been when he was just twenty. In fact, something had stirred in him slightly when she’d entered the room that evening, and he was surprised his mother had invited her all over again, like she’d done on his twentieth birthday. But then Lawrence and Margaret had followed her in, and he realized the entire Masterson family was invited. He hadn’t seen Nick’s parents or sister in several years, but it wasn’t awful or weary for him. It was just fine. He felt good. Two years ago, he’d gone, with his wife, to that high school reunion thing. It had been at a pool hall, not at the school like he thought it would be, but at the place in Merivale Mall. To his surprise, most people there weren’t people who bullied him but people he hardly knew from high school at all: People who’d been kind of popular, people who had never looked at him twice, those who could care less about what other people looked like and just went about school like they had to. People who were, in his eyes, virtually invisible, never bullied but never the kind you immediately knew the name of, just the students you’d see in the background, unassuming. There were a few people he’d known by name or face, and at least one person with whom he’d had a hard time back then – but it wasn’t in any way like Daniel had imagined it. Neil Ashwood was there, the guy who drove the tractor-trailer truck, and as soon as he saw Daniel, he gave him a big grin and patted him on the back. Daniel had jumped slightly at the big man’s gesture, expecting something a lot more aggressive or hostile, and Neil immediately regarded him and said, “I’m sorry. For everything. When I saw you race away from me that afternoon in your car and I realized how scared you still seemed, I felt so awful. I mean it. I’m sorry.” Neil then smiled, nodded at Lauren who was standing next to Daniel, and then walked over to the bar.

       That had been an unusual night for him. Most people recognized him and explained that they remembered him in the halls, and congratulated him on his success and morning show, and a lot of them pointed out the first time they’d seen him on TV or on the radio during a commercial, or wherever. They were happy being around him, although Daniel felt it was because he was to an extent famous and not necessarily because they’d enjoyed his company thirty years ago. That feeling of superficial camaraderie evaporated when Jenny had walked into the hall, the girl he’d had a crush on in tenth grade. Seeing him, she smiled and said, “I was such a jerk back then. I wish I’d gone out with you. It’s something I’ve felt bad about for a long time.” She’d gotten taller and remained slender all those years, her face becoming ever more defined as she aged, so there was a sort of grace to her as she moved. That had made Daniel’s night, and he finally decided afterwards, thanks to Jenny and Neil’s words and apologies, that he had absolutely no reason to feel shitty anymore about his past; people grew up and changed and at some point or another matured, and both of them evidently had. It was time for him to do the same. And he had. He’d seen Neil in his truck once or twice more since, and they always gave each other a pleasant wave.

      The show being put on tonight was a specific slideshow that Evan and Marie had spent a couple of months putting together, with help from Daniel, Beatrice, and the Mastersons. It consisted of photographs taken over the years from when Evan and Marie were married to the present day. They used a laptop and a scanner Daniel had purchased for them, as well as a projector, and thanks to Beatrice’s help, they were able to arrange them in chronological order so all they had to do was click a button to proceed to the next image.

       Marie had dimmed the lights, everyone had quieted down, and the projector was turned on. Leonard sat next to the laptop, ready to start the slideshow. The images lined up, and then they began.

       The first picture was of Evan and Marie, circa 1956; both of them were standing in a university residence at Carleton, and both looked comfortable and normal together. It was a black and white image and the flash was a bit harsh, but it was a good picture nonetheless.

       “Donnie took that,” Evan said. “My roommate. He died five years ago, remember him Marie?”

       “I couldn’t forget about Donnie.”

       Leonard clicked to the next image, that which was of their wedding ceremony in 1957. Evan had big thick glasses and well-combed hair, and Marie looked elegant in a simple white wedding dress. Then an image of Daniel, a newborn, followed. He was sleeping in a pram pushed by Marie, in 1958.

       “That’s Wellington Street,” Marie said. “Hintonburg.”

       Leonard clicked on the next image, which was almost an iconic one. It was the black and white picture taken by Edwin, Marie’s father, of Evan, Marie, and Daniel standing outside the house, in 1962. The brand new lawn was littered with squashed boxes and packing tape, the front door was wide open, and it was evident things were messy and out of order, yet everything about the picture looked fresh. Evan stood proudly by his wife, a little taller than her, Marie looked happy and perfect, and Daniel, with his arm wrapped around his father’s leg, looked buoyant and promising, a four-year-old with much to look forward to.

       “That was a hell of a day,” Evan said. “Our first house, everyone. And we’re still here!”

       Cheers went up around the room.

       “I still remember that day, vaguely, Daniel said.

       The next picture showed a baby Beatrice, being held by Edwin while Marie sat next to him, tired, in the hospital. Beatrice smiled and got Ewan’s attention. “That’s your mom right there, Ewan.”

       “Who’s holding you?” The boy asked.

       “Your great-grandfather. He was a great man.”

       “I still miss him like crazy,” Marie said. Everyone agreed. Edwin had been such a helpful, likable presence in all of their lives.

       More images followed, of Daniel’s first day of school at Fisher Heights in 1962, a family dinner in 1964, and an image of Evan at work the same year. There was an old picture of Rose, Marie’s mother, who looked so much like her daughter. There was a family picture of everyone picnicking at Mooney’s Bay in 1969, with a two-year-old Leonard, plus Rose and Edwin, and a rare image of Evan’s parents Mick and June, in Manitoba in 1970 (they originally had a dairy farm on Merivale Road but sold it in 1959 and moved out west to Manitoba, expecting, rightfully, the land around the road to develop). The picture had been taken when the family journeyed there for a week so the children could spend some time with their paternal grandparents.

       There were a few images of Nick and Daniel as children, eating ice cream at the Parkwood Hills Foodland store, and to Daniel’s surprise, a color image of him, Nick, and Andrea on the Masterson’s front steps in 1969, donated by Nick’s parents. He hadn’t remembered that afternoon. There was a later image of Daniel and Nick in their mid-teens, Nick with long curly hair and a moustache, and Daniel with straight long blonde hair and thick glasses, one smiling easily and the other grinning tentatively. Earlier in the slideshow, everyone laughed at an image of Meadowlands Drive at Fisher Avenue, looking east towards Carleton Heights in 1969; the road had just been opened in that direction heading towards Prince of Whales, and a big subtitle under the image said “Five Years Already? Finally!” It had taken that long for the city of Ottawa to finish the road in both directions towards Prince of Whales and towards the continuation at Fisher; for years it had only existed as a funny little dead-end segment proceeding both ways from Claymor Ave.

       Still there were images of the family in front of the Parliament Buildings, an image of Beatrice in a bathing suit at a friend’s birthday party when she was twelve, and some random images of the house and street. The Morgans’ backyard changed flowerbeds, grew a tree at the back, and added shrubs and bushes along the property line bordering the Meadowlands side. Daniel started high school, Beatrice middle school, and Leonard elementary school, and they had long hair, short hair, glasses and no glasses. Edwin posed next to a Rolls Royce, a Toyota Tercel, a Honda Civic, a Ford Thunderbird, a Chevy, and a multitude of other vehicles throughout the years. Daniel, Nick, and Beatrice went sliding down Mooney’s Bay hill in the winter of 1974. Daniel smiled from ear-to-ear behind the wheel of his Ford Maverick in 1978, on his birthday. He still had that car, though he never drove it anymore; it stayed in the garage, where he polished it from time to time. The family helped contractors build the little add-on in 1982. There were a few pictures of Nick with bands and artists like Kim Mitchell and Gowan, FM, Payolas, and even Rush, taken when he was a roadie. There was a picture of Daniel on the set of You Can’t Do That on Television in 1984, though he wasn’t covered in green slime. Prior to that image were shots of his university graduation in 1981 and a shot of him at the second-hand bookstore.

       “I wonder when we turn up,” Colin wondered aloud. Sure enough, fifteen images later, after shots of Daniel and Lauren’s wedding in 1989, were pictures of Lauren pregnant with Colin, followed by a shot of him as a newborn, in the hospital. Daniel had taken that picture. The images followed through into the 90s, with images of Leonard in his apartment in L.A., baby pictures of Edwin and Brooke, and the odd shot of Daniel in front of a TV camera on location. There were shots of their house, and pictures of Beatrice as a teacher. Everyone cheered at the picture of Leonard standing outside a theatre, in a tuxedo, what was the premier of his first film, The Testimonial, in 1996. And of course there were shots of everyone in L.A., on the beach and with Leonard. There were even pictures of Nick with a young Sam, as young as a toddler, which Sam was surprised to see. To Daniel’s amusement, they’d even included a still from the Disney movie that he’d provided his voice work on, the frame being of his animated character in the film.

       The pictures slowly made their way into the present, with more shots of Daniel’s, Beatrice’s, and Nick’s children growing up while the rest of them continued in their careers and personal hobbies or successes, until the slideshow finally ended on the recent image of everyone in L.A. from last year. Everyone was on the beach, smiling and huddled close together.

       Evan brightened the lights. “Okay, everyone, that’s it, thanks for watching.” The room erupted into excited chatter and conversation. Leonard had all the images burned onto CDs, which he distributed to everyone in the room. Brooke went into the dining room and plugged her iPod into the speakers there, and an impromptu dance started with the younger children and some of the adults. The night was a warm, comfortable success, and everyone was happy and merry.

      Daniel lay in bed late that night, still awake. He was in deep thought. The pictures he’d seen – most of which he hadn’t seen in many years, or even at all – had arisen a lot of memories, and it almost made him melancholy, because here he was at fifty years of age and all that time had passed, all of it had gone, just like that. He knew he’d lived a pretty good, comfortable life, with a many more positives than negatives, but all those images suddenly made him realize how many more good times were yet to come. He wasn’t twenty-five and just getting out in front of the camera for the first time at CJOH anymore. He didn’t lose his virginity in that Maverick yesterday. His children were almost fully-grown – and he could have sworn hardly any time had gone by since the days when he’d felt so inanely happy and giggly over their births. Colin was almost twenty, and even Brooke was in her teens. They were having the times of their lives that he’d had only thirty-five years ago. Not that those had been the times of his life, but regardless. You were only young once, and people he’d loved had been alive back then. Like his grandpa. He still missed him. Or his grandma Rose, who’d always comforted him if he was sick or afraid or feeling down, when he was young. He’d never really remembered his paternal grandparents since they were out of the province, and he didn’t really remember that image of them or visiting them, but then again, that was the point. He didn’t remember. When had they passed away? Late 70s? 80s? He’d have to ask his father that. How could two people you were related to live the rest of their lives and then die and you had no real memory of them or when they passed away?

       Then there were his parents. They didn’t have twenty or thirty years left on them, he knew that. They could only be loving parents and grandparents for so long. The idea of his mother passing away daunted him. He’d never thought of her mortality, or his dad’s. A grandparent’s mortality was something you could deal with because they were always old from your experience, but your mother’s? Your father’s? That didn’t seem right to him. He thought back to the day his grandpa had passed away. He’d said some pretty mysterious things that day, things that still crept up on the back of his mind now and then, though that was very rare. Life was mysterious, sure, but by now he’d come to the point that it wasn’t worth pondering about. What really got him was Edwin’s statement that it was unfortunate that he wouldn’t get to see his great-grandchildren, and that seemed so unfair to Daniel. Colin had been born only two years later. Two years! That was an injustice in his mind. What if his parents weren’t able to see their great-grandchildren? He didn’t think he could count on Colin to deliver on that promise soon enough, what with his lack of confidence and minor social quarks, but could Edwin save the day? He didn’t know.

       Still, Daniel’s mind raced. Things were never eternal, never forever. Time never stopped. One minute, he was in high school, bullied, and Nick had long curly hair and a moustache, and the next, he was a middle-aged man who hosted television shows and had no color left in his hair. Things had been fun, but then again, wasn’t that the point? He disliked movies that had inconceivable time-frames. Movies like Artificial Intelligence and Bicentennial Man always gave him a melancholic taste because they showed entire human lifetimes and events in mere minutes that made them seem diminutive, short, with time being rather fast; several whole generations take up an hour-and-a-half film.

       With that in mind, the idea that you had to have fun seemed the most important to him. In fact, it seemed like the very answer to what his grandpa had said to him in that hospital room twenty-one years ago. “What’s the meaning of life?” he’d asked him when he was four. Now that he thought of it, didn’t the elder Edwin say something about it meaning it was fun? That life was having fun and enjoying yourself? Probably not the way he said it, but that sounded right to him for some reason. After this much time, he couldn’t possibly remember what the old man had said to him at such a young age, but what he said, he knew, it was basically the same exact thing. It had to be.

       The meaning of life is fun. The point of living is to choose what makes you tick, and then pounce on it. It’s not about worrying or being wise or being as smart as you can be, unless that was what was fun to you. It’s not necessarily to never stop learning. It’s to never stop having fun. A fun day or time may never last forever, but it's not like you couldn't simply do something else that was fun afterwards, or create new fun times, memories.

       Daniel sat up. Holy shit. That was the answer. That was the whole freaking answer! His grandfather had been right! He’d always felt it all along. Yet what he hadn’t known – what grandpa Edwin hadn’t known – was that he’d given him the answer from the beginning.

       With that in mind, he lay back down and went to sleep.

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