I know, I know, in wino fairy toes and all that, but I still wasn’t expecting to have an epiphany about family in the middle of a drunken rant. After a long day out on patrol (in the desert, in this heat, whose idea was that?), I was sitting in the Round Table (lovingly refurbished after that incident with the tourist and Django’s spicy noodles) with my wife, my friends and a cool, refreshing “fruit mix”. Ha, what a nice euphemism for a stiff drink.
“Why do I get the impression you’re gonna start singing?” Sam said with a laugh. She’s always laughing. I like that about her.
I snorted and nearly inhaled my drink. “Because I’m drinking like it’s the end of the world?” I finished my drink and slammed it back on the table with a sigh. “I guess it felt like it last night.”
“You had that same dream again?”
Remy looked confused and more than a little concerned. “What’s ‘that same dream’?”
I swung round on my chair and made a weird noise as it nearly fell over. “Okay, buckle up you lot – this is heavy stuff. Don’t tell me to get my head examined, ’cause I already have. So when the dream starts, I’m tied up like we were that time with the Sharks…”
…when suddenly, he appears.
“Why are you here?” I snap. “Django promised you’d never come back!”
“Oh, sugar bear,” he says, voice soft and full of badly-acted love. “I’ve come for you.”
“Did you really forget me already?” he says as he pulls off the mask.
“Hello, sugar bear,” she(?) coos in my late father’s voice. “Miss me?”
“Yes!” I whimper, struggling to free myself. “Every day! But I love Lorelei now!” I start crying. “Please, move on. Move on like I have.”
“Do you know what it feels like to burn?” it snarls. “Now you will.”
I cry and scream as the flames start rising just like they did over the farm when I was fourteen. Even worse, I can hear a tiny voice. “Daddy?” it’s saying, over and over. “Daddy? Daddy?”
I must have cried myself awake. The flames abruptly disappear, replaced with little Alicia. “Daddy? I had a nightmare.”
I try not to laugh, but the relief gets to me. “Oh, you too?” I swing myself out of bed and pick up my baby girl. “You wanna talk about it?”
Remy looked at me with the unfocused gaze of the dumbstruck. “Jeeeeeeeesus.”
Sam took a long slug of her drink as if trying to erase the memory – or build up the courage to do something incredibly stupid. “That’s it. Cap- uh, Arlo, I’m buying your dinner. I might not be able to fix you, but I can at least guilt you into remembering to eat.”
Lorelei snorted. Unfortunately, she knows my bad habit of choice, and it’s that one.
“Sammy, you really don’t have to -“
“Forgive my insubordination, but also shut up. I gotta look out for my family, y’know?”
Well, that hit me like a punch to the gut. She was right. Maybe I don’t have any birth family left, but I’ve got plenty of family here. “Fine. Thanks, Sammy. What would you recommend, Sonia?”
“I would totally order the banner fish soup,” Sonia said. “I know you probably have it, like, all the time, but I wanna see you try the criminal.”
I spluttered. “Try the what now?”
She whipped out a menu from behind her back and placed it down on the table. I glanced over it as she flounced off. “How spicy do you want it?” it asked in big bold letters. “We have five levels here at the Round Table, so there’s something for everyone!”
I made my way down the list. The Squire: “for newbies, small children and those with delicate constitutions” (we all know he means Ginger). Next up, the King: “slightly more flavour,” according to the description, “but unlikely to cause any diplomatic incidents”. The Knight: “our standard fare for warriors and the adventurous”. The Captain: “as hot as could be considered reasonable”.
And then the last one. The Criminal. “This should be illegal except as a method of execution. Please do not attempt to copy the regulars; they are professionals and also completely insane.”
“Am I the regulars?” I cackled at Sonia, who was also giggling like a schoolgirl (albeit from a distance where her eardrums wouldn’t bleed).
“Yes!” Django yelled from the kitchen. “And if you dare order it, you’re cleaning up the sick!”
“Alright, Dad,” I laughed. “And whilst I’m at it, I promise I’ll be home by midnight, car intact, without an empty six-pack on the back seat. At least, not my empty six-pack.”
Remy snorted. “Yeah, yours would be an empty two-pack, you lightweight.”
“Hey, no ratting me out to Dad!”
“It’s what little brothers do, isn’t it?”
“You’re older than me.”
Remy just grinned. “Then it’s my job to be the responsible one, isn’t it Captain?”
I laughed and finished my drink. “I’ll get you for that.”
“Suuuuuuure you will.”
I must have been really drunk by then, because I started getting all philosophical. “You know something,” I slurred, “they say there are two things you can’t do with a family.”
“What’s that, sugar bear?”
“You can’t choose ’em, and you can’t replace ’em. But look at us,” I said, gesturing vaguely around and nearly knocking over the empty glass. “You lot sure aren’t my birth family. I picked you. I’ve got Dad over there,” I continued, waving at Django, “my goody-two-shoes little brother, my spunky younger sister, a beautiful wife, and a darling baby girl who’s, like, the one exception. Also, I’m turning into Sonia.”
The aforementioned Sonia whizzed round with another bottle of fruit mix, filling our glasses in anticipation.
“Thanks, Sonia.” I raised my glass. “To us: proof that everything they say about family is the biggest pack of lies since the 53-card deck!”
Thanks for reading, everybody! Word count: 1000 words (1000 limit, woo! – it was REALLY HARD this time!), screenshot count: 11 (also hard). You know the drill: go read the rest! (This month has also been extended through December, so go ahead and write something if you like!)