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Read by Justin Chan

Justin Chan is a member of The Battalion Improv troupe at The Making Box, performing in the monthly Royal City Heroes show. Outside of that, he is a consultant for the non-profit sector during the week, as well as an amateur stand-up comedian in the evenings. In the spring of 2016, Justin founded a social project, Homeless in Waterloo, with the objective of changing the stigma surrounding homelessness in the KW Region through storytelling. His project was featured on CTV, CBC, The Record, as well as many local news outlets.

Darren Excerpt

Jeremy drives his mom’s Lexus like he’s the one who bought it. He pulls up in front of our house, raises the volume on the radio and leaves the AC blasting. Waits to see if I’ll come out. Our neighbours, a retired white couple, rear up from their gardening. The woman is on the verge of asking him to stop idling the car. It’s twenty-eight degrees out, pre-humidex.

Despite the heat, he’s lubed into a distressed-leather motorcycle jacket. It’s a step up from his Weapons of Mass Destruction shirt, the one with arrows pointing to his biceps. Jeremy and I were born ten months apart, which I take as proof that Chinese astrology is bullshit. He’s something that I’ve inherited, like a tendency to developing skin tags.

After five minutes he knocks on the door. I wait until my mother calls up before bothering to come down. He’s still on the other side of the threshold when I reach the entrance, like a vampire without an invitation. My mother interprets this as shyness. She sucks him into a hug and calls for my father to come greet him. Jeremy follows her into the kitchen, rubbing her lipstick off with his fist. My father sets aside his reading glasses, crumpling the grocery flyers under his forearms.

“You want some food?”

“No, thanks, Mrs. Leung. We went out for dim sum earlier.” He rests his hand on his abs. For sure there’s a McDonald’s bag in the back seat of the car. Chicken nuggets are the closest he gets to dumplings these days.

“Are you still crazy about chive potstickers?” My mother laughs, remembering an earlier outing to Pearl Garden. If I’d eaten the entire table’s order of fried dough and pork, my parents would have made me write apologies to every guest. “You boys going downtown? Going to meet some nice girls?”

“Not for me,” Jeremy says, his hand up in the air, scout’s honour. “Just helping Darren.” Jeremy’s had the same girlfriend for four years. Being bland and liking Jeremy are the only bad things I can say about her. But every Friday night Jeremy's dogging it around town, calling it “buddy time,” like he’s watched Goodfellas too much and thinks people actually divide the weekend between wives and girlfriends.

“What time will you be back?”

“Not too late. Not too late.” He catches my eye and pointedly looks at my feet, lifting his pant leg to show me he’s not wearing sneakers. Jeremy shines the leather toe on the back of his jeans. Another inch and those shoes could be hanging off a witch at the Salem trials.

Fine. The only cool footwear I have are sneaks. But I have some crappy, uncomfortable oxfords from my cousin’s wedding.

“No drinking, right?” My mother waggles her finger, but clearly thinks the warning’s unnecessary. If he didn’t have such a nice, Chinese girlfriend, she’d bet Jeremy was headed to seminary.

“Just a movie. Maybe the arcade.”

I grab a red plaid bow tie from the back of the closet and clip it over my T-shirt, just to piss him off. And my parents. Vintage clothes are endlessly embarrassing to them – my mother says they smell of poverty. That was another strike against Luz, my ex, the fact that we’d go on dates to Goodwill instead of the mall. It’s why my mother stopped inviting us for dinner with Jeremy's family. If I was going alone, it was easier to badger me into a newish shirt and tie.

My mother and Jeremy’s mother have been like sisters since they met in English classes in Etobicoke . Because they came over at the same time, my mother doesn’t want us looking like shabby cousins.

Jeremy frowns when he notices the tie, but doesn’t say anything because he wants to get going.

“No drinking,” my mother repeats.

“I’ll take good care of him.” Jeremy puts his arm around me, all brotherly. With those nutcracker biceps, he can get away with it, but I’m half a head taller than him.

As soon as we’re out of the door he says, “You look like a douche.”

“Either this or my tuxedo shirt.”

“Don’t make a dick of yourself. We’re meeting up with my cousin’s UCC buddies.” What he really means is don’t embarrass me because they’re rich – you could harvest all your organs and still not come up with a year’s tuition to Upper Canada College.

“I thought of another way to die,” I say. “It’s a poetry slam, you’re on a date. At first you get into it. Then they all start to sound the same. You realize, too late, all the poets are drunk. They hustle into their poems again and again, like a scratched record. Each time one pauses, you think the poem is over – but the poems are never over. Before you can even clap, another voice starts scatting from the crowd. You’re too polite to leave.”

“So you starve to death?” Jeremy says.

“No. You finally kill yourself with whatever is available. Probably a tea light. The last word you hear is privilege.”

 Jeremy checks his shades in the rear-view. “You know she’s fucking someone else, don’t you?”

“We’re just on a break.”

“She texting you these days?”

“Yeah.”

“No, she’s not.”

I mentally scroll through my inbox. The only message Luz sent this week said she couldn’t Skype until she got back from Chicago. She’ll be there over the weekend, competing with six other horror shorts at the Comic Con student showcase. I wished her luck, said it was too bad I couldn’t be there. Comic Con was something we’d been planning together for a long time; part of me hoped she’d have a change of heart as the day approached. She didn’t write back.