Boots is trying to remember if Bruno said he'd be home when Boots got home or not. It's one of his early days, he teaches high school English and coaches the swim team there, but there's not practice today. Bruno is mayor of the little city they live in. It's a job that requires him to work most nights and weekends, even if only in some ceremonial capacity, but gives him a pretty random, flexible schedule outside of that. It's worse at the moment because it's election season. Whenever he complains to his brother, Edward, about all the dinners and galas they have to go campaign at, Edward gives him shit about being a politician's wife, so Boots has learned to keep that to himself.
The question of whether Bruno would be home is answered as soon as Boots opens the door. He hears the telltale thumps of things being thrown around their room. You can't be married to Bruno for a decade, and dating him for over twice that, without being able to identify any and all sounds of chaos and destruction.
"What are you doing?" Boots asks, standing in the doorway to their bedroom. Bruno has his suitcase out and is digging through drawers, throwing clothes everywhere.
"We have to go to Massachusetts," Bruno says, barely sparing Boots a glance.
"What? Why?" Boots asked. "Aren't you supposed to speak at the RCMP Association dinner tonight?"
"Grace Cahill died," Bruno says, holding up two ties in consideration, before throwing both of them in the suitcase on the bed.
"I'm sorry," he asks. Boots has no idea who that is. "Who?"
"My mom's second cousin, or something. I'm not exactly sure," Bruno says, moving on to dig under the bed in search of shoes. "I've never met her, but the funeral is in Massachusetts."
"Oh," Boots says tentatively. He chooses his next words carefully. He doesn't want to minimize Grace Cahill's death. But neither of them knew her. "Why are we going to the funeral?"
"We were invited to the will reading," Bruno says, muffled, before wiggling back out from under the bed. He grabs something from the top of his cluttered dresser and shoves it in Boots' face. Boots takes it automatically.
It's a letter addressed to Mr. and Mr. Bruno and Melvin Walton. "Why do they always assume I'm the girl," Boots mutters darkly, shaking his head.
"Ignore that part," Bruno says, "just read it."
So Boots does. They're specifically invited to this Grace Cahill's funeral, because there is an important will reading to follow. Most people aren't being pre-told, but since they live so far away a letter was specifically sent to insure their attendance, blah, blah, blah. Boots is unimpressed.
"Are you sure you're related to this woman?" If this were an e-mail Boots would have assumed it's on par with the Nigerian prince who needs you to send him all your bank account information. Even as a letter specifically addressed to them, Boots isn't sure he believes it.
"Yes," Bruno says. "I remember my mom talking about holidays with her when she was a kid. Apparently the Cahill's are the crazy side of the family."
"Maybe that's where you get it from," Boots says rolling his eyes. Pot, kettle, and all that.
Bruno ignores Boots' comment. "So, come on, get packing," Bruno says.
Boots sighs, then goes to get his suitcase from the hall closet. He guesses he's going to Massachusetts this weekend.
The funeral is uncomfortable. All funerals are, but this one is made worse by the fact that Boots never even knew the deceased. Everyone around him is lost in their own grief, and he's the odd man out. Bruno is no help on that front. Ever the politician, Bruno is clasping a firm hand on some kid's shoulder, no doubt giving his well delivered condolences.
Boots looks around, thinking he'll find an out of the way place to wait until Bruno is done and they can leave. The funeral took place at Grace Cahill's mansion. It's a palatial estate; there must be somewhere he can go to not be in anyone's way. It's while he's looking around that he notices a man in a gray suite moving towards the podium. Boots figures he should stay for whatever this is. Maybe he'll ask them all to leave and he and Bruno can go home.
The man clears his throat and taps the microphone. The crowd reorients itself so that everyone's facing the front of the room.
Once everyone's settled in their new direction, the man speaks. "Thank you all for coming. I am William McIntyre, Madame Cahill's lawyer and executor," he says. If you will look inside your programs, some of you will find a gold invitation card."
Everyone is frantically searching their programs to see if they've got the golden ticket, like they're Veruca Salt, and all the candy in the world will be there's if only they've got the right program. Boots thinks it's all a bit ridiculous. He flips through his program idly. He's expecting to have a ticket, after the letter, but he really doesn't care either way. The ticket's there though, tucked in the back of his program.
Boots looks up to find Bruno and startled by Bruno waving his own ticket right in front of Boots' face. "Ah," he says, taking a step back.
"Got your ticket, I see," Bruno says, grinning manically. "Isn't this exciting. All the mystery and intrigue."
"Um," Boots says. That's not exactly how he'd put it. "That's one way to see it."
"Come on, the ticket says we're supposed to go to the Great Hall to hear Grace's will," Bruno says, grabbing Boots' hand to pull him through the crowd, following the pockets of people holding their own gold tickets.
When they get to the Great Hall, they find it set up with folding chairs like an auditorium. They sit down towards the back of the room.
Boots looks around. There doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason to the people that got golden tickets.
There's a severe looking woman with a pointed face that Boots overheard earlier speaking in a Russian accent and a lone Korean man.
There's a thick-necked family that are the type of people that make Boots glad he's Canadian instead of American over and above the universal healthcare and the gay marriage. They're loud and bumbling, and they appear to be wearing matching funereal-black track suits with sneakers.
Then there are the kids. There are two sets of two; an older girl with a younger boy towards the front of the room with a sour-faced woman too old to be their parents, and right in front of them an older boy and younger girl dressed to the nines. There's no stiff, unfamiliar posture in these two Boots so often sees when his students have to dress up for sports meets. It's weird.
Boots nudges Bruno with his elbow, pulling Bruno away from his own perusal of the room. "There are a lot of parent-less children here," Boots says concerned.
"People on the Cahill side of the family tend to die young," Bruno says, unconcerned.
"I thought you said Grace died of cancer in old age," Boots says questioningly.
"She did," Bruno answers. "It's everyone else who was cursed."
"Poor kids," Boots says, looking at the two in front of them.
That's when the girl turns around. She has dark brown hair and a pointed face with a haughty air about it. From the front it's even more obvious that her clothing is designer. Boots mentally takes back his thought that these kids could use the money.
"I have a mummy and daddy," she says in a posh British accent. "They're at home in London."
"Oh," Boots says stunned at the way this little girl is talking back to him.
"It's those Cahill's that are orphans." She says the word ‘Cahill' like it's something nasty stuck on the bottom of her shoe.
"Natalie," the boy sitting next to her hisses. Boots watches as she spins around to look at him.
"What Ian?" she, Natalie apparently, asks angrily.
"Don't talk to them," Ian says in a whisper that Boots thinks he's not supposed to be able to hear. "They're the enemy."
Boots thinks that's a little harsh. Sure, they're strangers, and Ian's right that Natalie shouldn't be talking to strangers. But, they're in the middle of a family will reading, so even though it's too distant for Boots to even begin to construct, they're somehow family.
He can't contemplate it any further than that because that's when William McIntyre takes his place at the front of the room. He pulls out the will, puts on his glasses, and begins to read.
"I, Grace Cahill, being of sound mind and body, do hereby divide my entire estate among those who accept the challenge and those who do not." he says.
The head of the thick-necked family cuts him off, shouting "What challenge?" and "What does she mean?"
"I am getting to that, sir," William McIntyre says over the noise of the crowd. "You have been chosen as the most likely to succeed in the greatest, most perilous undertaking of all time -- a quest of vital importance to the Cahill family and the world at large."
The melee starts immediately, people shouting over one another asking "what is she talking about?" and "I thought this was about money!" and "Who does she think we are?"
"Ladies and gentlemen, please," William McIntyre says, again quieting the crowd. "If you will direct your attention to the screen, perhaps Madame Cahill can explain things better than I."
The lights go down when he says that and a video begins to play on the big projector set up behind him. An old woman appears on the screen. She's frail, with white hair, but holds herself regally.
"Fellow Cahills, if you are watching this, it means I am dead, and I have decided to use my alternate will. No doubt you are arguing amongst yourselves and giving poor Mr. McIntyre a hard time about this contest I have instituted," she says. Boots takes back the regal though. Filming yourself reading your own will is just creepy. But, apparently no one else has the same thought. Everyone is seriously enthralled by her, listening intensely as she says "I assure you, this is no trick. It is a deadly serious business. Most of you know you belong to the Cahill family, but many of you may not realize just how important our family is. I tell you the Cahills have had a greater impact on human civilization than any other family in history."
Boots glances over at Bruno; he has to know how ridiculous this is. Life is not a movie. And if it were a movie, he hopes it wouldn't be this National Treasure shit. But no, Bruno's just as caught up as everyone else in the room. Boots chalks it up to family resemblance.
On screen, Grace says "My relatives, you stand on the brink of our greatest challenge. Each of you has the potential to succeed. Some of you may decide to form a team with other people in this room to pursue the challenge." Boots looks over at Bruno again at this. Bruno doesn't look back. "Some of you may prefer to take up the challenge alone. Most of you, I'm afraid, will decline the challenge and run away with your tails between your legs. Only one team will succeed, and each of you must sacrifice your share of the inheritance to participate."
Grace holds up an envelope. "If you accept, you shall be given the first of thirty-nine clues. These clues will lead you to a secret, which, should you find it, will make you the most powerful, influential human beings on the planet. You will realize the destiny of the Cahill family. I now beg you all to listen to Mr. McIntyre. Allow him to explain the rules. Think long and hard before you make your choice. I'm counting on you all. Good luck, and good-bye."
Then the screen goes black. Finally.
Unfortunately, that's when the screaming starts. Even Bruno starts shouting with the choruses of "greatest family in history?" and "what's the clue."
William McIntyre tries to answer questions but the shouting runs roughshod over his attempts at decorum. That is until someone shouts "where's the money?"
Mr. McIntyre answers "under your chair."
The room falls silent as everyone scrabbles for the undersides of their seats. Boots finds something taped to his, and when he pulls it out it's an envelope. He opens it. It's a bank note from the Royal Bank of Scotland. For a million dollars.
Holding a million dollars is exactly as surreal as he's imagined it would be.
There's so much that they could do with that money Boots can't even begin to imagine it all. Mr. McIntyre is talking again, but Boots isn't listening, too busy lost in his own thoughts. They can pay off their mortgage. They can fund Bruno's re-election campaign and Boots will never have to go to another fundraising event again. They can take a real vacation, instead of just flying off to Massachusetts for a random weekend.
Boots turns to Bruno, excited about the possibilities. But, Bruno hasn't pulled his check out yet. He's still sitting, stock still, staring at the now blank screen with an exited, wondrous look on his face. "Oh, hell no," Boots says in disbelieving anger.
"Boots," Bruno says shaken out of his treasure hunt trance, turning to look at Boots. Bruno hasn't even reached for his envelope yet.
"Oh no," Boots says, "we are not going on this hunt."
"But--" Bruno starts.
"No," Boots cuts him off.
"Come on," Bruno says, standing up, moving in front of Boots to plead his case. "We can finally travel the world. Maybe we'll go to Egypt. You've always wanted to go to Egypt. And it will be warm. There will be no snow. You hate the snow."
"You're saying we should give up our whole life because I don't like the snow?" Boots says incredulously, standing up to mirror Bruno.
"Yes." Bruno's statement comes out like a question, like he can't believe it really is that easy.
Like fuck it will be that easy. Boots is suddenly furious. Bruno jumps and Boots says how high, and he's fucking sick of it. He's tired and he's going to have to go back to work on Monday without having a real weekend because Bruno is too busy chasing juvenile Indiana Jones fantasies and this hasn't been cute since they were in high school.
"No," Boots explodes, throwing his arms up in anger. "This is one adventure I am not going on." He throws the crumpled envelope in his hand at Bruno and storms out.
From the ballroom it's a straight shot down the hallway, through the grand foyer, and out of the house. There are people milling about in front of the house, and it takes Boots a second to remember why. They're the people from the funeral who didn't get a golden ticket.
Boots makes his way through the crowd, muttering ‘sorry's he doesn't mean when he bumps into people. He finds their rental car in the lot, and pauses leaning against the driver's side door. The gray of the day has cleared and the sun is glaring down hard and angry. He rubs his eyes. It doesn't help the pounding headache he has. He has no idea what he just did to his life.
You don't say no to Bruno.
There's nothing to be done about it now. Bruno is probably already puzzling out his globe-trotting, clue-hunting adventure. And Boots is going back to their life without him. He gets into the driver's seat. That's one good thing about Bruno being gone; he finally gets to drive.
Boots listens to the directions of their robotic female GPS system all the way back to their hotel, where he leaves the car with valet parking and goes up to the room.
"Fuck," Boots says. There's no one there to answer. They fight like this sometimes, stomping out of the room, not speaking, throwing things, like everything about their relationship has grown up except for that. Boots even knows exactly where the mid-line of their house is from the masking-tape down the center in one particular fight. But this one feels different. They're not home. Bruno doesn't have time to come to his senses. If Bruno isn't back by the morning, Boots is going home, with or without him.
Boots shucks his shoes and his jacket on the floor in the doorway. If Bruno can be childish, so can Boots.
Boots leaves the lights off as he walks through the room and opens the mini-bar and surveys the selection. Boots would normally never have anything from it. It's a fucking rip-off waste of money. Today's not normally. He helps himself to a tiny bottle of rum, drinking the whole thing in one swig.
The alcohol burn a path down his throat and Boots feels a corresponding rush of glee at the bill he's running up on the room, which is on Bruno's credit card. Then he remembers that Bruno will never know if he doesn't come back. Thoughts like that require more to drink, so he gathers up the tequila, vodka, and little bottles of wine and takes them to the bed with him.
He picks up the phone and dials down to room service. This calls for a pizza.
Boots has long lost track of time to the drunken haze he's in when the door to the room opens. Boots blinks, trying to force his vision to focus. It's Bruno, stepping over the mess that Boots left in the doorway.
"What're you doing here?" Boots ask, impressed with how coherent he managed to be.
"We're staying here," Bruno says, sparing Boots a look that says Bruno thinks he's an idiot. Bruno turns back towards the closet, stripping out of his funeral suit.
"Whaddabout your quest?" he asks.
"The hunt for the clues?" Bruno says.
"An adventure is only an adventure when you're there," Bruno says. "Otherwise, it's just a lot of lonely being somewhere else. I learned that ages ago."
"Oh," Boots says. He's not sober enough for this conversation. He's not sober at all. He's pretty sure he's missing the point entirely. "Why were you gone so long?" At least Boots thinks it's been a long time. He's not sure.
"You took the car," Bruno says. Bruno smirks at Boots over his shoulder, before his head disappears into the t-shirt he's pulling on. "I left right after you, but got turned around in the house, and couldn't figure out where the parking lot, and funeral people kept stopping me to say how sorry they are. I've never even met the woman, but apparently people thought the golden ticket meant I was close family. I guess typically you don't invite practically-strangers to your will-reading. Then, when I finally got to the parking lot the car is gone. I tried to call for a cab, but couldn't get any cell phone reception."
"Uh-huh," Boots says to show that he's following even though he's not really. Now that he knows he has Bruno back, the ‘how' isn't really that important when his mind is swimming in a drunken haze.
"I went back in the house to try to find a landline, but the will-reading had gotten out--is that even the right term?" Bruno pauses in his epic tale of getting back to the hotel.
"Uh-huh," Boots nods, blankly.
"The place was packed and crawling with people. I couldn't find a phone, or get a signal, so I went back outside. Which is where I got lost on the grounds trying to find someplace I could get a signal. And then, the mansion burned down."
"Uh-" Boots cuts off before the ‘huh.' "Wait, what?"
"I don't even know," Bruno says, crawling up the bed to sit next to Boots at its head. "One minute, I was thrilled to finally have found the house again because it meant I could finally get out of there. The next it was a fiery ball of fire."
"I'm glad you're okay," Boots says, giving in to the urge to lean into Bruno, resting his head on Bruno's shoulder.
"Thanks," Bruno says, wrapping an arm around Boots. Boots sinks further into Bruno, thrown off balance by Bruno's movement. "Are you drunk?" Bruno asks, brow furrowing.
"Umm," Boots says, head still wobbling even though Bruno's now holding him steady.
"You are, aren't you?" Bruno says, chuckling.
"I thought you weren't coming back," Boots says indignantly, trying to hold a serious expression in the face of Bruno's laughter. It doesn't work. A second later, Boots is laughing too, giggling uncontrollably the way only a drunk person can.
He laughs until he's doubled over with it, gasping for breath, because only his life can be this ridiculous, but Bruno is back with him, where he belongs. Bruno is rubbing a hand soothingly on his back. It's calming and Boots concentrates on getting his breath back. "Man, you really are drunk," Bruno says, amazed.
"It's all your fault," Boots slurs.
Bruno snorts at that. "I'm blaming you that we both stormed out without our million dollar checks."
"You what?" Boots asks, throwing his hands in up in disbelief. It backfires and he overbalances, so he's lying diagonally across the bed, sprawled across Bruno's legs.
"You threw your check at me. And then stormed out. I didn't even stop to think about it. I just followed you," Bruno says. Then, as an afterthought, "Damn, I didn't even get to hold the million dollar check, just left it under the chair. Probably my only chance to hold a million dollar check made out to me and I blew it. For you," Bruno finishes looking down at Boots fondly.
"Mmm," Boots says. Lying down is nice. Now, if only the room would stop spinning Boots would be all set to go to sleep.
"Come on," Bruno says softly, extracting himself from under Boots to stand up. "I'm gonna go get you some water," Bruno explains. "You're going to blame me tomorrow when you have to fly home hungover."
The next thing Boots knows, Bruno is back with a glass of water. "Hey, here," Bruno says quietly, pulling Boots so that he's sitting up. "Have some water."
"Mmm. . . thanks," Boots mumbles taking a few big gulps before passing the glass back to Bruno.
Bruno puts the glass down on the bedside table and slides into bed, settling next to Boots. Boots immediately wraps his arms around Bruno, worming his way back down into the pillows, burying his face in Bruno's shoulder. "Love you," he mumbles, eyes closed, halfway to passed out already.
"Love you too," Bruno says, so soft it's mostly a gust of air into Boots hair.