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Little Old Man is an upcoming 2022 coming-of-age drama. It tells the small but universally relatable story of self-considered nobody Julian Navarro, a 20-year-old former actor trapped in a state of arrested development and suffering from undiagnosed anxiety and self-induced isolation. He dropped out of college over a year ago and spends the majority of his time crafting narratives on the internet with the aspiration of becoming a future novelist, though is beginning to realize that finding legitimate work in the field is more problematic than he had expected. Julian shares a close relationship with his parents, who are trying their best to support their son in whatever he wants to do with his life, but can't quite fight a gnawing uncertainty regarding his chances at a promising future.


Julian Navarro is a 20-year-old college dropout living at home with his two loving, if dangerously enabling, parents, Brian and Debbie. Throughout the entirety of his largely isolated existence, Julian has lived in the comfortable, quiet suburban neighborhood of Valley Run Drive in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Surrounded by a plethora of nearby homes yet strangely devoid of much noise or other neighbors of his own age, it’s the type of street where Julian can simply wander outside at 2 in the morning and feel completely safe while going for a walk around the expansive block. However, in spite of the remarkable simplicity and peaceful bliss of his sedentary lifestyle, something is beginning to eat away at Julian’s emotional stability. No longer hampered by the burden of school and in desperate search of a career in writing, he struggles constantly with feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, minimal human contact and the knowledge that his parents are starting to worry about his prospects for the future. Having relatively few companions to turn to, Julian finds comfort in the friendship he shares with his near-lifelong best friend, Nick Emerson, a brilliantly adept artist turning his back on his talent in favor of alcohol, weed and cigarettes. Nick believes he has very little chances at success in life, but never ceases to encourage Julian to follow through on his own. Following a meager yet powerfully significant weekend in Margate with Nick and a handful of their colorful acquaintances, Julian develops a much more optimistic outlook as he comes to realize that he isn’t the only person grappling with post-adolescent insecurities.


Inside of an upstairs bathroom, a cloud of steam obscures a mirror while hot and cold running water pours out of a faucet into a basin to fill up the sink beneath. A hand quickly wipes away a bead of the steam, revealing the unenthusiastic bearded face of 20-year-old Julian Navarro. Standing shirtless at the bathroom sink atop a towel placed neatly against a mat, prepared with a razor and can of shaving cream resting nearby, Julian takes a glance at his reflection and purses his lips disgustedly. He clutches a roll of fat within his hairy chest before moving his hand downward to wrap his fingers tightly around another layer of fat situated in his abdomen, pulling harshly. Without wasting any more time, Julian picks up the can of shaving cream beside him and gives it a little shake, popping off the cap and turning off the faucet. He takes a deep breath and submerges his face below the surface of the sink, allowing the warm water to soak his facial hair. Emerging slowly from the water, Julian squirts an abundance of shaving cream onto his hands and massages it thoroughly into his face and neck. He stands still for a moment and removes the cap from his razor, which he proceeds to dip in the water. Without further ado, Julian carefully drags the sharp razor blade upward against his neck, dipping the blade in the sink periodically following each stroke to permit the tiny particles of hair to swim around in repulsive harmony. He repeats the arduous process for the entirety of his hair-capped visage until nary a drop is discernible. While shaving the hair off the bottom of his cheek, Julian receives a concentration-obliterating knock on the outside of the door from his mother, Debbie, startling him. “Shit!” he hisses to himself after unhappily pulling the razor blade down from his face. Through the door, Debbie calls her son’s name in her sweet, low-pitched voice, “Jul?” Irritated by the horrifically timed intrusion, Julian answers back with a loud “Yeah?” as he dips his razor in the sink and frantically shakes it to release all the tiny particles of hair wedged between the blades into the pool of water. “What are you doing in there, sweetie?" Debbie inquires. Julian hesitates, unsure of what to say and frustrated that he’s being forced to explain himself when all he wants to do is get done with this time-consuming task and begin his day. Finally, he settles on a short and sweet summary of what the intention is: “I’m- I’m getting ready to shower.” Debbie asks Julian if he’s going to shower, as if to make sure that she heard him correctly, but he refuses to repeat himself. “Okay, well, are you gonna be in there a while? I want to take a shower too.” Julian gives a sigh of frustration and rolls his eyes before squeezing out an obligatory response: “Uh... I just started shaving, so...” he trails away, uninterested in giving his mother anything more substantial or satisfying. “You’re shaving? Do you know how long you’re gonna be?” “No. Not- Probably not long,” Julian offers as a halfhearted attempt at reassurance. “I’ll- I’ll let you know as soon as I’m done,” he promises, saying whatever he can think of to get this verbal ordeal over with. Julian stands still as he impatiently waits for his mother’s latest response, but is pleasantly surprised to hear her turn around and walk back down the stairs, allowing him to peacefully resume his shave. Once he's finished, skin nice and smooth, Julian wipes away meager remainders of white cream lingering on his upper cheeks and earlobes. He picks up the towel he was previously standing on, damp from the water dripping off his body, and uses it to wipe his face. Julian rinses out his razor then dries it with the towel before placing it back into its drawer directly beneath the sink, along with the bottle of shaving cream. Tossing his towel onto the toilet adjacent to the shower, Julian takes a look at his clean-shaven face in the mirror to appreciate the ephemeral amount of time he's given to be free from the burden of masculinity, although it's still not enough to warrant a smile. He turns the tap back on and opens the drain to allow the water to escape, splashing water onto the countless particles of hair that are stuck to the edges of the sink. After examining the sink to ensure that it's clean enough to resist clogging, Julian turns off the faucet and strips off his pants, dropping them onto a laundry hamper in the corner. He ultimately moves into the bath to take a soothing, invigorating shower.

Thereafter Julian walks downstairs blithely into the kitchen with his hair-free, pleasurably smooth visage, freshly washed and neatly brushed head of hair, and wearing his favorite summertime attire: a multicolored-striped T-shirt and a pair of white cargo shorts. Standing in front of the oven preparing a delectable, nutritious breakfast is Julian’s adoring, exceptionally striking mother, Debbie. She’s scrambling eggs, frying several rashers of bacon, and toasting a few slices of whole grain and sourdough bread when Julian enters from behind, causing her to turn around in equal parts surprise and delight. “Hi! Good morning, sweetie!” Debbie exclaims with a cheerful grin. “Or good afternoon, I guess I should say.” Debbie squeezes her son tightly in her arms and wraps her fingers around his clean-shaven face, admiring his decent and clearly visible features. “Look at you, you’re all shaved. You look so good!” insists a characteristically exuberant Debbie. “Thanks,” says a decidedly more aloof Julian. As Debbie returns to her cooking to make the final preparations, Julian reaches inside a cabinet under the sink and pulls out two placemats, which he proceeds to spread onto the dining table accompanied by one napkin each. Debbie steps aside to allow Julian to open up the cutlery drawer, in which he extracts one cutting knife and two forks to place on top of the napkins. Julian then pours himself a cup of steaming hot black coffee and goes to sit down at the dining table, staring out the window in front of him while sipping his morning beverage with contentment. “You have a good shower?” asks Debbie as she butters the popped-up toast. With an emphatic nod, Julian answers, “Mm-hmm. Yeah, I didn’t wanna get out.” Debbie gives a slight chuckle and loyally agrees, “I hear ya, kid.” She serves Julian his breakfast first before fetching herself a platter of the eggs, bacon and toast, then joining him at the table. "Thank you," says Julian with an appreciative smile. "You're welcome. Enjoy it," insists Debbie as she rams her fork into a steaming chunk of scrambled egg and slides it eagerly between her lips, moaning with pleasure at her own creation. Julian scarfs down his food with relish, but when asked if his mother perfected the meal to a science, he jokingly comments that it's merely adequate. Debbie vocalizes her desire to open up a pancake restaurant in town and offers Julian a position as her waiter, mentioning that he would have to awake before midday. Julian smiles and nods his head in concurrence with his mother's optimistic idea. While the pair sits in tranquil bliss eating their food, Debbie suddenly drowns out the mood with a gut-churning reminder: "You excited to see your cousins on Saturday?" Julian falls silent for a moment and stops eating, his hunger and physical ecstasy supplanted by a feeling of agonizing dread rushing in all at once. "Well..." he responds, not having the slightest clue what else to say. His mind is blank. "I was thinking after breakfast, we could take a ride to Boscov's, maybe get you some nice clothes to wear," Debbie adds. "Sound like a plan?" she asks, crunching on the tip of a long, crispy slice of bacon. "I don't know," Julian responds. "Why can't I just wear what I have?" "Uh, because a lot of what you have is old and creased. I mean, I love your clothes, don't get me wrong," Debbie assures him as she takes another mouthful of egg, "but... you know, your aunt's coming over. All of her kids. It's good to look nice. I mean, it's not like we see them that often." Julian makes a strained effort to return to his breakfast, even as the sickening thought of the approaching event looms over him like an ominous dark cloud. When Debbie stands up and opens the refrigerator door to grab a water bottle, the refrigerator suddenly begins to emit a buzzing that irritates Julian intensely. "Can we call someone to come over and fix that?" he asks. Debbie takes a swig of water and answers back, "Mm, I know. It's pretty annoying, isn't it? It stays nice and quiet for like, what, 2 or 3 weeks and then it starts up again." However, she then remarks, "But, you know, I don't want them coming over here just for that. They're liable to move things around in there and next thing you know, the whole refrigerator will break down. I would just leave it." Julian remains in his seat and takes a bite out of a piece of toast, looking deeply bothered by the unrelenting buzzing in his ears. While chewing on a strip of bacon, Debbie utters, "Pss," and nods toward the front step leading into the kitchen. Julian turns his head around to find his mackerel tabby cat, Sandy, lazily strolling into the kitchen up to his chair, where he proceeds to rub his head affectionately against Julian's bare leg. "Hey, baby boy," responds Julian as he reaches down and lovingly strokes Sandy's furry, endearingly corpulent body. "Oh my God!" exclaims Debbie. "He loves you, you know that? I do almost everything for him. I get his bed nice and fluffy every morning, I clean his shit. And you're the one he goes to. Always." Julian snickers and tells his mom Sandy loves all 3 of them equally, but has different ways of showing it, to which she states, "Yeah, but... I don't know. It seems like you're his favorite. The way he comes up to you and smashes his big body into your leg." Debbie turns to Sandy and mentions, "I'm- I'm not gonna lie. I'm a little offended, Mr. Sandy, but I'll let you go." Julian groans and deduces that Sandy must be hungry. He gets up reluctantly and takes a container of cat food from the cupboard, motivating Sandy to run up to his brother excitedly. Julian tears open a container of tuna and scoops a few teaspoons into the cat bowl. He removes a wrapper from a bowl containing dry food and sprinkles some of it into the wet tuna before transporting the bowl onto the floor where Sandy begins chowing down at breakneck speed. "Isn't that adorable how he likes to eat when we're eating?" asks Debbie. "Yeah," Julian agrees as he reclaims his seat. "But I'm so tired. I can't be doing this all the time." Debbie flashes him a disapproving smirk followed by a playfully disgusted "Julian!" He smiles back at her.

Julian walks down the steps into his basement and opens a pair of double doors leading into a darkened closet. He pulls a chain to turn on an electric light and discovers a stack of boxes on the floor, sitting beside his cat's old litter box, discarded board games, a framed photograph of his older cousins in their youth, a family portrait of his aunt and uncle with their three sons in front, and numerous books from childhood. Reaching inside one of the cardboard boxes, Julian pulls out a series of unusual letters from his younger days in Hebrew school and skims them. One letter gives a report of his social skills, describing him as having difficulty socializing with fellow classmates and keeping quiet throughout most of the day. Julian glances through another letter that begins with more flattering words about him, noting his kindhearted, empathetic nature: One evening in class during lunchtime, a friend of Julian's began to burst out crying because his parents forgot to pack him a lunch, and immediately as a response, Julian offered to give him half of his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He puts the letters back in the box then opens another one to find a photo album, which he proceeds to extract. Digging into the album, Julian comes across pictures of his parents' wedding, himself as a newborn baby in the hospital, and family get-togethers. As he turns a page, a small photograph unexpectedly slips out of the book and drops to the floor. Julian lays the album in its box, bends down to pick up the photo and gazes at it intently. Initially, his expression is one of fondness and longing, until slowly it devolves into a bitter, pensive frown. He shakes his head slightly in disrelish and roughly tosses the mysterious photo back into the box before shutting the lid. With an aggressive tug at the pull switch, Julian turns off the light and walks briskly out of the closet, closing the double doors in front of him.

Walking upstairs, Julian goes into his bedroom and sits down at his writing desk. On the wall behind his bed is a white poster displaying a series of drawings that depict an assortment of horror villains. Julian turns on the computer and opens a document on Microsoft Word whose heading reads "The Boy Beneath the Blanket". Beneath the title exists a manuscript that chronicles the life of a 14-year-old boy named Anthony Tremblay, who has spent the last 9 months being held captive in his bedroom by his domineering and schizophrenic parents following the outbreak of a deadly pandemic. Clicking beside the final sentence in preparation to begin another, Julian finds himself hamstrung by his customary bout of writer's block. He gently places his fingers on the keyboard and commences typing a new sentence, only to swiftly delete it in the belief it's not good enough. Julian leans back in his chair and takes a deep breath, scratching the back of his head in frustration. He stares blankly at the black and white page in front of him, straining to think of the words that'll continue Anthony's story appropriately. After a brief pause, Julian swallows and puts his hands back on the keyboard and produces a full follow-up sentence without stopping. Once completed, he leans forward with one hand over his mouth and carefully scrutinizes his words. He erases a portion of the sentence and begins wringing his hands between his legs. Julian turns his head to the right to stare at his wardrobe, then around toward the door to witness Sandy ambling inside. Julian rolls his eyes and exhales as Sandy walks toward him and rubs his head against Julian's bare leg twice. Julian reaches for Sandy's lower back and gives it a gratifying scratch, stimulating him to lift his bum in the air. As Sandy makes his way under the computer desk to rub up against the wires and plugs, Julian refocuses his attention on the screen and makes a determined effort to resume writing, but few words of magic come to mind. He rests an elbow on his leg and scratches at his temple, closing both of his eyes momentarily. Julian tugs the skin in the center of his neck softly and lets out a sigh of discouragement. Ultimately, he reluctantly exits out of the document and stands up to walk away from the computer, pausing in the middle of the room to decompress. Sandy rushes after his brother to prevent him from leaving. Julian looks down at him with a slight smile and rubs his eyelid with fatigue.

Julian sits in the passenger seat of his mother's Mercedes-Benz as she drives the two of them to the clothing store. As they're driving along a narrow road, Julian stares out his window longingly at his former high school, Cherry Hill West. He notices that there are several construction workers renovating the main entrance while a silver gate surrounds the parking lot. "So, what were you working on upstairs?" asks Debbie as she grips the steering wheel and directs her eyes toward the road ahead. "You doing your writing?" Julian nods his head and succinctly confirms, "Yeah." Debbie glances at him in expectation for further detail, but he remains tight-lipped. "Yeah? Is that your novel you're working on?" "Mm-hmm," answers Julian as he smacks his lips and nods once more. "Yep." When Debbie presses him for precise details on his story and its length, Julian evades the subject. "What's it about?" she asks. Julian shrugs his shoulders and states, "It's, like... you know," then follows it up with a chuckle of indifference. "Oh, okay. I get it," says Debbie with an understanding snicker of her own. "It's private, right? You don't wanna tell me anything? It's this big, top-secret, greatest-story-ever-told kind of thing, and you don't wanna spoil any of it. Is that the dilemma going on here?" "Yep, you pretty much got it figured out," retorts Julian, smiling at his mother's customary silliness. "Well, how long is it?" Debbie asks. "Uh... I don't know. I mean, it's a novel, so it's gonna be pretty long, I guess," Julian answers. Debbie can clearly discern that Julian has minimal interest in divulging his writing process at the moment, however the curiosity proves so overwhelming that she's unable to contain herself from releasing the latest question: "Well, are you close to being finished?" "Mmm, I just started working on it a few weeks ago," Julian says. "It's probably gonna take a little while." Debbie takes that in and stays silent for a moment before blurting, "Come on, Julian! Finish the book and get it published! That way you can become rich and buy me and Daddy a home in California. You know, like one of those houses we saw on Mega Mansions the other day. Ah, we could have a gigantic pool right in our backyard, hire a team of chefs so I'd never have to cook again. Wouldn't that be great?" Julian gives Debbie a nonchalant shrug and promises, "That's the plan. But I think I'd miss your cooking." A smile breaks out on Debbie's face, and she turns her head toward Julian. She was subconsciously waiting to hear that answer. "Hey, maybe after this summer, we'll look into getting you back into driving," Debbie mentions. "How does that sound?" Julian suddenly turns pale and pauses, at a loss for words. He opens his mouth slightly, then decides to close it. "It's so important to drive," insists Debbie. "And you were doing really well before. You were making your turns beautifully. I didn't even have to tell you what to do a lot of the time. You were very calm and careful on the road. Think in all the times we went driving, you just ran into one garbage can, which is not a big deal. But you are gonna have to take that permit test again. Sorry to say." Julian feels himself becoming nauseated by the thought of returning to the DMV. He rubs his forehead and says, "It took me 4 times to pass it the first time." "I know," Debbie says. "But I'm sure you'll do great. I mean, it's the same exact questions as before. You only need to get, what is it, like 30 of them right? That shouldn't be too difficult. I'll look for the book or you could go online and look up the questions. It'll give you all the answers. You just have to study them a little bit. Then whenever you're ready, I'll take you over." Julian remains silent, unable to think of a single sentence that would change his mother's mind. "But we need to get serious about it this time!" Debbie sternly states. "Me and Daddy were a little too lax with you before. This time, as soon as you get your permit renewed, we're gonna go out driving every single day! I mean it! We'll pick up where we left off. I'll have you take my car around the neighborhood and then we'll work your way onto the more busy streets, get you comfortable with being in traffic and learning how to -" "I don't think the DMV is the safest place in the world to be right now," Julian interjects. "I mean, standing in line with thousands of people for three hours and everyone's bunched together shoulder to shoulder. It's like... I- I don't know. Fucking death trap!" Debbie takes a second to consider Julian's legitimate concern and nods her head in acknowledgement. Julian turns on the radio and surfs through a selection of songs before settling on The Weeknd's "Save Your Tears", which Debbie begins to dance and sing along to in her seat. While initially embarrassed by his mom's exuberance and utter lack of shame, Julian quickly gives in to the upbeat ambience of the music, grinning cheerfully while swaying a little from side to side.

Julian and Debbie arrive at the clothing store, and Debbie parks her car in the parking lot. As Julian opens his door, Debbie immediately reminds him, "Don't forget your mask." With a roll of his eyes, Julian snatches his medical mask from the map pocket and begrudgingly puts it on his face before exiting the vehicle. Debbie takes a mask out of her purse and follows suit. They wander through the store in search of some stylish, respectable clothing for Julian in preparation for the upcoming get-together. Debbie eagerly flips through a selection of shirts while Julian trails behind, looking extremely bored as though he'd rather be anywhere else in the world. "Ooh, this is nice," says Debbie as she releases a purple shirt with a button-down collar from its hanger. "What do you think of this one? You wanna try it on?" she asks. Julian gives an indifferent shrug and grabs the shirt from his mother, staring at it from top to bottom. "Yeah, it's- it's nice," he concurs halfheartedly. "Okay, we'll look around a little more for you," says Debbie, "and then maybe I'll pick out something nice for me to wear." She flashes him a zealous smile and slightly raises her shoulder, knowing that their little trip to the store was about more than merely finding clothes for Julian. Turning his head around to gain a more comprehensive view of the clothing department, Julian witnesses an abundance of customers strolling up and down the aisles and entering through the entryway, most of whom are wearing a mask while a decidedly smaller amount go barefaced. Debbie continues to select a few more shirts along with different pairs of shorts and slacks, all while Julian drags his feet and throws his head back against his neck, letting out a sigh of disgust and tiredness. He enters the changing room holding a couple shirts while the rest of his items are managed by his mother, who's directly behind him. "Okay, here you go," she says as she hands Julian the several shirts and trousers. Debbie takes off her mask. "What do you think you're gonna try on first?" Debbie asks excitedly. "Me personally, I think that that purple shirt would look gorgeous with those cargo shorts! The purple and the beige reflecting off each other, it would look so cool." Debbie is so full of excitement and unnatural anticipation it's almost as if whatever clothes Julian picks out will serve as a validation of her own "refined" tastes. Julian takes off his mask and places it on the clothes holder, in company with the assortment of clothes. "Uh, I don't know yet," says Julian, unable to return his mom's enthusiasm. "Okay, well, whichever you decide, just make sure you let me know after you try it on. I wanna see how it looks." Once Debbie turns around and walks off, Julian closes and locks the door and takes off his shirt. He surveys his reflection in the full-length mirror and cringes in disgust before putting on the purple shirt with the button-down collar, pushing only the lower button through its buttonhole while leaving the top couple undone. To test its comfortability, Julian twists to his left and right side. The shirt is of medium size and as a result, Julian's excess of chest fat is marginally accentuated. He unzips and pulls down his shorts in exchange for the beige cargos, squeezing himself into the tight pair of shorts and engaging in a slight struggle to slide the button through the hole in its waistband. After taking a deep breath, Julian calls out to his mom, "Okay," and unlocks the door to his room. Debbie scurries to Julian and gazes in awe at his appearance. "Oh my God!" exclaims Debbie, unsure of what words would do justice to such a remarkable sight. "That... Wow! Jul, you look really great in that!" Julian gives a small close-mouthed smile in appreciation, but doesn't say anything with regard to how he feels. "How do they feel?" Debbie asks. "Are they comfortable?" Julian nods halfheartedly in feigned assent and responds, "Uh-huh." "God, you just look amazing in clothes!" says Debbie. "And you're so skinny." His labored smile suddenly falters and then fades as he rolls his eyes. "Now, you're sure they feel good on you, right?" asks Debbie, uncertain that Julian was being candid in his initial answer. "They're not too tight around the arms or anything?" Julian shakes his head. "No, they feel fine. I like the way they look." "Okay, awesome," says Debbie with a pleased smile. "They do look really nice, I have to say." Her observant eye catches sight of something amiss and she grabs the hem of his shirt and pulls it down slightly. "Okay, well, I'm gonna go look around the store a little bit," Debbie says, "see if I see anything I like. Um, you wanna try on some more while I'm gone?" Julian nods. "I guess." "Okay, I'll be right out here if you need me." Debbie turns around and starts to walk off, only to turn back to deliver one last request: "And don't forget, I wanna see how those other clothes look on you too, okay?" Debbie turns around and makes her way to the women's section. Julian gives a weary sigh and closes the door to his cubicle.

Later in the evening, Brian Navarro enters the foyer of his home carrying a briefcase and wearing a white long sleeve button-down shirt, a black tie and a pair of black plaid dress pants. "Honey?" he calls out while sliding out of his brown leather dress shoes, which he proceeds to kick into the nearby closet. "Yeah, hi, babe," responds Debbie from inside the kitchen. As Brian starts to loosen his collar and tie, he sarcastically remarks, "I'm almost home." Debbie darts into the foyer, grinning cheerfully. "Hey, baby!" greets Debbie, who wraps her arms around Brian and kisses him passionately on the lips. "How was your day?" she asks. "Uh, not bad. It was pretty good," Brian replies with a modest unconcern and a hint of prostration. He walks over to the living room to put his briefcase down on the floor, and Debbie shouts to the upstairs, "Jul, Daddy's home." "Okay," Julian answers from within his bedroom. He is sitting in front of his computer writing another paragraph for his novel. Looking over the final sentence he's typed to ensure that he feels contented, Julian minimizes his manuscript and walks out of his bedroom.

Brian opens the refrigerator and pulls out a pitcher of sweetened iced tea, which he places atop the lazy Susan. Debbie withdraws a tray of lamb chops from the oven. Brian sits down at the head of the dining table and pours himself a glass of iced tea. Sandy trudges into the kitchen to greet his father. "Sandy!" Brian exclaims. "Hello, my baby! Hi, Sandy. Come here. Get over here, you." He reaches down and strokes Sandy along his back and scratches him under the chin. Sandy purrs loudly, rubbing against Brian's legs. Debbie transfers two lamb chops to a plate before scooping quinoa and some broccoli onto the side. She sets the plate of food down on Julian's placemat. "And as usual, Julian gets served first," Brian observes with playful resentment. "Oh, you're darn right he does! He's the king," Debbie rejoins lightheartedly, walking back to the countertop to prepare Brian's dinner. "I've explained this to you already. This should not come as a surprise at this point." Brian chuckles with amused disbelief. "Nope, no surprise at all," he retorts, shaking his head. "Somehow my unemployed, non-taxpaying son manages to outrank me at every turn." "Oh, you be nice, you hear me?" Debbie demands. "Our son worked very hard today, I'll have you know." "Mm, yeah," returns an unconvinced Brian as he takes a sip of his iced tea. Julian walks into the kitchen toward his father. "What the hell do you want?" teases Brian, whose stern face is suddenly transformed by a loving smile. With a chuckle, Julian enfolds Brian in his arms and plants a kiss on the top of his head. "Aww, you two are so cute together!" Debbie remarks as she provides Brian with his dinner. While father and son remain locked in their embrace, Brian softly asks, "How was your day? Accomplish anything?", to which Julian nonchalantly replies, "It was fine. We had a good day." "Yeah, what did you do?" Brian asks in an effort to take, or at least affect, an interest in whatever's going on with his son. With a note of discomfiture in his voice, Julian answers, "Uh, I worked some more on my writing." He pulls out a chair and sits down beside his father. "Really?" says Brian, nodding his head in reverence. "Good for you." Debbie delivers slices of multigrain baguette bread wrapped in tinfoil to the table. "Did you tell Daddy we went clothes shopping?" she asks Julian, walking back to the countertop to serve herself a small, lean cut of lamb. "Oh, yeah, we went clothes shopping," says Julian matter-of-factly. He picks up his knife and fork and starts slivering the lamb chops. "Did you, now?" asks Brian. "You get anything good?" Julian nods and answers, "Yeah." Debbie turns her head to face the back of Brian's. "Ah, honey, you gotta take a look after dinner! I got Julian some really beautiful clothes to wear on Saturday, and I bought myself a cute little top. You know how hard it is for me to find something I like. Most of the stuff they sell in clothing stores look like shit." Brian thinks to himself audibly, "Saturday? Ugh! That's right, your sister's coming over." He sips his iced tea. "Yeah, I got him a couple of button-downs, a pair of slacks. He looked great in all of it, and it didn't even wind up costing that much. I'll tell you, we lucked out with that store!" says Debbie. "Oh, really? How much did everything cost altogether?" Brian interrogates. "Uh, I don't know," Debbie answers, shaking her head with indifference. "It came out to a small... tiny little nothing price." "Huh. 'A small, tiny little...' you know, Deb, I'm sorry. That was my fault. I should've been more specific. When I asked how much, I was aiming for something a little more numerical. You know, maybe with a dollar sign attached," Brian rejoins with withering irony. While eating a sliver of lamb, Julian bursts out laughing. Debbie takes her seat at the opposite side of the table. "Oh, alright, Mr. Wise Guy. Calm your tits," she utters with a mix of amusement and offense. Brian outstretches his arms. "I'm still waiting on an answer." "Okay, give me a second to think. Jesus!" says Debbie. "Um, Julian's shirts came out to, like, twelve dollars each. That's all. Maybe $12.99." She consumes a forkful of quinoa. "This is really good, Mom," says Julian. "Aw, thank you, baby," says Debbie before turning her attention back to Brian. "Uh, what is it, I bought him a couple pairs of slacks, some cargo shorts. They were a little more pricy. Around twenty dollars. But they fit him perfectly, and he needed some new clothes anyway. Want him to look nice for the occasion." "Mm, okay," relents Brian as he eats his lamb chop. "How was work today?" asks Julian. "Uh, productive, babe. Thank you for asking," says Brian. He turns to face Debbie. "Did you get a receipt, I hope?" Debbie rolls her eyes and nods. "It's in my purse, don't worry," she confirms. Brian examines the kitchen in search of something not visible. "Hang on a sec," he whispers, and stands up before walking down into the den. Brian snatches the remote control from a table and turns on the TV, surfing through a series of channels on the guide. "Bri, what are you doing?" asks Debbie with a cheeky smile. While keeping his attention focused on the television screen in front of him, Brian lackadaisically responds, "Just, uh... just give me- give me one minute. I'll be right there." "Why does he always feel the need to put something on during dinner?" asks Julian. "Honey, don't question why your father does a lot of things," says Debbie. Julian chuckles. "It just doesn't make sense. It's not like he pays attention while he's eating." "I know," says Debbie, who shrugs her shoulders. "Hey... I don't know. Just let him do his thing." After settling on an old martial arts movie, Brian returns to the kitchen and sits back down, devouring his dinner. "So, how was, uh- how was Joey today?" Debbie asks Brian. Eating a forkful of quinoa, Brian nods and responds, "He's doing better. Yeah. We're getting there. He opened up a lot today. In fact, I think we might've reached something of a breakthrough." "Really?" asks Debbie with a pleased smile. "I think so," says Brian. "We spent most of the day talking about his father. You know, that's traumatizing for a 12-year-old, to watch their dad just pick up his things and walk out. He only gets to see him every other weekend. Then when they do spend a couple days together, the father's usually busy working or screaming at his ex-wife over the phone about why he hasn't paid his alimony." Debbie looks down at the table and shakes her head sympathetically. "Mm, that's horrible," she states. "Yeah, it's a mess," affirms Brian. "His grades took a brutal plunge too over the past six months." Brian takes a sip of the iced tea. "Beginning of the semester, he came home with A's and B's all over his report card. Just got it in the mail last week. Kid's averaging a C- at best." "Oh, for God's sake!" Debbie exclaims. "Are you serious?" Brian nods his head emphatically and smacks his lips.

Brian stands at the sink washing dishes while Debbie crouches down to put the saucepan and cast-iron skillet back into their cupboard beside the oven. Julian remains in his seat at the dinner table looking absentmindedly at his cellphone. When Brian turns on the garbage disposal, all the ceiling lights in the kitchen flicker simultaneously. "What the hell is that about?" asks a startled Brian. "It happens every time you turn on the dishwasher," replies Julian. "Dishwasher? How about the garbage disposal?" Brian remarks, bearing an impudent smirk. "Right. That's what I meant," says Julian. Brian snickers mockingly. "Shows how much you know about appliances." "Bri, leave him be," says Debbie as she scrubs the top of the stove. Julian chuckles and shrugs his shoulders. "They all look the same to me," he argues. "Huh," Brian snorts, "I would imagine so. They all have something in common: you never go anywhere near them." Julian roars with laughter at his father's witticism and humbly admits, "Yep, that's accurate." "You suck up all the food and then let me and Mom handle the dirty work," Brian wisecracks while washing the cutting board under the faucet. "Hey, excuse you, I clean up after myself. Thank you very much," declares Julian, putting his phone down and standing up to situate his empty plate on the countertop and toss his placemat into the cupboard beside the sink. "Give the lad a break. He's exhausted," Debbie comments jokingly. "He had a rough day. He spent hours writing his heart out, he had to feed his brother." "Oh, yeah, that sounds excruciating. All that in one day? Sheesh!" Brian sarcastically remarks. "I'd love to see a copy of that W-2 form." "I put away my mat and my plate. Now, I would also put my fork and knife in the dishwasher but you're standing in front of it, so I can't," Julian protests. "That's right. You tell him, Jul," says Debbie. Brian chuckles. "You want a medal for all that hard work?" he asks. "Nah, in the next couple years I'll just use your diaper pin," Julian ripostes. Brian lets out a deferential laugh and threatens to get back at him later for that barb. Julian wraps his arms around his father's stomach, the right side of his face resting comfortably against Brian's back, and in return Brian puts his hand on his forearm and strokes it.

In the early afternoon of Saturday, Julian is pacing up and down throughout the upstairs hallway and his parents' bedroom, breathing heavily in and out while wringing his hands in agitation. He brushes a wisp of hair away from his face and repeatedly whispers to himself breathlessly, "It's okay. It's okay, it's okay, it's okay, it's okay." He takes a deep breath and swallows. Hyperventilating. "It's okay. It's gonna be fine, it's gonna be... You're gonna be fine," he pants. "Just..." He is so overwhelmed with panic as to be incapable of finding the proper words to complete his thought. Julian walks up to the window beside his parents' bed and stares out at the driveway directly below, the only two cars currently therein being Debbie's Mercedes-Benz CLK and Brian's Honda Accord. He turns around and walks across the room toward the television set in the corner before sitting down on the edge of the bed, taking a moment to try to compose himself. Julian abruptly rises to his feet and makes a beeline for the bathroom, in which he gazes at his distressed expression in the mirror. He turns on the sink and splashes some lukewarm water onto his face. "Just be normal," he whispers urgently to his reflection. "Just be normal, be normal. Be fucking normal!" He falls silent and exhales deeply.

Downstairs, the doorbell rings loudly and Debbie eagerly answers it to find her sister, Karen, along with Karen's boyfriend, Jim, waiting on the porch. "Hey, sis!" Karen cries out, bearing an ebullient smile and holding a porcelain cat figurine. "Karen!" Debbie enthusiastically responds, returning her grin as she clasps her sister in her arms. Brian stands a short distance behind his wife, flashing a tepid, obligatory smile at Karen and Jim. "It's so good to see you!" says Debbie. "Feels like we haven't been together in ages! What the hell?" "Ugh! Honey, I know," Karen groans. "It's been crazy. Don't even get me started." Debbie turns to Jim. "Hey, Jimmy!" She wraps her arms around his neck and holds him tightly to her bosom, offering a quick kiss on the cheek. "Hey, how's it going, Deb?" asks Jim as he returns her hug. "It's good to see you, sweetie," says Debbie kindly. Karen holds up the figurine and hands it to Debbie. "I picked this little guy up at the store. I know how much you love cats." "Aw, sweetie, thank you! You didn't have to buy me anything," insists Debbie gratefully. "I told her to bring you something useful like a bottle of champagne or a box of donuts," Jim chimes in cheekily, "but she was like 'Nah, I'm just gonna go the dirt cheap route and get her a stupid fucking cat figurine.'" Karen laughs and playfully slaps him across the chest. "Shut up," she demands. Debbie giggles at Jim's scathing remark and reassures them, "No, no. Are you kidding me? It's beautiful. I love it. Reminds me of my Sandy. Now get in here already." Karen and Jim step inside the foyer and Debbie shuts the door behind them. Karen looks at Brian and acknowledges him endearingly, "Hi, lovey." Feigning affection for his perky sister-in-law, Brian smiles and calmly replies, "Hey, Kare." Karen plants a kiss on his cheek while Brian wraps an arm over her shoulder and holds her closely in a side hug. "It took you guys a long time to get here," Debbie notes. "I was starting to get worried." "Yeah, I know. We got stuck in traffic," says Karen. "It was horrible." Brian nods his head toward Jim in greeting, and Jim returns the gesture. "Hey, Jim," says Brian. The two men shake hands. "Yo, what's going on, Brian?" Julian walks down the stairs self-consciously, wearing a blue and white-striped button-down shirt and loose cotton slacks. "Hey, there he is!" Debbie shouts joyfully. "Ah, glad you could join us, buddy," Brian says dryly. Julian puts on a strained smile and walks toward his vivacious aunt, extending his hand in greeting. Emitting a chuckle of amused awareness, Karen smacks his hand away and wraps him in her arms, giving him a playful spank while Julian sinks into her warm embrace and gifts her with a couple of pecks on the cheek. Once the two break their embrace, Karen tells Julian, "Listen, honey, Brayden's not gonna be here for a little while. He got held up at work, so." Julian nods his head in understanding. "Really?" Debbie asks. "Is everything alright with him?" "Yeah, it's just that boss of his," Karen explains. "Brayden can't stand him. See, what he does is he puts all this extra pressure on him to get more done in a very little amount of time, and if he does it, he gets a bonus at the end of the month, but if he can't do it or he needs more time to work on it, then he doesn't get it, and that just makes him really upset, so he's staying behind to work a little longer and then he should be here by no later than 7, 7:30." "Oh," says Debbie as she nods her appreciation. "So, let's see this new kitchen!" Karen insists excitedly, and links arms with her younger sister before the pair heads for the kitchen. Brian, Jim, and Julian listlessly follow behind.

Within a few hours, a horde of well-dressed, raucous relatives has gathered in the home. Many have fragmented into small groups and dispersed throughout various rooms, shooting the breeze while sipping wine and snacking on hors d'oeuvres. Debbie and Karen sit beside each other on the living room sofa, nursing a double brandy and laughing hysterically as the latter discusses an unpleasant encounter with an irate acquaintance demanding payback for a trip to Florida. "I mean, she's a fuckin' billionaire, for crying out loud! You know? Like, she could- she could literally afford to wake up on any random morning in her fancy-schmancy fuckin' little apartment and just jump on a plane and go straight to Florida. Like, any time her blackened soul desires. And yet, here she is trying to shake me down for a $3,000 trip. I mean, come on! Are you fucking kidding me?" Karen takes a gulp of liquor and Debbie shakes her head in feigned disbelief. "That is just... wow," Debbie says insincerely. "I mean, yeah, that's a little ridiculous." She gives a chuckle and takes a sip from her wineglass. "But, you know, also... at the same time, if she invited you on the trip, then maybe it's, like, the principle or whatever to -" "Oh, what the fuck? Principle?" Karen asks incredulously. "What are we, in elementary school?" She bursts into laughter while Debbie widens her eyes and purses her lips with repressed annoyance. Eileen, Karen's tall blond best friend, joyfully approaches the two sisters and says, "Hey, hey! I've been looking all over for you pretty ladies." Karen beams with pleasure and shouts, "Eileen! Yay! Get in here, bubba!" She immediately pulls Eileen down onto the couch and enwraps her warmly in her arms. "So, what have you gals been talking about?" asks Eileen. Karen groans in repugnance and responds, "Susannah Gansky." "Ugh! Susannah Gansky. She's a miserable bitch," agrees Eileen. "I can't stomach her." Karen then turns to Debbie. "See?" Debbie nods and takes notice of Eileen's fashionable outfit. "Eileen, that's a gorgeous outfit you have on," she remarks. "Aw, thank you so much, sweetie," says Eileen. "I love that bracelet. Where did you get it?" asks Debbie. Eileen smiles and extends her wrist. "Oh, this old thing? It's cute, right? Ted bought it for me for our anniversary. Isn't he a doll?" "Oh my God! That really is beautiful," says Debbie with a hint of envy. "Well, technically he bought it for me because he forgot about our anniversary," Eileen explains, "but it's hard to stay mad at him when he goes out of his way to make it up to me." Eileen and Karen share a giggle. "Well, you're really lucky," Debbie insists. "I mean, I love my honey to death, but he's..." She sucks her teeth, "he's a tough cookie. Everything has a price tag with him." "Honestly, though, Deb, you don't even need jewelry or any of that hazarai on your body. You look drop-dead stunning each and every time I see you! It's actually insulting," Eileen says earnestly. "Thank you," Debbie says. "I try. I do my workouts every day and I'm always outside working on..." she begins, but her sister interrupts her. "Um, excuse me," says a mock-offended Karen as she taps Eileen on the shoulder. "When the hell do I get paid my compliment? I'm obviously the prettier one." Debbie and Karen look at each other and frivolously stick their tongues out. "You know, speaking of stunning, Deb, your son is so handsome," says Eileen. "I love his hair and that shirt. He looks like he could be a model." "Oh, thank you," says Debbie. "He is. He is such a great kid. Very well mannered. I always tell him if it doesn't work out with the writing and the acting career, he can just transfer over to modeling. I'm sure they'd take him in a heartbeat." Following a brief pause, Karen asks her sister, "So, is he still writing?" "Oh, yeah!" Debbie answers, nodding emphatically. "Mm-hmm. He is like a writing machine. Just sits up there in his room for hours a day writing and editing his stories. Although, what his stories are actually about I have no freakin' idea 'cause he won't even let me take a look at any of them." She chuckles and gives a resigned shrug of the shoulders. "Baby, Julian needs to get a job!" Karen bluntly declares. Debbie's smile falters and her head lowers shamefully toward the sofa cushion. "Seriously though, he's almost 21 years old and he hasn't landed a gig in, what, two years? I mean, the last thing he did was back in November before the lockdown even started." Karen gives a scoff and throws a hand up. "Yeah, you're right," Debbie reluctantly admits. "He does. I know he does. I... tell him that all the time, that he needs to find something steady so he can start making money. What I'd like for him to do is get his license, but first he has to take his permit test over again, and then I can start taking him back out on the road, but it's like..." She lets out a sigh of frustration, "I don't know. It's like he has no interest. In anything." "Well, does he want to go back to college?" asks Eileen. Debbie shakes her head vigorously. "No. No, definitely not," she replies with absolute certainty. "He made that abundantly clear. He did that one semester at Rowan and he hated it with a passion. Couldn't even get a passing grade in English, and that was, like, his strongest subject." "Well, he better find something soon 'cause that's not fair of him to freeload off of you and Brian for the rest of your lives," says Karen sternly. "Like, okay, if he were my kid, I would be dragging his adorable little butt out of bed every morning at 6 a.m. and throwing him head first into the working world. And if he didn't like it," She throws both of her hands up, "tough. I'd let him know that the front door is always at his disposal." Debbie takes in her older sister's condemnatory statements. Karen takes a self-congratulatory swig of wine. Eileen turns to Debbie and sympathetically affirms, "See why I try to steer clear of her when she drinks too much?" Karen scoffs at her, and Debbie forces an embarrassed smile.

In the kitchen, Julian is sitting at the dinner table next to Jim, listening - seemingly against his will - to his aunt's boyfriend as he prattles on about his experiences as a fisherman. He speaks with a somewhat obnoxiously loud, deep, masculine voice while gorging on a platter of steamed mussels. Julian strains to maintain eye contact with Jim and nods his head occasionally out of sheer politeness, simulating interest. Devouring a mussel and pleasurably sucking out the tomato sauce from within, Jim turns the shell over and vulgarly divulges that the interior of a mussel bears a resemblance to that of a vagina, eliciting noticeable discomfiture from Julian. "I'm sure you know all about that, though, right?" says Jim with a perverted smile and self-satisfied laugh. "You got a girlfriend?" he inquires, supping up his wine delightedly. Julian hesitates before shaking his head in shameful confession. "No," he responds softly. "Seriously? Man, you've been cooped up in that room of yours for too long," Jim avers. "A guy like you should be practically swimming in tail! What are you, 20, 21? It's the perfect age. You could go to a strip club, order a beer, have a girl take you to the back room for a lap dance. And some of these girls are, you know, some of them are pretty fuckin' wild. They have their contracts and their rules and shit, but at the end of the day, they'll do just about anything you want as long as you bring enough cash with you. That's a proven fact." Julian doesn't have the slightest idea of how to respond. He opens his mouth briefly only to close it right back down. He chuckles nervously and shrugs his shoulders. "Tell you a story," Jim continues as he crams down a pig in a blanket. "The day I turned 18, my buddies took me to one of the clubs over in, uh- down in Ocean City." He whistles with gratification. "Let me tell you something, best suck-off I ever received in my entire life. More than what your aunt's been giving me these past few months." Jim chuckles and takes a mouthful of beer. Julian looks exceedingly uncomfortable, but conceals it beneath a thin smile and snicker. "Whoa, that's... a really immersive story. Felt like I was right there," he returns disingenuously. Underneath the table Julian surreptitiously rolls up the right cuff on his slacks and begins scratching his leg anxiously. Brian comes into the kitchen and rests a hand on Julian's shoulder. "What are you fine gentlemen up to?" he asks casually. "Strictly political matters, Brian," rejoins Jim. "Ah, is that right?" Brian bends over to kiss Julian on top of his head and takes a seat at the table. He snatches a deviled egg from the plate and scoffs it down. "Yep," says Jim, who nods his jocular assurance. "We're having a very illuminating discussion, me and your son, about, uh, the economy and social inequality and the government trying to bully everyone to get a shot in their arm." Brian chuckles and nods in agreement. "It's all you ever hear about when you turn on the TV nowadays," he says. "Man, you know, it's all bullshit!" Jim asserts. "Everything they talk about on CNN is such a crock. It's just nothing but overblown fuckin' government propaganda. They just want control, you know? They just want to do anything and everything in their power to gain worldwide control. I mean, it's like you said, every time you turn on your goddam TV, the first thing you hear about and have to get shoved down your throat is 'vaccines, vaccines, you gotta get your vaccinations by this arbitrary deadline, otherwise you'll have to forfeit your job and you won't get any compensation.' I mean, I'm so sick of hearing that crap. Now the fuckin' firefighters and all these other agencies have to sue the government to get the money that they spent their lives earning on a weekly basis just so they have enough to feed their families. I mean, that's not... that's just sick, I think." He pauses to take a sip of his beer. Brian just stares at him, expecting him to continue. "Oh, and then when they're not babbling on about the pandemic," Jim continues, "they're bombarding you with rehashed footage from January 6th, the insurrection. A mob of deranged Trump supporters smashed windows and infiltrated the United States Capitol and attacked a bunch of police officers. Meanwhile, only, like, a few months before, the Black Lives Matter lunatics did the same exact thing, only worse." "Yeah, that's right. I think I remember that," says Brian. "Didn't they, uh, ransack a bunch of stores in Chicago?" "Fuck yeah, they did!" Jim vehemently confirms. "And it wasn't just a matter of ransacking. These so-called protesters against police brutality committed criminal acts that were just as disgusting and damaging as what they were supposedly fighting to subvert. Setting buildings on fire, coming into people's businesses and taking anything they felt like. It ended up costing the insurance industry a billion-plus dollars, more than any other demonstration in recent American history. But that they don't talk about for more than maybe a couple weeks. I mean, I'm not prejudiced or anything..." Brian shoots Julian a furtive glance of skepticism, " know, I'm just saying enough is enough. I'm so sick and tired of all this political bullshit!" Brian dishonestly raises a hand off the table and flashes an affiliative smile at Jim. Julian stares vacantly at both grown-ups aside of him.

The family and friends assemble in the dining room and take their seats at the dinner table. Resting before each guest is a serving platter consisting of roast beef with a side of kasha and bowties. A dish of noodle kugel is made available on either side of the table, along with whipped cream and a bottle of red wine. The convivial guests talk and laugh among themselves, celebrating each other's overdue company. Just about everybody pours themselves a glass. Julian, on the other hand, is the only member of the party incapable of participating, whether in treating himself to some wine or joining in on the myriad of disparate conversations. He just sits in his chair and every so often affects a gracious smile.

A knock is suddenly made on the door. Debbie rushes out from the kitchen into the foyer to greet her 23-year-old nephew, Brayden. He stands on the veranda bearing a homemade cake. "Ooh, okay. I'm sorry. This is a little awkward," gags Debbie. "Uh, you see, there's no more room at the table and we weren't expecting any more guests, so I'm afraid I'm gonna have to take your dessert and then kindly ask you to leave." Brayden smiles his appreciation of his aunt's sense of humor and emits a chuckle. "Yeah, no, that's cool. I get it," he responds. "I'll just wander around the neighborhood and knock on random people's doors, see if anybody has some leftovers they're willing to spare." "Uh-huh," says Debbie, stepping forward merrily to give Brayden a cordial, sustained hug. "Mmm, so glad you were able to make it!" she expresses gratefully. "Yeah, sure. Me too. Thanks for having me." "Of course. Here, let me take that." Debbie takes the delectable cake from his hands and remarks, "This looks incredible, sweetie! Thank you so much. Did you make it yourself?" "Uh, yes, I did," Brayden confirms, nodding his head modestly. "Just something I picked up from my dad a long time ago. Old recipe." Debbie pauses momentarily and her grin weakens. She swallows uncomfortably and nods her head sympathetically, working up the strength to put back on her smile as she gestures him inside. "Come on in. Make yourself at home." Brayden complies and escorts Debbie to the dining room. "How was work?" she asks, turning her head around to face him. "Did you have a good day?" "Uh, yeah. It was- It was pretty good," he replies somewhat stiltedly. "Yeah? Good."

Upon her arrival in the dining room, Debbie giddily addresses the countless partygoers: "Look who finally decided to show up, everybody." Brayden's two older brothers, Adam and Scott - both of whom are sitting alongside their beautiful wives and have already begun digging into their food - begin to cheer for him while Karen stands up and entwines herself around her youngest son excitedly. "My baby!" she utters endearingly with her eyes held tightly closed and a winning smile plastered across her lips. "Hey, mom," says Brayden, holding his mother blandly. Debbie goes into the kitchen to put the cake away for later. Julian looks petrified. He remains glued to his chair, his insecure gaze directed intently at Brayden. Brian gets up and teasingly beseeches Karen, "Alright, alright, let's give the kid some room to breathe here, shall we?" Karen chuckles and lets go of Brayden. "Yeah, I'm sorry, sweetie," she says, and turns to Brian. "I just feel like I never get to see him anymore." She gives a melancholic shrug. "Not since..." Karen decides to cut herself off and gives a dismissive wave. She turns back to Brayden. "Just... thank you for being here." Brayden nods. "Yeah." Karen puts her hands on Brayden's shoulders and plants a kiss on his cheek. After she turns around and walks off, Brian and Brayden exchange snarky glances. Karen returns to the table and sits next to Julian. "Okay if I take a seat next to my beautiful nephew?" Julian looks at her and smiles. He grasps her hand and kisses it tenderly. Karen reaches for the bottle and pours a little wine into her glass. "Want me to pour you some, baby?" Julian shakes his head. "No, thank you." He points to the glass of ice water in front of him. "I'm fine." "Okay," Karen whispers, and swallows the entirety of the wine with a gulp.

"So, how are you doing, Uncle Brian?" Brayden asks thoughtfully. "Me?" Brian nods casually. "I'm, uh- I'm doing alright." He shrugs his shoulders. "Yeah, can't complain. I'm still waking up to see another day." Brayden chuckles. "Hey, well, you know, these days, that's, some would say, an accomplishment in itself." "Yeah, very true. Very true," concurs Brian laughingly. Brayden pulls his cellphone out of his pocket. "Oh, hey, would you do me a favor? Can you give me the password to the Wi-Fi?" Brian pauses. "Hmm?" Brayden waves his phone in the air. "The, uh- The password. I just need to check a couple of messages on AOL." Brian finally understands what he's referring to. "Oh." He smirks and shakes his head at his own silliness. "Right. Of course. Sorry. When you get to be my age, let me tell you, English becomes like a foreign language." He chuckles. "I think I wrote it down somewhere. It's probably crammed in my briefcase. I'll be right back." As Brian makes his way from the dining room into the foyer, Brayden wisecracks, "It's a good thing we're not in a horror film right now." Without turning around, Brian smiles and raises his index finger in accordance.

Taking a deep, decisive breath, Julian rises from his chair and hesitantly approaches Brayden, whose face is buried in his phone as he clicks the settings app to make his way to the connections. Julian taps him gently on the shoulder, and upon looking up from his Apps drawer, Brayden acknowledges him with a perfunctory nod. "Hey, what's up, dude?" The two cousins enclasp each other. "Hey, I'm good. How you doin'?" asks Julian. Brayden rubs his neck anxiously while looking down intermittently at the floor. "I'm good. It's pretty good. Yeah. You know, it's been a bit of a crazy year." "Oh really? In what way?" queries Julian satirically, his lips parting in a smile. Brayden chuckles softly and nods in understanding. "Yeah. Mmm, you know, that's funny. Now that I think about it, uh, I'm drawing a blank." Julian stands still for a moment while doing his best to maintain a frozen smile. He nods awkwardly and bites his lip, thinking hard about the next thing he's going to say. "So, how's it going with your new job? I heard you're, like, a... what, like a- like a deck builder or something?" "Mm-hmm, yeah," Brayden answers. "Basically it's a carpentry thing, and I specialize in building outdoor decks. So what I have to do is communicate a lot with customers to find out what they need and follow blueprints. Uh, I gotta get the lumber, work with a lot of tools, uh, measure and cut materials to make sure the decks are all sturdy. That's pretty crucial. And, uh, on certain days, I'll be asked to paint, which is fun." Julian raises his eyebrows and nods his head. "Mm, yeah, that sounds like a lot of fun." Brayden begins rubbing his eyelid. "Yeah, yeah. It's cool. I like it for the time being. Just until I figure something else out." "I hear your boss isn't the easiest guy to get along with," notes Julian. Brayden scoffs and rolls his eyes. "Yeah, I mean, he's... he's alright. Sometimes he can be a bit of a dick, but, you know, at the end of the week, it's like... he still gives me my paycheck so I don't- I don't really care. Normally I don't even pay attention to him. I just do my work and stay focused on whatever the task is that I'm assigned each day. Listen to music on my phone, block out the toxicity, you feel me?" Julian's eyes widen with feigned fascination, and in addition he offers a complementary nod of apprehension. "Yeah, no, that's... that's good. It's good not to focus on the negative stuff. I mean, these days you really have to try to make the best of everything, right?" "Mm, for real," concedes Brayden. Following another awkward pause, Brayden backhands Julian lightly against the shoulder. "So, uh- So, how've you been, man? What have you been up to?" Julian turns red with embarrassment and hesitates, his mouth slowly opening merely to let out the indignity of dead air. "Um... I... I, uh- not a whole lot," he stammers, producing a defensive snigger in addition to shrugging his shoulders. "I mean, you know, I was, uh- before the shit went down and all hell broke loose, I was going back and forth a lot to New York and, uh- and Philly for whatever acting gigs my manager could get me. I mean, she was my manager at the time. She quit early in the summer last year. Think she switched to photography or something. Said the business was too unstable. But, yeah, it doesn't really matter. She was nice and all, don't get me wrong, but really the only type of work she was able to book me for was background, so... yeah, that got kinda tiring after a while. And the pay wasn't exceptional. I only earned, like, $165 for 12 hours." "Hey, you gotta start somewhere," volunteers Brayden. "Yeah, that's true," agrees Julian. "Would've been nice if they paid overtime for all the nights where I had to stay behind till 3 in the morning. They were actually some cheap motherfuckers, now that I think about it." "Did they make you do that a lot?" Brayden asks. "Oh, consistently," Julian answers dryly, nodding with mirthful resentment. "Yeah." Brayden exhales empathetically. "Damn! You miss it?" Julian takes a second to contemplate his answer. "Yeah, I mean... I guess. Yeah. It was- It was fun sometimes, you know? Had its moments. I met some really cool people during a few of the jobs. And we always got free food, which was awesome. Breakfast and dinner. Although, most of the good stuff, like the really expensive superfoods, they would give to the SAG actors. We just got stuck with the cheaper, saltier products." Brayden nods with an amused smirk. "I'll bet they gave you the little elementary-school Styrofoam trays." "Oh, with the five compartments? Yeah, of course," Julian confirms. "That way, you feel like an asshole if you get back in line to take some more." "Asshole? Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on a minute!" interposes Adam, who walks up behind Julian and wraps an arm around his chest. "Who are we talking about here? I better not be the asshole in question." Julian smiles and pats Adam warmly on the arm. "Mmm, not at the moment, anyway." Adam laughs and jovially ruffles his cousin's hair. "Oh yeah? Not at the moment?" "He was referring to the people he worked for," mentions Brayden. "Oh, yeah?" asks Adam as he reaches into a serving dish for a potato chip and dunks it in onion dip. "So, uh, how's it goin' for ya in that department, Jule? You gettin' any starmaking roles or what?" He polishes off the crunchy, mouthwatering chip in a single bite. "Uh... no, not yet," says Julian. "But I, uh- I'm working on it. That's the goal." He chuckles self-consciously. "It's just been pretty slow lately 'cause of the, uh... yeah." Adam nods his head in understanding. "Gotcha." Julian hesitates. "Anyway, I'm actually trying to get something going with, um- with a writing career. I have these, uh, like, stories, or manuscripts, that I write online. I've been working on them every day for, like, maybe 3 hours. 3, 4 hours at a time. In a way, I enjoy it more. Like, I get a deeper sense of satisfaction or, I don't know, accomplishment than I did when I was acting. Because all I really got to do in New York mainly was background work, and with that, you're treated like a cog in the machine, you know? They could do with or without you." "So, basically, they need you but they don't really need you personally," deduces Brayden. "Exactly," says Julian. "You're expendable," Adam chips in. "Yeah, pretty much," says Julian. "So at least when it comes to writing, I know that I'm creating something of my own." "You'd rather work behind the scenes, create all that magic from scratch," Adam presumes. Julian nods and snaps his fingers in confirmation. "You got it. Hammer on the nail. And also, every time we did a scene, they would make us -" Brian suddenly returns to the dining room and hands Brayden the piece of paper consisting of his Wi-Fi password. "Alright, there you are, good sir." "Ah, thank you very much," says Brayden, and begins to enter the password into his phone. Julian clears his throat and continues. "So, yeah, anyway, uh, whenever we would film a scene, they would make us perform it over and over again. Like, we probably did about 60 or 70 takes each time. My bones actually started to ache after a while." "Nah, see, if that were me, I would be outta there after the first take," insists Adam. "Like, if that isn't up to your guys' standards, then, hey, that ain't my problem." "Yeah, and then they have a reason not to pay you afterward," Brayden points out. Adam turns his head toward Brian. "Uncle Brian, are you still a big Dune fan?" Brian gives a chuckle and nods his head enthusiastically. "You're gonna have to ask my wife about that one!" He turns to Julian. "Jul, did I ever tell you that when your cousin here was a little tyke, he used to come over the house and we would watch Dune together so many frigging times, I swear to God, we were able to quote the entire movie? Every scene, start to finish." Julian nods and lethargically confirms, "Yes, you have." Brian refocuses attention on Adam. "You know, it's funny, that didn't get great reviews. A lot of the critics thought it was boring and incoherent, but I'll be honest, I love it. I think it's a really good sci-fi/action/space adventure movie!" Adam nods in agreement. "It is a pretty fun movie. Very interesting concepts." "I must have seen it at least, and I'm not kidding, 100 times since it first came out in theaters. If not more," says Brian. Adam outstretches his hands toward Brian. "Do you see this? Put your right hand in the box!" Julian narrows his eyes at them in confusion. "You'll feel... an itching," quotes Brian, and closes his eyes. "There. Now the itching becomes burning." "Heat upon heat upon heat," utters Adam ominously. Brian gives a grimace of pain and grips his wrist. "The pain!" he cries out. Adam bursts out laughing. "Oh man, you should see your aunt every time she catches me watching that," Brian declares. "As soon as she hears that Toto score, my ears all of a sudden get blasted with a prolonged 'Nooooo!'" "It's definitely more of a guy's movie, I think," Adam observes. Julian stands inert, looking blankly at the two men as they carry on their frivolous conversation without his involvement. He looks down at the floor and turns his head unmindfully from side to side, rubbing the side of his neck awkwardly. "Now, Adam, that is a completely chauvinistic remark you just made," comments Brian flippantly. Adam shrugs his indifference. "Well."

Shortly thereafter everyone congregates at the dinner table, chatting amiably while they make short work of Debbie's deliciously cooked, abundant portions. Roars of laughter permeate the room. Scott's two-year-old son, Kaden, begins to make a fuss, whimpering and refusing to eat from the jar of baby food his father is so lovingly trying to spoon-feed him. Debbie is bragging to Karen about how hard Julian has been working on his latest manuscript. "Oh my God! No, I'm serious. It's unbelievable," she boasts with audible vivacity. "Julian has been working... tirelessly on this new story. I've never seen him dedicate himself to anything like this before. I mean, with this amount of commitment and time consumption. I think he started it back in June." Debbie turns to face Julian. "When was it, Jul, when you first started writing this, uh- this newest endeavor? Was it sometime in June? Early June, maybe?" Julian stares at her in discomfiture and nods his head somewhat begrudgingly. "Yeah. I think so." In a trice, copious eager faces look up and direct their attention exclusively on Julian. "Oh, what are you writing about, sweetheart?" asks Karen. With the spotlight shining so brightly in his face he could practically squint, Julian is like a deer in the headlights. He swallows hard and smacks his lips. "Well... it's still just a..." He gives an uncertain shrug. "It's still in the early stages so I haven't gotten too far in the plot just yet." "Well, then just give us a synopsis of what it's about," urges Brian. Julian looks at him and then back toward his expectant relatives. He takes a moment to gather his thoughts together before forcing out a reply. "It's, uh... It's about-" He clears his throat and raises his voice. "Well, the- I mean, the gist of the story is about this kid named Anthony. He's 14 years old, and basically for the last nine months, uh, he's been locked away in his bedroom by his own parents. There was a deadly pandemic going on outside. This disease, nobody knows what it is or how it got created, where it came from. But the entire world has been suddenly thrown into a panic, and people don't know what to do, who to turn to for help. And it affects everybody differently. Like, for some people who contract the virus, they can get mild symptoms like a cough or a really bad headache and just have to stay in bed for a few days. But for other people, they can develop much worse effects. They'll start bleeding from their eyes and losing control of their bodies: losing the ability to walk or stand up straight or knowing how to feed themselves. So, for Anthony, his parents are more paranoid than anybody else because he had a heart transplant a couple months earlier, so that makes him more vulnerable and susceptible to getting the virus and experiencing the worst effects. So, to try to keep him safe, his parents, one night while they're having dinner, slip a sleeping pill in his food and they put him to bed and, while he's sleeping, they chain him by his wrist to his bed frame so that he can never get up and walk out of the house. Um, it's a really dark, messed up look at sort of the dark side of humanity and how, even with the best of intentions, sometimes it's humans who are capable of -" "Oh shit! Mom, I gotta show you this picture we took of Kaden at the Philly's game last weekend!" Scott thoughtlessly cuts in, and extends his cellphone toward Karen. "Aww, let me see," requests Karen as she leans forward in her chair to feast her eyes on a snapshot of Kaden sitting at Lincoln Financial Field, grinning cheerfully with his arms outstretched and wearing a Philadelphia Eagles fitted cap. "Oh, my little Kaden!" she squeals. "Look at him with that little hat and that gorgeous smile!" Karen puts her hand on her chest. "Oh my God! Debbie, you need to see this! Here, show Debbie." Scott aims his phone at Debbie, who gives Kaden's photograph a once-over. "Aww, he is too adorable! Scotty, he's one face of you. Look at that. I love the way he has his arms all stretched out. So happy." "Yep, that's my little man," Scott boasts, "getting his first taste of the big leagues." "Always good to get them started early, Scotty," says Eileen. "Mark my words, by the time he turns 6, he'll have his entire career in the NFL mapped out." "Yup, every father's dream, right?" says Scott. "It's what you gotta do, man," Adam joins in sarcastically. "Show your kids what they want before they have a chance to make up their own minds." Scott chuckles. "Wait, so, where was that?" asks a friend of Scott and his wife, Allyson's. "The Linc," answers Scott. "Stephanie had an extra ticket," says Allyson. "She was supposed to take her grandfather, but something fell through." As more and more partygoers add their pennyworth regarding Kaden's endearing portrait, nobody seems to acknowledge the fact that Julian was completely cut off while in the middle of communicating the core message of his story. Without uttering a word or making any gesture of resentment, Julian merely gazes ahead, an expression of devastation, disgust, humiliation, and anguish washing over his face. On the spur of the moment, Karen cheerfully rises from her seat clutching her wineglass. "Okay, everybody. Everybody, listen up for just a second, please. Thank you." The entire boisterous assemblage goes silent for a moment and gives their attention to the unanticipated speaker. "Um, I just want to say... how fortunate I feel that all of us are here together right now. I know we don't get to see each other all that much these days, and..." she shrugs, "who knows, maybe that's a blessing in disguise for some of us." She chuckles. "But it makes me very happy and just feels so comforting to be surrounded by all of you tonight, so," Karen raises her glass in a toast, "here's to our good health and a beautiful family. Nothing else in the world comes close." As the agreeable partygoers clink their glasses on one another's, Julian, refusing to partake, furtively utters an exasperated snort and rolls his eyes.

In the wake of dinner, Julian makes a break for the bathroom and hastily locks the door after him. He stands frozen in front of the mirror breathing heavily, the persistent noises of the gathering shredding at his nerves. Julian turns on the sink to generate white noise and then sits down on the lid of the toilet seat for a minute to decompress.

In the living room, Scott, Adam, and Brayden, along with several other family members and friends, have gathered on the sofas to watch a football game on television. Julian stands perturbed in the dimly lit entryway, where he observes the good-natured geniality of the crowd. He finally works up the boldness to wend his way into the living room and seats himself tentatively on the edge of the sofa next to Brayden, the latter of whom is transfixed by the game in front of him, so much so that he neglects to acknowledge his younger cousin's presence. Julian glances over hopefully at Brayden, who, to his disappointment, instead turns toward Adam to exchange a few dissatisfied remarks about the performance of the quarterback. Scott leans forward and looks down at his smartphone screen, scrolling through a text. "So, Julian, you get your license yet?" he catechizes in a markedly acidic tone. Julian hesitates, taken aback by the abruptness of his question. "Uh... no. No, not yet. I... Well, I- so I got my permit and I've been practicing, taking a lot of practice runs around the neighborhood, like, in my mom's car. And then right when I was ready to take my road test, um, everything shut down, so. Still feels a little weird being in places with big crowds standing around you so I've been kind of holding off on that for now." Julian sees that Scott has remained silently glued to his cellphone throughout the entirety of his confession. "Also, I have really bad anxiety," he adds truthfully. Without so much as looking up to make eye contact with his cousin, Scott utters a passionless "Yeah." Mortified and disgusted by the overt indifference in Scott's demeanor, Julian stares at him for a moment before reclining uncertainly against the back cushion and throwing up his hands mildly.

As the end of the night draws near, all of the remaining partygoers gather in the foyer to say their goodbyes and give thanks to Brian and Debbie for their hospitality. Karen and Debbie immerse themselves in one last passionate hug. "Oh, I already miss you so much!" says Karen sadly. "I know. It went so fast, didn't it?" says Debbie. "We'll do this again soon, though, you know? Let's not wait so long." Julian hovers awkwardly in the background, watching his mother and aunt relish their moment of sisterly affection. Karen holds up a container of leftover noodle kugel in front of Debbie. "Thank you so much for this. The kugel was fuckin' amazing!" "Aww, you're welcome, sweetie. Any time." Jim gives Debbie a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Good to see ya, Deb." "You too, Jimmy. Take care, sweetie. Thank you for coming." "Well, hey, thank you for the leftovers," says Jim gratefully. "Now I don't have to worry about..." he makes a motion toward Karen with his thumb, "this one trying to make what she calls dinner tomorrow." Karen scoffs in good-humored derision and hits him backhanded on the shoulder. "Hey!" "Oh, my sister's a wonderful cook, Jim. You know that," says Debbie. "He's being bad," grins Karen. "He loves my cheesesteaks. And believe me, that's not the only thing he loves eating from me." Debbie pauses, stunned by the unexpected bluntness of that suggestive remark. "Oh," she responds awkwardly. Scott gives Julian an obligatory goodbye hug. "Alrighty, cuz. Good to see ya." Julian returns his hug halfheartedly. "I'll see ya." "And listen, don't worry. You'll get over that anxiety sooner or later and before you know it, you'll be swerving down the street in no time," assures Scott. Julian responds to his comforting words with an unconvinced nod and smile. "Hmm." The guests filter out of the house. Brian and Debbie politely usher them, thanking everybody for coming. Julian turns around and secretively slips out of the foyer up the steps. After shutting the front door, Debbie turns around and leans wearily against it, letting out a sigh of fatigue. She looks at Brian and the two of them exchange relieved expressions. "Well, that was a fun night," says Debbie. Brian nods his assent and rubs the back of his neck. "Yeah. Very nice." Debbie shoots him an enigmatic smile. Brian shrugs his shoulders, responding to her with an awkwardly confused smile. "What?" Debbie chuckles at the bewilderment on his face. "You're beginning to love my sister, aren't you?" Brian ponders the question for a second before making a gesture of ambivalence with his hand. "Mmm, she was... not at her worst tonight. You know, she was pleasant. Not in total raging bitch mode. I think the drinking really suits her well." Debbie gives a gleeful chuckle and runs her fingers through her hair. "Ugh! Now it's time for the worst part." Brian stares at her inquisitively. "Uh, cleanup time, perhaps?" Debbie suggests cheekily. Brian exhales empathetically. "Well, can't say I envy you, but you know what they say, the sooner you start..." Debbie smacks his upper arm and playfully but forcefully orders, "Get in that fucking kitchen right now!" "Yes, sir," Brian adorably whimpers, and obediently marches toward the kitchen with a smiling, self-satisfied Debbie in tow.

Retired in the privacy and comfort of his bedroom, Julian curls in the fetal position on his carpeted floor and begins to cry his eyes out. His sobbing is vehement but faint so as to ensure that neither of his parents will be able to hear him. Without warning, the ajar door is pushed all the way open, engendering an emotionally fragile Julian to flinch with panic. Much to his relief, he sees that it's only Sandy making his way into the room. Julian rests his head back onto the floor in despondency. Sandy casually advances toward his devastated older brother and tries to console him, but he pushes him gently away and turns over. Sandy circles around Julian, who tearfully implores Sandy to just leave him alone, asking why he even wants anything to do with him. Sensing the anguish in his brother's demeanor, rather than turning away as requested, Sandy gives Julian's fingers a series of hearty licks. With a slight smile, Julian reaches out a hand and gives Sandy's head an appreciative rub. He remains still for a moment longer, silently fighting to regain his self-possession. Slowly Julian picks himself up off the floor, wiping his eyes while sniffling softly, and saunters into the bathroom. He turns on the light and stares at himself in the mirror, his eyes still damp from the tears. He pulls a tube of toothpaste out of a drawer and begins brushing his teeth, listening to his parents talk and laugh jovially downstairs. Having returned to his bedroom, Julian sits down to his computer and clicks through to the file to recommence typing away at his manuscript. Staring intently at the last few sentences he wrote, Julian takes a deep breath and starts writing his story, the pace at which he's typing significantly faster and more passionate than previously.

A few hours later in the nighttime, Brian and Debbie are asleep beside one another in bed. Sandy is sleeping blissfully on top of a neatly folded blanket placed beside the windowed backdoor in the living room. Julian is lying flat on his back beneath the covers of his bed. His eyes are held tightly shut but he's unable to fall asleep. He peers upward at the ceiling fan. Julian turns over on his right side, restless with the humiliation of the evening past. His phone buzzes from underneath his mattress. Julian reaches down and picks it up to check a text message sent by his best friend, Nick Emerson, reading: "Hey. Assuming family thing is all done?" Julian pauses for a second before writing back, "Uh-huh". Nick asks, "Did you have a smashing time?" Julian thinks about how to respond to that in a way that's both honest and concise. He settles on "Meh". "U ok?" Nick texts. Julian responds, "Yeah. Just tired. This is the time most people are asleep ya know." Nick types back a customary goofball (and meme-related) retort: "Lol BWHEHEHEH" Julian can't resist cracking open a smile. He turns off his phone and returns it to the mattress underneath his bed. Almost as soon as he closes his eyes in an attempt to get some sleep, Julian hears a sharp tap at the window in the center of the room. He opens his eyes momentarily, slightly perturbed by the strange disturbance, but following a satisfying period of silence, decides to brush it off. Then suddenly, a second tap is delivered in the same direction. Julian gets out of bed and walks curiously to his window, opening the shade to discover Nick standing casually on the lawn below. He looks up at Julian and waves to him with a smile. Julian uplifts the window and looks down at Nick with a stupefied expression, shaking his head in incredulity. Nick gestures him to come outside. Turning his head around to ensure that neither of his parents has woken due to the noise, Julian holds up his forefinger and mouths, "Hold on." He then shuts the window and makes a quiet exit from his bedroom. As he passes his parents' room, he pauses and peers through their cracked door to find them remaining in a sound sleep. Julian tiptoes down the stairs into the kitchen, where he is unexpectedly greeted by a freshly awakened Sandy. Julian freezes on the spot and looks directly into Sandy's wide eyes, gleaming with excitement and expectancy. Julian rolls his eyes and tosses his head, whispering "Fuck!" to the ceiling. He expeditiously goes into the cupboard beneath the sink and pulls out a container of cat food, which he proceeds to tear open and scoop into the cat bowl. While Sandy gobbles down his tuna fish, purring vigorously with rapture, Julian takes a moment to caress his back and tail before moving cautiously into the living room. He unlocks the backdoor and sneaks out through the backyard, circling all the way around to the front of his house until he reaches Nick, who's lighting up a cigarette. Nick nods his head in greeting as he blows out a puff of smoke. "Hey," he says with a discreet cough. Julian smiles. "Hey. Little late." Nick takes a long drag on his cigarette. "Or... okay, think about it like this, is it just really early?" he postulates, tapping his head. "Oh, frick!" Julian replies with comically pretended astonishment.

He and Nick walk over to the porch, under which Julian sits on the front step while Nick continues his cigarette on the bench. "So, how was your day?" asks Nick. Looking down at the pavement, Julian hesitates and shrugs his shoulders. "It was fine. It's over now." Nick detects a faint note of melancholy in his best friend's voice, but elects not to press him for information. "I'm not getting any of this in your face, am I?" Julian shakes his head. "No, you're good." Nick takes another drag then waves his hand thoughtfully through the stream of smoke surrounding him. "What did you do today?" Nick sits back and exhales pleasurably. "Fuck all." Julian chuckles. "That sounds heavenly." "Yeah, no, I, uh- I went over to 7-Eleven earlier and bought a pack of Montclair Gold menthols. Really fuckin' good! I'll probably do a review on them sometime this week."


Reid Miller as Julian Navarro

Erin Daniels as Debbie Navarro

Ron Livingston as Brian Navarro

Charlie Plummer as Nick Emerson

Nathan Gamble as Kevin Fabian

Charlie Shotwell as Cameron Emerson

Katie Finneran as Karen Lieberman

Arija Bareikis as Eileen


Debbie distracts Julian from his shaving

  • (Julian stands before a mirror shaving the hair off the bottom of his cheek when suddenly he hears a knock against the outside of the bathroom door, startling him)
  • Julian: (hisses to himself) Shit!
  • Debbie: (O.S.) Jul?
  • Julian: (annoyed) Yeah?
  • (Julian dips his razor in the sink and frantically shakes it to release all the tiny particles of hair wedged between the blades into the pool of water)
  • Debbie: (O.S.) What are you doing in there, sweetie?
  • Julian: (hesitates) I'm- I'm getting ready to shower.
  • Debbie: (O.S.) You're gonna shower?
  • (Julian refuses to repeat himself)
  • Debbie: (O.S.) Okay, well, are you gonna be in there a while? I want to take a shower too.
  • (Julian gives a sigh of frustration and rolls his eyes)
  • Julian: Uh... I just started shaving, so...
  • Debbie: (O.S.) You're shaving? Do you know how long you're gonna be?
  • Julian: No. Not- Probably not long. I'll- I'll let you know as soon as I'm done.
  • (Julian stands still as he impatiently waits for his mother's latest response, but is pleasantly surprised to hear her turn around and walk back down the stairs)

Julian and Debbie eat breakfast

  • (Julian walks downstairs blithely into the kitchen with his hair-free, pleasurably smooth visage, freshly washed and neatly brushed head of hair, and wearing his favorite summertime attire: a multicolored-striped T-shirt and a pair of white cargo shorts. Standing in front of the oven preparing a delectable, nutritious breakfast is Julian’s adoring, exceptionally striking mother, Debbie. She’s scrambling eggs, frying several rashers of bacon, and toasting a few slices of whole grain and sourdough bread when Julian enters from behind, causing her to turn around in equal parts surprise and delight)
  • Debbie: (with a cheerful grin) Hi! Good morning, sweetie! Or good afternoon, I guess I should say.
  • (Debbie squeezes her son tightly in her arms and wraps her fingers around his clean-shaven face, admiring his decent and clearly visible features)
  • Debbie: (giddily exuberant) Look at you, you're all shaved. You look so good!
  • Julian: (decidedly aloof) Thanks.
  • (As Debbie returns to her cooking to make the final preparations, Julian reaches inside a cabinet under the sink and pulls out two placemats, which he proceeds to spread onto the dining table accompanied by one napkin each. Debbie steps aside to allow Julian to open up the cutlery drawer, in which he extracts one cutting knife and two forks to place on top of the napkins. Julian then pours himself a cup of steaming hot black coffee and goes to sit down at the dining table, staring out the window in front of him while sipping his morning beverage with contentment)
  • Debbie: (as she butters the popped-up toast) You have a good shower?
  • Julian: (nods his head) Mm-hmm. Yeah, I didn't wanna get out.
  • Debbie: (gives a slight chuckle) I hear ya, kid.
  • (Debbie serves Julian his breakfast first before fetching herself a platter of the eggs, bacon and toast, then joining him at the table)
  • Julian: (with an appreciative smile) Thank you.
  • Debbie: You're welcome. Enjoy it.
  • (Debbie rams her fork into a steaming chunk of scrambled egg and slides it eagerly between her lips, moaning with pleasure at her own creation. Julian scarfs down his food with relish)
  • Debbie: Oh my God! This is delicious. I think I've outdone myself. What do you say? Have I got it down to a science or what?
  • Julian: (shrugs) Mmm, it's, uh... you know.
  • Debbie: Adequate?
  • Julian: Yeah, at the very least.
  • Debbie: Pretty mediocre.
  • Julian: Not the worst thing I've ever forced down.
  • Debbie: Not the worst. Okay. You know what? Just for that, I'm never making you eggs ever again. That's it. From now on, you're gonna have to fend for yourself, learn how to cook your own breakfast. How does that sound?
  • Julian: I put together a mean bowl of cereal.
  • Debbie: (chuckles) Cereal? Okay, fine. Enjoy your boring bowl of cereal every morning. See if I care. (Beat) Oh, by the way, early in the morning while you were still sleeping, I went for a bike ride around the neighborhood, and I came across this really nice, abandoned building. I think it used to be that old Wawa that closed down a few years ago. Anyway, it's located right in front of the most congested highway. It would be the perfect spot to open up our pancake shop: "Debbie and Julian's Pan-crepes". I swear to God we would make a fortune. I mean, think about it. People are driving to work. They want to grab a quick, delicious breakfast. We'll install a drive-through so they don't even have to get out of their car if they don't want to. And they can have anything they want inside their pancakes: chocolate chips, blueberries, bananas. Everything under the sun because they're so thin. And we could set our own hours from seven o'clock in the morning till, say, 2:30 in the afternoon. Have the whole rest of the day to ourselves. I could just see it.
  • Julian: Dad said we would go bankrupt before the end of the year.
  • Debbie: (gives a dismissive wave) Oh, don't listen to him. That man has no faith in anything. (eats a chunk of scrambled egg) And, you know, hey, I could give you a position too. You could wait tables. Earn some extra money now that you're not going to New York as much these days, right? I think it would be so much fun. Give us something to do in the winter when it gets cold. Only thing is you would have to be awake and out of bed before noon, which, for you, I know is like asking you to shave your head, but... (chuckles)
  • Julian: (smiles and nods his head in concurrence) Okay.
  • Debbie: You excited to see your cousins on Saturday?
  • (Julian falls silent for a moment and stops eating, his hunger and physical ecstasy supplanted by a feeling of agonizing dread rushing in all at once)
  • Julian: Well...
  • Debbie: I was thinking after breakfast, we could take a ride to Boscov's, maybe get you some nice clothes to wear. Sound like a plan? (crunches on the tip of a long, crispy slice of bacon)
  • Julian: I don't know. Why can't I just wear what I have?
  • Debbie: Uh, because a lot of what you have is old and creased. I mean, I love your clothes, don't get me wrong, (takes another mouthful of egg) but... you know, your aunt's coming over. All of her kids. It's good to look nice. I mean, it's not like we see them that often.
  • (Julian makes a strained effort to return to his breakfast, even as the sickening thought of the approaching event looms over him like an ominous dark cloud. When Debbie stands up and opens the refrigerator door to grab a water bottle, the refrigerator suddenly begins to emit a buzzing that irritates Julian intensely)
  • Julian: Can we call someone to come over and fix that?
  • Debbie: (takes a swig of water) Mm, I know. It's pretty annoying, isn't it? It stays nice and quiet for like, what, 2 or 3 weeks and then it starts up again. But, you know, I don't want them coming over here just for that. They're liable to move things around in there and next thing you know, the whole refrigerator will break down. I would just leave it.
  • (Julian remains in his seat and takes a bite out of a piece of toast, looking deeply bothered by the unrelenting buzzing in his ears)
  • Debbie: (while chewing on a strip of bacon) Pss. (nods toward the front step leading into the kitchen)
  • (Julian turns his head around to find his mackerel tabby cat, Sandy, lazily strolling into the kitchen up to his chair, where he proceeds to rub his head affectionately against Julian's bare leg)
  • Julian: Hey, baby boy. (reaches down and lovingly strokes Sandy's furry, endearingly corpulent body)
  • Debbie: Oh my God! He loves you, you know that? I do almost everything for him. I get his bed nice and fluffy every morning, I clean his shit. And you're the one he goes to. Always.
  • Julian: (snickers) Yeah. He loves all three of us equally. Just has different ways of showing it.
  • Debbie: Yeah, but... I don't know. It seems like you're his favorite. The way he comes up to you and smashes his big body into your leg. (stares down at Sandy) I'm- I'm not gonna lie. I'm a little offended, Mr. Sandy, but I'll let you go.
  • Julian: (groans) I think he's hungry.
  • (Julian gets up reluctantly and takes a container of cat food from the cupboard, motivating Sandy to run up to his brother excitedly. Julian tears open a container of tuna and scoops a few teaspoons into the cat bowl. He removes a wrapper from a bowl containing dry food and sprinkles some of it into the wet tuna before transporting the bowl onto the floor where Sandy begins chowing down at breakneck speed)
  • Debbie: Isn't that adorable how he likes to eat when we're eating?
  • Julian: Yeah. (reclaims his seat) But I'm so tired. I can't be doing this all the time.
  • Debbie: (flashes Julian a disapproving smirk; in a playfully disgusted tone of voice) Julian!
  • (Julian smiles back at Debbie)

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