The Yukon Complex
Previously on The Yukon Complex: The L.A. Complex
Dean Pirelli is a successful self-made contractor in Winnipeg, Manitoba. His wife Mary comes down with breast cancer. The treatment ravages the family financially; Dean is forced to sell the business and the house and move his children Beth and Simon into a small apartment. Mary’s cancer spreads in relapse after relapse. She dies after several years of battling the disease. Dean sinks into a deep depression, loses his job and his apartment. The three of them live in the old family station wagon. One day, in a Canadian Tire parking lot, Dean walks into the store and never returns. He calls and leaves a message for Beth that he’s on his way to Alaska to find work on the pipeline and will be back soon.
Simon and Beth live in the station wagon in a Mall parking lot. Simon works as a background extra in a kids’ yogurt commercial at a day shoot and ends up playing the lead, when the boy originally cast for the part has to drop out. One of the producers gives Beth his business card. When they run out of money Beth drives to L.A. in hopes of launching Simon’s acting career. They try to find an agency for Simon, without much success. They end up staying at the Luxe Motel apartments in exchange for cleaning and fixing up rooms. Beth knows how to wire houses, having learned many practical skills from her dad. Season 2 of The L.A. Complex follows Beth and Simon on their (mis)adventures of jumpstarting Simon’s movie career.
While Beth suffers from abandonment issues Simon never gives up hope that Dean will return. At the end of Season 2 Dean catches up with his children, having found work in the construction industry in the Yukon. He is painfully aware of the grave mistakes he’s made but is determined to be a good father to his children again. He wants to take them back home but Beth refuses. Dean tries to take Simon by force but relents and walks away alone. The next day Simon is picked up by Child Protection Services. Beth tries to fight for custody but quickly learns that if she wants to stay with Simon she has to move to the Yukon. While Dean and Simon are on their way to the airport Beth is wrestling with the many decisions she has to make. Moving to the Yukon, while thoroughly unattractive to her, becomes a viable option for her future.
And now, on The Yukon Complex:
“Are there polar bears in Whitehorse? Like the one you gave me?”
Dean looks at his son and smiles.
“No, not in Whitehorse. It’s a small city, the polar bears are much further north. But there’s bears, all right – grizzlies, mostly. I saw them all the time along the pipeline.”
Simon bounces in the back of the taxi. “That’s so cool. What do they do?”
Dean puts his arm around his son.
“Mostly they look for road kill. And sometimes they raid the trash cans and dumpsters.”
“Isn’t that bad for them, though?”
“Very bad,” Dean confirms. “Some of them become nuisance bears and have to be shot or relocated far away.”
“That’s not fair.”
“I agree! But if people are careless it’s usually nature that suffers.”
“Yeah – I learned about that in the science show audition I did. There was this game about consequences of human interference with wildlife. Pretty sad.”
“Well, we won’t be living out where the grizzlies are. I got a small apartment in Whitehorse, so you can go to school there.”
“And what about Beth?”
Dean looks away, swallows hard.
“I’m not sure Beth will come join us, Simon,” he finally says.
Simon takes his father’s hand. “She will,” he says firmly. “Just give her some time.”
And once again, Dean feels the vicious stab of guilt tearing through his heart. Losing Beth in order to keep Simon was the best – and absolute worst – decision of his life. He knows it, and he’ll regret it until the day he dies. But what’s done is done, and all he can do is be the best father he can be for his son and hope his daughter can find it in her heart to forgive him.
Simon is excited to stay at the cheap but comfortable airport motel. As soon as his head hits the pillow he falls asleep.
Dean sits on his bed and watches his son. And once again he can’t fathom how he was able to leave his children behind. It’s all like a bad dream to him now, as if he was held hostage inside a man he didn’t know, a man who was so desperate to keep his family that he abandoned them.
He shakes his head. It makes no sense to him anymore, and the memory clutches his heart in an icy fist. He tosses and turns, finally switching on the bedside lamp to see his son sleeping peacefully in the other bed. He spends the rest of the night sitting up, looking at Simon, suddenly fearing his son would disappear if he took his eyes off him for just a second.
Simon wakes and blinks at him sleepily. “Dad,” he asks.
“Heartburn,” Dean says. “Go back to sleep.”
And Simon dozes off again.
They get on a very early morning flight to Seattle and Simon ends up in a window seat. He points out cloud formations to Dean who hands him a notepad. “Write it down,” he says. “Make some sketches, too, so you won’t forget.”
And he takes pictures of his son drawing clouds and labeling them. After they land in Seattle a flight attendant invites them to visit the cockpit and Dean smiles at Simon’s questions and the pilot’s friendly and patient responses.
Dean has left his truck in an off-airport parking facility. They take the shuttle bus there and soon they are on their way to Vancouver, crossing the border into Canada.
“Are we driving all the way to the Yukon?”
“All the way. All the way through British Columbia, and up into the Yukon.”
“It’s so different here, compared to Winnipeg. More like L.A., but greener.”
“It’s the Rocky Mountains, Simon, not the Midwest anymore.”
“I know that, dad. It’s just cool.”
It takes them two days to reach Whitehorse. They stop for the night at a tiny motel and walk down to a gas station to get food for dinner.
“Trust me – this is not going to happen at home,” Dean points at the salsa and chips and the TV dinners they’ve heated up in the microwave at the check-in counter.
“No? What, you’re going to cook?”
“I sure will. I learned a thing or two while… while I was gone.” Dean takes a deep shuddering breath. “I’m sorry, Simon.”
“Quit apologizing, dad. We all do stupid things sometimes. I ran away, too, remember?”
And Dean can’t help the tears running down his face. Simon sets his food tray down and climbs into his lap, hugging him fiercely.
“I love you, dad,” he whispers.
“Don’t worry, Beth will catch up with us.” Simon returns to his dinner.
“I’m not so sure about that.”
“She will, dad. I know she will. She loves me, and she loves you.”
“She hates me, and she has every right to hate me.”
Simon smiles. “She loves you. She’s just forgotten. She’ll remember, now that she’s by herself.”
Dean pushes the food around on his tray. “I hope you’re right. I don’t blame her. I don’t deserve her.”
“Oh, stop it, dad. Don’t be so… hey, why don’t we see what’s on TV? I mean, we’re having TV dinners, shouldn’t we be watching TV?”
Dean gets up. “You’re absolutely right. Let’s see…”
He picks up the remote and starts flipping through the channels. They watch a talent show for a while and eventually end up with a cartoon program and old reruns of Looney Tunes. Simon falls asleep and Dean tucks him into bed.
Sleep eludes him, and so he keeps the TV on with the sound turned down. When he finally nods off, he dreams of Goldilocks and the three bears happily raiding trash cans while the Northern Lights put on a spectacular show overhead – all as a cartoon.
“Hey, look, dad, it’s the world’s biggest chain saw!” Simon points excitedly at the sign at the side of the road. “Can we stop and look?”
“Stop the car, dad.”
“Why? Are you feeling sick?”
“No, pull over – up there. The world’s biggest chain saw!”
Dean pulls himself together as he clicks on the turn signal and turns off the main road. Before he has even shut off the engine Simon is already out the door and running off towards the gaudy little roadside attraction.
Dean sighs deeply and follows him.
The chain saw inside is indeed impressive and Dean takes pictures of Simon pretending to handle it. They decide to take a break for coffee and lemonade while Simon explores the other lumberjack paraphernalia on display. Dean tries to pay attention but his mind keeps wandering. His last meeting with Beth keeps playing back in his mind.
Maybe he should have stayed longer? Spent some time with Beth, give her time to rant and cry herself out? Maybe he’s run away from her again. Maybe he should have simply stayed in L.A. altogether. Or maybe he should never have come back. Maybe…
“You’re no fun.”
“I’m sorry, Simon.”
“You’re thinking about Beth again.”
Dean sighs and sits down on a big log. “I keep second-guessing myself.”
“She’ll come join us. I’m sure she will. And anyhow, we’re here now and there’s nothing you can do. Beth is old enough to make her own decisions.”
And Dean knows it’s the awful truth. “You’re right,” he finally says. “It’s her choice. Maybe the only thing I can do for her is to let her be herself.”
“Come on, dad. Let’s get some ice cream.” Simon pulls him up and they both get a large cone, devouring it in the warm midday sun.
“How much farther do we have to go?”
“We’ll get there before midnight for sure. Depends on how many RVs are on the road. They can slow you down. Here, look.”
Dean pulls out an old dog-eared map and Simon uses a marker to draw in their route. The property owner has overheard the conversation and comes over with a fridge magnet, handing it to Simon. “Be sure to fill up before you get to Watson Lake,” the lady says. “Petrol is awfully expensive there, because that’s the last big stop before you head into the Yukon, so all the RVs load up there.”
Dean pulls out his wallet to pay for the magnet but the lady waves him off. Simon thanks her and gives her a quick hug, and soon they’re on the road again.
“Boy, she was right about Watson Lake,” Dean says as they pull over at a Tim Horton’s for a snack. “This place is expensive!”
Simon eats the rest of Dean’s donut. Dean grows quiet again. He looks up and finds Simon staring at him sadly.
“I’m sorry, Simon. It just feels like losing your mom all over again.”
Simon bites his lip, then gets up and throws his arms around his dad. Dean chokes back the tears.
“I can’t help it, Simon. I don’t want to be like this. I want to be happy you’re with me, and I just…”
Simon kisses him on the cheek. “It’s ok, dad. I know. You’ll get better. And when Beth comes home, everything will be all right.”
Dean holds him for a long time. They are quiet as they climb back into the truck and they don’t talk much on the rest of the way to Whitehorse.
Simon is fast asleep as Dean pulls up in front of the tiny basement apartment.
“Wake up, Simon, we’re here,” he gently shakes him awake. Simon gets up groggily and stumbles out of the truck. Dan picks him up and carries him down the stairs.
The place smells musty and damp. Dean turns on the light and takes Simon into the small windowless bedroom, pulling his shoes off and tucking him in. Simon goes right back to sleep. Dean brings in the rest of the luggage, throws a blanket on the couch and lies down.
He wakes up in the middle of the night, heart pounding. A nightmare, he thinks, but he can’t remember what it was. Something about Beth. He sits up and stares into the dark until the grey light of dawn comes in through the small windows.
When Simon wakes they both wash up and Dean makes hot chocolate and pop tarts for breakfast. Simon sticks his chainsaw magnet on the fridge door.
He can tell Simon’s not too happy but tries to put on a brave face. The least he can do is the same.
They spend the day buying groceries, picking up a TV at a yard sale and some clothes at a thrift store. Back home Simon surveys the small apartment.
“Where is Beth going to sleep?”
“Well, if she’s not coming –“
“She’s coming, dad. I told you. I think she needs the bedroom because she’s the only girl, and you and I will live in here.”
“I’ll sleep on the floor.”
“Don’t be silly, dad. When Beth shows up we can share the couch for a while until we can buy another bed. Let’s check the paper. Maybe somebody is selling something. And until she gets here we can trade off between the bedroom and the couch.”
Dean tries to protest but Simon crosses his arms and gives him a stern look.
“All right,” Dean gives in.
Later that week they enroll Simon in the École Whitehorse Elementary school. The principal has no other appointments that day and takes her time showing them around. Simon is terribly excited to see the science lab and library.
“He loves Science,” Dean explains. The principal chuckles. “That’s fabulous. Well, I’m sure you will be very happy here. You can study science in two languages!” They pick up a shopping list for school supplies and head downtown to get Simon outfitted with all the things he needs for the Fall.
Dean watches Simon label his supplies later at home.
“Science, eh? I thought you wanted to be an actor?”
“Can’t I be both?”
“Well… I don’t see why not.”
“I can be an actor and a scientist?”
“Simon, you can be anything you want to be. And yes, there are plenty of scientists that have great careers on TV.”
“Like Carl Sagan.”
“Oh yeah! We watched ‘Cosmos’ together, back in Winnipeg. He was awesome. I wanted to change my name to Carl, remember, Dad?”
“I do. I do remember. And there’s Bill Nye The Science Guy.”
“Oh, that’s right!”
“And Michelle Thaller, and Michio Kaku, and Seth Shostack…”
“The lady from NASA! The Physicist! And the guy from SETI! Yeah!”
“See? They’re all great actors and scientists.”
“Dad, how do you know all this?”
“I watched a lot of TV in Alaska… I was bored when I wasn’t working.”
“Did you miss me?”
“More than I can ever say.”
There’s a knock on the door.
They look at each other. Dean gets up and opens the door.
“Beth!” Simon leaps up and races across the room into his sister’s arms.
Dean steps aside and suddenly he wants to just disappear – he’s never felt so out of place in his entire life, so much so that he almost feels invisible already.
“I told you she would get here,” comes Simon’s muffled voice.
Dean clears his throat. “Hi Beth,” he says awkwardly. “Why don’t you come in?”
Beth looks up, her face wet with tears as she steps past him into the room. Dean closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, then goes outside to pay for the taxi and bring in the luggage. He sees Beth and Simon chatting and hugging happily and the urge to bolt becomes nearly overwhelming.
But he’s run away before. He’s not going to do it again. Even if he has to face Beth’s wrath for the rest of his life – he deserves it, and it’s time to pay for his mistakes.
Beth is clearly upset about the tiny place they have to share but to Dean’s surprise she keeps her anger in check. Simon shows her the small bedroom and helps her move her stuff in and change the sheets. Dean puts Simon’s school supplies into a cardboard box and sets it aside.
Dean gestures at the room. “I’m sorry about the place, Beth, but I’d rather save the money for you guys.”
“It’s okay, dad,” Beth says without looking at him. Dean nods.
They go to the diner down the street for dinner while Simon talks excitedly about his visit at the school. Dean feels like the third wheel, and he doesn’t know what to say. Everything he can think of feels trivial or inappropriate, or even maudlin, and so he says nothing at all.
He’s almost relieved that Beth ignores him for the most part. He simply has no way of putting his feelings into words.
Simon sleeps on the couch with him for two nights, until Dean brings home a small folding guest bed he borrowed from a colleague at work. Beth insists on putting it into the bedroom but Simon refuses.
“Dad and I decided together that the bedroom is yours, because you’re the only girl here. Us guys, we can sleep in the living room.”
Beth looks upset but doesn’t press the issue.
Dean is worried about going back to work, but his leave time is up and the next morning he gets up before dawn and heads out to the pipeline construction site at a pumping station west of the town. He’s distracted, and his foreman notices.
Dean apologizes. “Family issues,” he says. “My daughter just came to live with us. It’s been... difficult.” The foreman nods sympathetically and offers to put him with the supplies check team for a few days. A desk job, he explains, is less likely to get him hurt. “Unless you stab yourself with a pen,” he adds. Dean feels a little embarrassed, but he gladly accepts the offer.
“I got a scholarship for Yukon College,” Beth says, holding out a letter to Dean as he returns from work, tired and exhausted.
“Honey, that’s wondeful!”
He moves to embrace her, stops. An awkward silence ensues.
Simon elbows his sister. “Go on, tell him!”
Dean can tell Beth is hurt, and he curses himself for overthinking his impulses. All he wanted was to hug his daughter in celebration of her success, and he messed it up again. He can see the confusion on her face, as her joy turns into guarded expectation and then shuts down in disappointment.
“It’s nothing,” she says and turns away.
Simon yanks the letter from her hand and shows it to Dean. “Full ride,” he cheers. “Everything except housing!”
Dean swallows hard.
“I’m so happy for you, Beth. And proud. I’m proud of you. Your mother would have loved to see you go to college.” He gestures helplessly at her retreating back.
Simon looks away.
“It’s okay, dad.”
“It’s not okay, Beth. You got some wonderful news. And I manage to do the wrong thing again. I’m sorry, Beth. I just never know if you still want me in your life. It’s… it’s hard for me to do the right thing for you.”
“You have a knack for doing the wrong thing for me, dad. That’s nothing new, that hasn’t changed.”
Simon quietly places the letter on the table and goes into the bedroom, closing the door behind him.
Dean sits down, utterly dejected.
“I used to know how to make you happy. Do you remember? When we built the house and you wanted to help with the wiring, and your mom said no, absolutely not…”
“…you snuck me out the back door after bedtime and we spent the whole night splicing cable.”
“You were good at it, too.”
“And then you said, you’d hire me on the spot for the company, because a good electrician was worth hanging on to.”
“I did. I would have, too.”
“Instead you left me with Simon in that Canadian Tire parking lot, and you just disappeared, dad. You didn’t hang on to the electrician. You fired her.”
Dean feels as if he’s thrown back to the Child Protection Agency in L.A., as every word of hers slices into his heart like a knife. And he remembers, when he hit rock bottom in that small conference room he had absolutely nothing left to lose. Suddenly, there was only one path before him.
“I know that, Beth. Believe me, I know that. I have to live with it every second of my life. But you know what? We’re both here now, for better or worse, and I deserve all of your anger and your hatred and your spite, and it’s okay. It’s okay, Beth. I’m hurting, too, you know? And every bit of your pain is in my heart as well, and that’s where it belongs.”
Beth stares at him, tears running down her face.
“I know you can never forgive me, and it’s okay, Beth, because I deserve that.”
Beth wipes at her eyes angrily.
“None of us deserved it, dad. Mom didn’t deserve to die. You didn’t deserve to lose everything, and Simon and I didn’t deserve to be abandoned.”
Dean nods. “We all lost everything.”
“But we have Simon,” Beth says, calmer now. “If nothing else, he still has everything going for him.”
“That’s some common ground, isn’t it?”
Dean swallows hard. “Yes. We can hold on to that. Can we do that? Beth?”
Beth looks at the closed bedroom door. “I can if you can,” she finally says.
They look at each other for some time. “Let’s cook dinner,” Dean says. “We can all do something. I brought fresh vegetables and cheese from the market.”
“Lasagna and a salad?”
And as they begin to pull out the cutting boards, knives and pans Simon joins them and Beth tells them she wants to major in management, and maybe start her own talent agency some day.
A short time later Beth starts working at a Tim Horton’s so she can buy a car. It’s just an old beater but it gets her around and it’s even halfway dependable in the winter. Dean insists on paying for the insurance and gas, hoping she will be able to move to Campus and not have to rely on transportation and simply walk to class.
Dean quits his job with the pipeline company which requires him to spend too many days away from home, and he wants to spend as much time with his children as he can. He starts as a carpenter with a construction company, doing new construction and lots of upgrades and repairs, as the long winter approaches. He quickly works himself up to foreman. He is very good at what he does, and his past business experience comes in very handy. His relationship with Beth remains strained but sometimes they can work out compromises over their disagreements.
One cold winter day Dean has a flashback while driving home.
A dilapidated roadside advertisement for a Canadian Tire store brings back the guilt in a massive wave so debilitating he nearly wrecks the truck.
He pulls over, rests his head on the steering wheel and cries. It’s as if that simple sign has opened the floodgates to everything he’s screwed up with his children, and knowing that he’s somehow lost Beth brings back the profound feeling of utter helplessness he experienced as he watched Mary die.
There’s a knock on the window, and he looks up, squints at the bundled-up man waving at him. He cranks down the window.
“Hey,” the man says. “You okay?”
Dean shakes his head. “I don’t know.”
The man opens the door, slides into the passenger seat and rolls the window back up.
He holds out his hand. “Name’s Lou,” he says. “Lou Kwanlin. There’s a Tim Horton’s a mile ahead. Let me buy you a coffee.”
Dean stares at him.
Lou pulls out a bandanna from his pocket and reaches for Dean’s face, carefully wiping his tears away.
“Drive,” he says gently.
They pull up at the restaurant minutes later. Lou puts his arm around Dean and leads him inside, settles him at a table and signals the cashier who approaches seconds later with two steaming cups of coffee.
“One cream, two splendas, right,” Lou winks at him.
Dean cracks a smile. “Yeah. How did you know?”
Lou shrugs, then hands the cashier a bill. “Thanks, Billie,” he says.
Dean stares after her. “Since when do they serve coffee at the table?”
Lou snickers. “I’m a regular. They know me. And Billie’s my granddaughter.”
“How many kids you got?”
Lou laughs. “None, really. And many, too. I’m not a father, but I have many children. And it seems a new brother now, too.”
“Oh,” Dean gets it. “Um. Dean Pirelli.”
“Dean Pirelli. It’s a good name. You’re a father, yes? And that’s your problem, isn’t it?”
Dean sighs. “A bad father, if you ask my daughter.”
“Yes, yes, of course… the hero or the villain. You let yourself be bullied into one or the other. Not good there, brother. What happened?”
And Dean tells him. From the way it used to be, to Mary’s illness, his descent into blind grief, to the road to hell that followed.
“My children crucified me as well. Long time ago. But we were all transformed, like the shifting Northern Lights we chose a different path. It’s hard for my people to change sometimes. Tradition is what has kept us alive.”
“Southern Tutchone,” Lou confirms.
Dean drinks his coffee as he listens to Lou’s story of drug abuse and alcoholism.
“Nobody can make you better – nobody can even make you feel better,” Lou says. “It’s all inside you. Forgiveness must start within. If you can’t forgive yourself and accept your mistakes, nothing will ever change.”
Dean looks at the man for a long time. Lou is older than him, he thinks, but it’s hard to tell. And suddenly he understands what it is that Beth needs from him: he has to forgive himself first before she can forgive him.
It all makes sense – and it’s so simple.
“Are you Jesus?”
Lou laughs. “I’m not even Christian.”
“Neither was Jesus.”
“Tru dat… well, I don’t think so, but who knows? Isn’t that sort of the point when you’re a prophet, or whatever?”
Lou reaches out and touches his hand.
“You can’t change what happened. The past is the past. That time is gone, you can’t control it. But you still have all the rest of time ahead of you! All of it is your gift – a gift that you can do with as you see fit. You can squander it – or you can start over. And you can do that every second of every day. Every moment of your life is an opportunity for a new beginning.”
“A new beginning,” Dean says. “Yes.”
They smile at each other.
A short while later Dean climbs back into the truck. He looks up to wave good-bye – and Lou is nowhere to be seen.
“Of course,” he thinks to himself.
At home Simon notices.
“What’s wrong, dad?”
“Nothing. Just tired.”
Simon cocks his head. “Sure. All right. Spill, dad.”
“I think I met Jesus today.”
Simon looks at him quizzically but doesn’t say anything to that.
Dean starts to laugh.
“I’m okay, Simon. I made a new friend, that’s all.”
“That’s good, dad.”
“Yes. Yes, it is.”
Dean keeps looking for Lou, but he doesn’t see him again. Nobody at this Tim Horton’s has ever heard of Lou Kwanlin, which seems to be a very common name in the area, and nobody named Billie has ever worked there.
He thinks that maybe he’s made it all up.
And that would be okay, too.
“When’s Beth coming in tonight?”
“After eleven. She’s closing today.”
They wait. Beth doesn’t come home. Dean’s phone rings at a quarter to midnight. His heart drops out of his chest as he listens to the sympathetic voice on the other end of the line.
He jumps up and grabs his coat. “Get dressed, Simon. Beth’s been in a wreck. We have to go to the hospital.”
Simon’s eyes go wide with fear. “Is she hurt?”
“They say she’ll be fine but we have to go right now. The car's totaled. Hurry up.”
They arrive at the hospital a short while later. Beth is in an exam room, pale, shaken, bruises and cuts marring her face and arms.
Dean cries as he pulls her into his arms and she holds him tightly.
“What happened,” he asks as Simon hugs his sister.
Beth starts to cry.
“It’s okay, Beth, you don’t have to tell me if you’re not up to it. I’m just… I’m so grateful…”
Beth shakes her head.
“I tried to run away, dad,” she says, her voice trembling. “I was going to drive back to L.A. It just suddenly hit me that that’s what I wanted to do. That you and Simon were all right and I wasn’t and I had to go.”
“Beth, I didn’t…”
“I was stupid, okay? I just got this idea that I had to get out. That I could never get us back on track.”
“It’s not stupid, Beth. I understand, believe me. But it’s all right. You’re alive, and we’re all here, and we’ll figure this thing out. Together.”
They drive home and Dean realizes that the harder he tries to win Beth back the more he drives her away. And that maybe a little distance will be good for both of them. He takes out a loan and Beth moves to the college campus. Without her car it’s the best solution.
He seems to breathe easier without her around, without the constant pressure of having to make up for past sins. And slowly, over time, things start to feel different. She calls him when she gets a good score on a test. He sends her picture messages of Simon doing science experiments.
Dean picks up additional small jobs so he can be closer to his children and save up money for a bigger place. He works the night shift as a custodian at the local TV station CHWT-TV. On the weekends he shovels snow at a local apartment complex. Social services aid for single parents finally goes through and he’s able to buy Beth another car.
He seriously thinks about dating again but feels he needs to be there for his kids first. Both Simon and Beth encourage him to go out with friends and colleagues whenever possible, and Dean realizes how much he has missed it. He’s missed having his own life, his own “me-time”, a time for small indulgences when he can stop worrying.
Dean is mopping the floor in the TV studio late at night. He stops to pick up a stack of papers, placing them on a desk. “Hope this wasn’t the front page news,” he mutters to himself and frowns at the dark skid marks on the vinyl flooring that the wheels of the camera base tend to leave behind.
He fumbles around in the pocket of his mopping cart for the soft eraser he carries for the purpose of removing them, then turns and kneels down.
And it feels like a gunshot in his knee. He goes down, blind with pain and surprise. He clutches his knee, groaning in agony, trying to calm himself and breathing through the pain. His entire leg is on fire, as if a tank had crushed it.
Eventually he manages to pull up his cart and grab the squeegee, a towel and a roll of duct tape, and he fashions a crude splint to immobilize his knee. It takes him a while to heave himself up off the floor but he manages to finish cleaning the room just in time before the first crew members of the early shift arrive.
“Dean Pirelli,” comes a soft yet familiar voice from down the hall. He looks up – it’s Lou Kwanlin, hands on his hips. “What happened to you, little brother?”
Dean tries to explain; he has so many questions, and while he’s happy to see Lou again the man just pulls up a chair and motions him to sit down.
“All right, don’t talk,” Lou says. “It was more of a statement than a question. You threw out your knee.”
Dean nods, thoroughly confused and still quite hazy from the pain. He doesn’t understand – he knows all the early shift people – Lou isn’t one of them.
“Did you just sign on,” he asks him. Lou just smiles and squats down in front of him.
“May I?” He gestures at Dean’s knee. At Dean’s consent he gently removes the splint and whistles appreciatively. “Nice job,” he mumbles. “All that pipeline emergency training came in handy, eh?”
He wraps his hands around Dean's knee, kneads it gently. “Mmhmm. Yep, you threw that out but good. Need to take it easy. Might have a tear in there. That meniscus is wonky.”
“Wonky?” Dean echoes.
“Wonky,” Lou confirms. “Put some pressure and ice on it. And have a doctor look at it right away.”
Dean squints at him.
“I was looking for you.”
“You just disappeared.”
Lou laughs. “I just wasn’t there when you were looking, brother. I’m around. Now, rest a while.”
He pulls a wide Ace bandage out of his pocket and wraps the towel around the knee, securing it with the bandage. “There. Let it do its thing. Knees are tricky, you wanna be careful.”
He reaches out, squeezes Dean’s shoulder and leaves.
Dean stares at his knee. The pain is gone.
“Fuck, if you aren’t Jesus,” he says to himself. Then he carefully gets up. He can walk all right, but he’s mindful not to place any weight on his right leg.
But it happens again several times. And finally, it doesn’t get better anymore. His boss insists that he goes to the hospital to get it checked out.
“How’s the knee, dad,” Simon asks when he’s taken back to the waiting room where they have been flipping through old magazines.
Dean bites his lip and shakes his head.
He doesn’t say anything on the ride home and Beth and Simon help him to the sofa, putting his leg up.
“I’m going to need major surgery to fix this. They say the recovery would be four to six months, with another surgery in between.”
Simon pats his foot. “So, let’s do it, so you can get better.”
Dean looks away.
“We don’t have the money. Insurance won’t pay.”
Beth starts to cry.
“What are we going to do?”
“Get a leg brace and some crutches, and find a desk job.”
“Maybe at some point later, if it can still be fixed.”
Beth gets up and takes a deep breath.
“And what if they can’t fix it?”
“Then I’ll be in a wheelchair, I guess. My boss says I can stay on part-time doing drafting and maybe some accounting. I’d have to pick up a lot of new skills. So maybe it’s not so bad.”
“I’ll speak to my advisor at the college,” Beth says. “Maybe she knows something, since she's a counselor, too. Come on, Simon, let’s go. Will you be okay for a while, dad?”
“Sure. I’ll make us some dinner in the meantime.”
“No. Stay on the sofa. We’ll be back soon.”
And as they leave Dean buries his face in his hands and wishes the Earth would swallow him.
“I dropped out of school,” Beth announces without preamble. “And before you flip your lid, my advisor lined up a job for me at the bookstore. It’s decent money. I can also work at Tim Horton’s – I already called them. And it’s not permanent – I can start school up again any time, they’re holding the scholarship for me. Some personal hardship clause.”
“I’m dog sitting for the neighbors across the street,” Simon chimes in. “And I got a newspaper route now. And I’m tutoring at school. The principal had three students lined up already. I start next week.”
“No, no, no – absolutely not,” Dean protests and tries to get up. Simon pushes him back down.
“It’s already done, dad. Beth and I are going to make the money for a while. You can buy us ice cream later.”
Dean has to smile, despite his misgivings.
And he hugs his children, so grateful for having them and not facing this difficult time alone.
They’re doing all right. Word of Dean’s predicament has gotten around, and when Simon proposes a human interest story for the TV station's local news program, they go for it and suggest that Simon be the narrator.
Simon loves being in front of the camera again, and suddenly perfect strangers show up at their apartment with gifts and money. Beth keeps tabs on everything and writes dozens of thank you notes. As a result Simon lands a gig as a junior reporter for CHWT-TV; people love his fresh approach and the novelty of having a kid telling the stories of local people. The Yukon Film Society taps him for a role in an independent docudrama about wildlife in the city and Beth leaves Tim Horton’s to manage his increasingly busy schedule.
Dean keeps quiet throughout the media circus. He drafts during the day and crams accounting online at night, and when he passes his exams he finally feels some small sense of accomplishment again. Confined to a wheelchair now he works from home, the internet becoming his lifeline, as everybody pinches pennies for the surgery.
When Beth and Simon come home all pale and shaken Dean fears the worst but Beth waves him off.
“The producers of Simon’s yogurt commercial called today. They want him back for their new national campaign. Twenty-four spots, plus promotional live events.”
“It’s huge money, dad,” Simon says, his face all serious. “We can all go to L.A. for a few months and you can have the surgery there. The producers will line it all up for us.”
“It’s as if there are no other kids in L.A.,” Beth shakes her head. “Apparently Simon is the only one they’re considering. We just found out The Yogurt Kid has a Facebook fan page with like a million friends. It’s all up to you, dad. Please say yes.”
Dean looks at his children hovering nervously by his wheelchair, their eyes bright with excitement.
“Under one condition: I will pay you back.”
Simon frowns. “No deal, dad. I’m doing the yogurt gig for you, and don’t you dare thinking like that. You’re my dad, and I’m taking care of you.”
Dean closes his eyes.
Beth touches his arm. “Please, dad. We’ll be back here in no time.”
“I need to finish school anyway,” Simon adds. “I’ll be a bit behind for half a year but Beth and you can homeschool me for a little while. I would really love that. It will be great.”
Dean finally smiles. “All right. You guys seem to have it all figured out. When do we leave?”
Beth and Simon pounce on him, hugging him, laughing and crying at the same time.
“We just need to let the company know when we’re ready and they’ll arrange for everything else.”
They are treated to first class tickets so Dean can be more comfortable. And even though the producers want to put them up elsewhere Beth insists they stay at The Luxe where they’re welcomed back with much fanfare.
Beth becomes Simon’s official manager and starts to work at a talent agency, learning the ropes of the business.
Dean is taken to Mount Sinai hospital for a series of examinations to determine the best route for recovery. He hates being poked and prodded for days on end, feeling like a slab of meat at times, but he toughs it out and endures hours of painful physical tests and exploratory evaluations. He jokes about glowing in the dark after the many x-rays of his leg, but he loves seeing his children happy, and he’s thrilled when Beth decides to move out – to an apartment next door to be with her old boyfriend Cam again.
“Remember, you’re going to be semi-conscious throughout the whole procedure,” the surgeon tells Dean. “We need to be able to communicate with you at a basic level. If you feel pain, you need to tell us. Can you do that?”
Dean watches the two aides shave his leg and slather on the antiseptic and nods.
“I know, and yes.”
The surgeon smiles. “I know that you know, Dean. I still have to tell you, okay?”
"Any questions at this point?"
"Will I be able to play soccer again?"
"Well, you won't be a David Beckham, that's for sure, but yes, I think so."
"That's fantastic. I'm really looking forward to that."
“We’ll start the IV in a minute and sedate you lightly, so you can relax. Then we’ll put the leg block in, and as soon as you’re good and numb we’ll go to town on that knee.”
Dean shudders. He hates leg blocks and the inevitable nausea that will rack him later, but he’s grateful that general anesthesia won’t be necessary despite the long duration and level of difficulty of the surgery.
“Your children are waiting right outside and as soon as we close you up and put you into recovery they’ll be able to see you. Sounds good?”
“Very good. What will I do the whole time?”
The surgeon laughs. “Lie real still and let us do our job. Maybe hand us a few tools and supplies. Crow bar. Chain saw. Sledge hammer...”
Dean rolls his eyes. “That’s not what I meant.”
The doctor pats his arm. “I know what you meant, Dean. Little pre-op humor, there. Ask us anything you want if you have questions. We can set up a Pandora station for you and give you some ear buds so you can listen to music. And someone will be with you the whole time to make sure you’re doing okay. You can sing something together if you want. Just keep it down to a dull roar.”
Dean smiles. “Okay, then I’m ready. Some Billy Joel would be nice, later.”
“All right. Then let’s get started.”
Dean winces as they insert the IV into his arm and a nurse helps him breathe through the pain and discomfort as the anesthesiologist probes for the nerve and sets the leg block.
Dean closes his eyes and counts backwards from one hundred, waiting for the numbness to make his leg virtually disappear.
When he looks around he’s oddly unsurprised to see Lou Kwanlin sitting there by his side, completely scrubbed in, wearing an aide’s outfit.
“Hey, brother,” Lou says.
“How’d you get here?”
Lou shrugs. “I go a lot of places. Thought you might like to see a friendly face today.”
“I do. How do you keep finding me, and I can never track you down?”
Lou cocks his head to the side and makes a vague gesture, so Dean leaves it at that. Lou dangles a set of ear buds over his face but Dean declines.
“All righty then. Tell me about the grizzlies and the pipeline,” Lou says conversationally, and Dean is only too happy to share.
“You doing okay?” The surgeon taps his shoulder after a while.
“I’m good – no pain,” Dean says.
“Good,” the doctor nods. “Let Lou know if you need anything at all.”
Dean zones out after several hours and nods off for some time. He wakes again to the sound of Lou singing quietly in a language he doesn’t understand, so he just listens to the soothing sound of his voice and the strange but comforting words, and he smiles.
When everything is done the surgeon gives him the thumbs up and tells him the first surgery went just fine. Dean looks back around and Lou waves at him.
“Be well, my brother,” Lou says.
“You too,” Dean whispers.
He wonders whether he’ll ever see him again.
Dean’s recovery is long and difficult. It turns out he needs several more small surgeries to fix his knee, and the physical therapy that follows nearly breaks his spirit. But then he looks at Beth who now walks around in power suits, and he watches Simon’s commercials on TV, and he pulls himself together.
After three months in L.A. they move back to Whitehorse and Beth and her boyfriend Cam, who has returned with them, set up a satellite office for their new talent agency. Beth finishes her management degree with night classes and Cam starts producing a show series with Simon called “Simon’s Science”. It becomes tremendously popular with elementary schools, and eventually Dean becomes the CFO for the entire production company. Simon travels frequently to L.A. and Vancouver for national shoots for movies, TV shows and commercials, and someone is always with him.
Dean’s leg heals well, and even though he will never have full mobility again he’s grateful for a second lease on a life of walking and running, and even playing soccer again.
“Guys, come on outside.”
“Dad, we’re in the middle of a script reading!”
“I know. I’m sorry. But come on, just for a minute. You have to see this.”
"Well, what is it?"
"Got a new World's Biggest Chainsaw magnet for the break room fridge."
They gape at him. "Seriously?"
"No, of course not. Come on now, or you'll miss it."
Simon drops his script and runs out the door. Beth sighs and follows him.
“Look.” Dean points up.
The aurora borealis ghosts across the night sky, more colorful than any of them can recall.
“Must be a major solar storm,” Simon marvels.
And Dean remembers the dream he had a long time ago, when he first went North with his son. Only this time, the Northern Lights aren’t a cartoon.
He hugs Simon close to him as he feels Beth’s hand slip into his.
“You were right, dad,” she says, and squeezes his fingers gently. “Thank you.”
And somehow Dean knows she’s not talking about the Northern Lights.
Thanks for reading! A comment or feedback would be much appreciated.
Companion artwork for The Yukon Complex
by Shenandoah Risu and Nicky Gabriel
(click on the links below the images to see the full size versions)
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