DEMENTED

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CHAPTER ONE

“Don’t worry. I’m not mad,” he said softly, holding both his palms up in a defensive gesture.

Grace’s head jerked up, her eyes wide, “What? You’re not mad?”

He lips curled up, “I’m not mad. I’m actually kind of relieved.”

“Relieved? I don’t understand.”

“Grace…I’ve been wanting to call it quits for a few weeks now but I didn’t know how to tell you. I thought if I started acting like a jerk you would dump me but you didn’t. Then I felt guilty because I thought you must really loved me to put up with my behavior.”

“What? Wait…what?” Grace was running her hands through her hair in confusion. “I’m not understanding. You wanted me to dump you?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

His smile faded, “Does it matter why. We both want the same thing, don’t we?”

He turned to leave when she grabbed his arm.

“Wait a minute. We didn’t want the same thing. I only wanted to dump you because you were being possessive. If that was an act, I have a right to know why you don’t want to date me.”

“So if I’m not being possessive or demanding, you would want to continue dating me?” he asked.

Her brows knitted together in confusion as she nodded, “Yes. Yes I think I would.”

He sighed heavily, “Fine. Then let’s try to make this work. I think I’d miss you too much if we broke up.”

“Fine,” she said a little too forcefully. “Let’s go have dinner then.”

She moved past him and headed to the stairs, feeling as though she had just been side swept by a tornado.

“Grace?”

She looked over her shoulder at him, “Yeah?”

“So if I hadn’t been acting…you would’ve really broken up with me?”

She smiled and scrunched her nose, “Of course. You were acting like an ass. Thank God you were just pretending.”

He nodded and placed his hands on her shoulders and began massaging them as they walked, “Yeah, thank God.”

“Wait a minute.” Grace turned around to face him. They were standing at the top of the stairs when she asked, “You never told me why you wanted me to break up with you. It’s such a strange thing to do. Why go through all that trouble? Why were you pretending to be obsessive and demanding?”

He kissed her on her forehead and whispered, “I love you.”

“You love me?” She was still confused, “So why did you want to break up with me? Why the big act?”

“Grace you’re so beautiful but so damn slow sometimes.”

“What?”

“I never wanted to break up with you.”

“Then why were you acting like an obsessive jerk?”

He leaned in and kissed her cheek before whispering in her ear, “Because I am an obsessive jerk…and I wasn’t acting. It’s a shame you didn’t appreciate me when you had me.”

Before she could respond, he shoved her down the stairs. It happened so quickly that she didn’t have time to grab onto anything. He heard her neck crack before she hit the bottom of the stairs. He looked down at his girlfriend, her neck contorted at a weird angle…clearly broken. Her phone had been flung away from her body.

He slowly walked down the stairs, avoiding her body, “Tsk tsk Grace. You shouldn’t be so clumsy.”

He picked up her cell phone and deleted her call to Heart breakers. He took out his cell phone and dialed 911.

In a frightened voice worthy of an Academy Award, he responded to the operator, “My girlfriend jut fell down the stairs! Please help her! She’s not moving. Please…please come now!”

This was Britney Chong’s fault. She probably didn’t know a thing about love. He wondered how she would respond to him and what guidance she’d give. Not that he’d take it. He thought of Britney Chong’s radio show and her closing line, “May the love of your life come find you.” As he listened to the emergency operator’s voice, he grinned. Find the love of his love? For once, he might just take the good doctor up on her advice.

“He said? She said?” Britney repeated.

“We each give opposing points of view on a topic and then let the listeners call in and pick sides,” he smiled at Britney and she couldn’t help but smile back.

“Sounds good. We’ll try it. Did you have a particular topic in mind, Dr. Clooney?”

“Dr. Clooney?” Brad frowned. “Just call me Brad.”

Britney could understand why Mack and Bernie were beguiled by Dr. Clooney. He was handsome, easy-going, and intelligent. She nodded, “Alright. I’ll call you Brad. You can call me Britney.”

“Thank you…Britney.”

“So what topic did you want to use?” Britney asked again.

“You want me to pick the topic?”

“You were the one that thought of the segment. Surely you have a topic in mind. If you don’t, you should come up with one.”

“Why me?”

“Why not?”

He smiled at her cheekiness, “Okay, I’ll pick the topic. Let’s pick something we can easily debate. How about work harassment?”

“Harassment?”Britney repeated.

“Yeah. When a cute guy hits on a woman it’s flirting but when an ugly guy hits on a woman it’s harassment.”

Britney laughed, “How are you going to argue that? As if any woman would ever consider you unattractive.”

Brad smiled, “Why Dr. Reyna, are you calling me handsome?”

“I think I need the number to HR. What does that tell you?”

She laughed before walking ahead of him to the elevators.

“This is going to be fun,” Brad whispered to himself.

After leaving the station and returning home, Britney attempted to answer some of the messages on the Heart-breakers website. She was just about to open an e-mail when her doorbell rang incessantly followed by someone pounding on her front door.

“Britney! Are you home, Britney?”

“I’m coming! Calm down!” Britney ran to the door to see her brother, Nicholas Reyna.

“Nicholas!” Britney hugged her brother tightly then pushed him away and punched him in the stomach. “You ass! I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for weeks. Where the hell were you?”

“On sabbatical.”

Britney scoffed, “You have to have a job first before going on sabbatical.”

Nicholas laughed, “Sis’ I am a mature young man now. I have a degree and I freelance.”

“Were you with a woman somewhere? Or should I say women?” Britney picked up one of her brother’s bags. “I can’t imagine you being in a monogamous relationship.”

Nicholas playfully gasped, “Britney, how could you say such a thing? I’m a mature young man now. Besides, aren’t you my sister? You’re supposed to say nice things about me like how any woman would be lucky to have me as a boyfriend.”

“Riiight and I’m Santa Claus.”

“Wait. What? You’re Santa Claus? Can I tell you what I want for Christmas?”

Britney punched him in the arm, “Sorry Nicholas. Santa says ‘ho ho ho’ but he doesn’t deliver them.”

“Ha ha…not funny. So are you, the almighty psychologist and big sister, gonna let me stay with you for a few weeks?”

“Hmmm…I don’t know. Do I really want an annoying brother living with me?”

“Annoying?” Nicholas pretended to be offended which made Britney laugh. “I’m adorable and affectionate but annoying? That’s just cold-hearted.”

“Adorable and affectionate? Are you describing yourself or a puppy?”

“I’m serious. Can I stay with you? You can’t say no since you’re already helping me bring in my stuff,” he nudged his duffel bag with his foot.

“Of course you can stay with me. You don’t even have to ask. Just don’t bother my clients when they come over.”

“You have clients come here? As in the place that you live? Is that even safe? What if one of them is secretly a masked murderer?”

Britney laughed, “Knock on wood, brother. I haven’t had any problems yet.”

Nicholas shook his head, “You’re definitely in the right field. You have to be crazy to help the crazy.”

Meanwhile, across town, two patients of Britney Reyna were spending the evening at home.

“Larry! Where are you Larry?”

Larry sat in his closet, trying to be quiet. He just wanted some peace and quiet. Suddenly the door opened, and there stood his wife, Sylvia.

She mouth curled into a disgusted expression, “Are you hiding in the closet Larry?”

“Uh…no.”

“Really? Then what are you doing?”

“I’m…I’m looking for my slippers.”

“If you were really looking for your slippers, why are you sitting in a dark closet?”

“I don’t know,” Larry whispered.

Sylvia rolled her eyes, “Forget it. I don’t want to know. I just wanted to tell you that I confirmed our appointment with Dr. Reyna tomorrow.”

“Great,” Larry smiled.

Sylvia sighed, “I should’ve listened to my mother and married a doctor.” She stomped off, leaving Larry alone in the closet.

Larry waited a few minutes before he stood up and walked to his dresser drawer which he kept locked. He opened up a small journal that he kept hidden from his wife and flipped through the pages. Inside were hand drawings of his psychologist, Dr. Reyna. He looked around to make sure Sylvia wasn’t around and whispered, “I’ll see you tomorrow my love.

“It’s me, Brad. Sorry for just calling you out of the blue, but I got your number from Mack’s phone. Can you please help me out?”

Britney sighed, “Which strip club are you two at?”

“How did you know?”

“You went out with Mack, right? He always wants to go to a strip club. He’ll end up sloppy drunk and won’t be able to get himself home.”

“Why didn’t you warn me?”

“It’s your initiation,” Britney smiled.

Brad told her where he and Mack were at so that she could pick them up. After she hung up, she turned to her brother, “So bro…you wanna go to a strip club?”

“Never in my life would I ever imagine my sister saying that to me,” Nicholas said. “Nor could I imagine myself answering as I’m about to.”

“You don’t want to go?”

“No. My answer is hell yeah sister, let’s hit that strip joint!”

“You’re disgusting.”

“I don’t deny it,” Nicholas grabbed his jacket and the two of them headed off into the Houston night.
A short drive later, Britney and Nicholas found themselves at the Topless Mermaids, a strip joint for men that had a thing for women dressed as mythical creatures.

“This place is disgusting,” Britney grimaced as she walked in with Nicholas to meet Brad and Mack.

“Oooh they have a fish buffet,” Nicholas was about to make himself a shrimp plate when Britney stopped him.

“Don’t even think about it. Who knows what diseases that food has?”

“You worry too much.”

“Don’t do it, Nicholas. It smells weird…like the ocean.”

Nicholas looked around at all of the women dancers, “That’s probably not the food.”

Britney passed her brother her car keys, “Go bring the car upfront.”

“Fine. I never get to have any fun,” Nicholas pretended to pout like a kid, making Britney laugh before heading outside.

She spotted Mack and Brad. Mack was getting a lap dance from a woman that resembled Ariel from the Little Mermaid. Well…if Ariel was a disgusting meth-head. She waved at Brad who tried picking Mack up. He had to give the red-headed stripper some bills before she walked away.

“Thank you for coming,”Brad said.

“No problem. Do you have his keys?”

“Yeah.”

“Why don’t you bring the car around and I’ll wait here with Mack.”

“Okay, I’ll be right back.”

“Britney!”

Britney turned around to see Nicholas back inside the strip club. A blonde woman wearing giant coconuts had caught his attention.

“I thought you were waiting outside?” Britney asked her brother, snapping her fingers in front of him.

“She has coconuts,” Nicholas pointed.

“You’re a coconut,” Britney shook her head. “We’re not staying so don’t even think about it.”

“Fine, I already brought the car out front. I guess one of the perks of being a freelancer like myself is I don’t have to pick up drunk bosses.”

“I don’t think most people have to pick up their boss at a strip club in the middle of the night,” Britney frowned.

“Did you need help bringing him outside?”

“Good thinking. Let’s go.”

Nicholas helped walk the tipsy Mack out into the fresh air while Brad was pulling up in Mack’s car.

“I guess we’ll follow you and then take you back to the station so that you can pick up your car,” Britney said.

“Okay sounds good. Thanks again Britney,” Brad smiled from behind Mack’s SUV. Britney and Nicholas struggled to get Mack in his car.

“No I don’t want to go. I want Ariel,” Mack slurred. “Arieeeel! Let me be part of your world!”

“Don’t ever let me get this drunk Britney,” Nicholas whispered to her.

“No one should ever get this drunk,” she whispered back.

After they got Mack inside, Britney walked back to her car with Nicholas in tow.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“What’s what?” Nicholas looked in the direction her index finger was pointing. Behind her windshield wiper was a small red envelope.

“What the hell? That wasn’t there when I parked a few minutes ago,” Nicholas said.

Nicholas pulled out the red envelope from the windshield wiper and opened it, “There’s a letter inside.”

“What does it say?” Britney asked, a feeling of apprehension filling her belly.

With apprehension, Nicholas read the note to her, “I’ll be watching you.”

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