Chapter I: A Historical Lecture

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     Rain falls, darkness consuming all. One thing was inside his head all night, and it was the history exam he was going to take, first thing in the morning at the university. But that wasn't what kept circling his mind all night. He was concerned, because he was fully aware of his maternal grandfather's situation. Gabriel knew he was really bad in terms of health. But for the first time he was resigned to the idea that maybe this time he wasn't going to escape death.
     He left his bed early in the morning, between 3:00 to 3:10 am. Gabriel saw that it was too early for going back to college, so he decided to get a cup of coffee at Coblr's Café. This was Gabriel's favorite coffee shop. Each time he felt sad, frustrated, angry or even wary he went to Coblr's Café for his dose of espresso. This was his way of thinking everything through and also of clearing his mind. When things looked bad in life, problems flew away with just a sweet cup of coffee. This time was an emotional issue; this time he was drinking coffee because his grandfather would surely die in a day or so of heart disease.
     Gabriel got in his car and got it running. He would get to Coblr's Café in about twenty minutes or so. His house was not so far away from the university in which he was enrolled. He lived in a big wooden house in a rural area. Behind Gabriel's home were some woods and behind the woods was the neighborhood. The place where he lived was called Olden Vale, a place where everyone who lived there were great, honest, and caring people that looked after each other. This lead to a childhood full of good memories involving family and friends.
     Olden Vale was a small cold valley neighborhood at the north of the archipelago where Gabriel lived, surrounded by forests and a big river called Silver Road River, everyone called it that way because during the morning you could see the fish shine like little silver sparkles, at the sun's first lights.
     Gabriel got to Coblr's at 3:47 am and got out the car and went for the coffee shop's door. Henry, the owner of Coblr's, was at the doorway holding the door open.
     "Hi Gabe, how's it going?" said Henry in a joyful tone.
    "Hi Henry! I'm here for my dose of espresso buddy, you don't mind if I'm here this early? I know it's only 3:47 am, and you guys won't open till 7:00."
     "Not at all Gabe! And for heaven's sake, IT'S YOU MAN! You're one of our most loyal customers here at Coblr's," said the tall African American barista.
"Thanks Henry, you're the best."
     Gabe entered the coffee shop and saw that all the chairs were lifted upside down at the top of the tables. The lights were dim, as always. The dim lights were one of the many things he liked most of the coffee shop. The atmosphere was always so relaxing. The mixture of being relaxed and drinking coffee made him find peace within him with each cup that he drank. In an instant all his troubles went away from his mind.
     The exam was at 10:00 am, so he decided that he was going to stay there at least till 9:30, since Coblr's Café wasn't that far away from campus. He simply sat there reading the newspaper. Then to his surprise, at the other side of the shop in the dark, there lay a man; his face was so drawn and hooded that he couldn't see his facial features. Gabriel wondered when did the man enter the shop. Had he come earlier? He didn't recall having seen the man when he entered the shop. Was he there all along?
     He laughed at himself finding that he was paying too much attention to the man. But even worse, he got the feeling that the man was staring at him. Even though he wasn't at all sure, because he couldn't see the man's face. "What's up with this man?" thought Gabriel puzzled.
     After deciding that he was paying too much attention to the matter of the man sitting at the corner of the shop, Gabriel stood up and passed in front of the hooded man. As he passed by the man, he was trying to ignore his thoughts of if either the man was actually staring at him under the shadows of his dark hooded cloak or not. He strolled away to the ordering desk and left his usual tip for Henry and his employees.
     "Goodbye, Henry. Thanks again for letting me in so early in the morning. As always, left a tip for you guys at the desk."
    "Thanks Gabe, and enough of the 'letting you in early stuff.' You know it's not been the first time I've opened early for you, man. Coblr's is always happy to let in a friend. As long as I'm the owner, you'll be Coblr's friend, and friends at Coblr's have their advantages. See you later, Gabe!" said Henry almost sounding like a TV commercial.
     Gabriel like the place a lot. It had been back in his high school days when he first drank his very first cappuccino. To his demise, he loved it very much. After that he did not stop drinking coffee. He felt really happy with the costumer service. The only problem with the place was that Henry was always chasing away his clientele. Henry simply believed that by making his clients feel happy and at home we could create a large customer list, which in theory was true. Nevertheless, what he did not know was that the only thing that he was actually achieving was making people afraid of him. He was the type of owner that came to your table every two minutes to ask if you were fine or if you needed more coffee with a creepy smile. Still, Gabriel liked and visited the place frequently.
     As Gabriel went to his car and thought again about the history exam that was waiting for him at the university, he smiled and whispered to himself, "may God be with me."
     Woodloch University was a place full with trees, flowers, and bushes. It was a beautiful place in which the environment invited you go study or to start reading a book under its giant trees. As Gabe started walking towards one of the buildings he caught sight of his friend Hubert, or Hub, as he preferred to be called by everyone. Hubert was a guy that gave you the perspective that you were talking to a man that came from Britain. He had a British accent that made him sound foreign, but in fact he was American, Hub's parents were from London so that was the reason why he had acquired the mild British accent.
     Hub had lived all his life in the United States but he decided to move to Puerto Rico to pursue an English major at Woodloch University since the university was one of the cheapest, globally-speaking. Hub had become Gabriel's friend when they met at freshman year, and since then they had been inseparable comrades. 
    "Gabe! Please tell your good o' friend Hub that you did study for today's exam," said Hub with a hopeful tone.
     "Uh, to be honest dude, I didn't really hit the books last night. In fact, I woke up very early today. Instead of studying all that I did was have my morning coffee. I didn't feel like studying during the night and even less in the morning. But cheer up! Today's the final exam. Maybe we won't hear Dr. Ríos' historical questions of who killed whom," said Gabriel trying to copy the accent of the Puerto Rican academic.
     Once they got to the classroom, they entered and sat down on their respective seats. Prof. Ríos was seated on his old suede chair. Dr. Ríos had the looks of a very thoughtful and analytical Latino. Just by looking at him, you could discern that he was very smart and intelligent. He had dark brown hair, and brown eyes. He had a very thick beard, and always wore the same clothes. Brown leather jacket, white shirt, blue jeans, and oxford coffee brown shoes were his daily fashion.
     "Hello students! Are you ready for today's test? I do hope you've studied, because this exam won't be as easy as the last. This one's special because it involves all the material that we've discussed throughout the whole semester. So you're expected to come reviewed and prepared for this final exam," said Dr. Ríos sounding rather annoyed.
    "I wish you the best of luck my dear hub. I'll see you on the other side."
     "You make it sound as if was a life or death situation mate."
     As the professor stared handing the answering sheets, people started to come in late to take the exam. The students had the tendency of doing this just to annoy Dr. Ríos. The majority of students knew that if they had survived until that very last they, it meant that they could pass the class. Not everybody could say this in Woodloch University. The prestigious professor Jonathan Ríos was one of the toughest professors in the institution. Being able to make it to midterms was a miracle since Dr. Ríos' classes always started with a quorum of thirty students and ended with one of nine. The possibility of flunking such class was almost impossible at this level. So students simply didn't care anymore about their grades.
     "I don't want to see anything else but your pencils and erasers on top of your desks. Please remember to raise your hands if assistance is needed. At first notice of getting caught peeking at your neighbor's answering sheet, you will be flunked from the entire course."
     Everyone was afraid of this, but not because they were actually going to cheat on the exam. The fear of being flunked on the course was generated because of Prof. Ríos' paranoia. He always thought that the students by some reason were cheating in the exams. So if your pencil would by any chance fall down of your desk, he would uproariously laugh at your demise creating a theory about how you were trying to cheat on your exam by storing some small piece of paper containing information somewhere at the bottom of your desk. Even if such piece of paper were never found, he would humiliate you and kick you out of the class with a promise of a big "F" in your grade.
     "I'm glad this semester is finally coming to an end, and that I most certainly won't have to take any other history course with you," thought Gabriel.
"My dear students, you may start," added Prof. Ríos lastly.
     As Gabriel was answering his exam, he found that the questions were astonishingly easy. And not so difficult as he thought they would be. Surprisingly, he started to feel his cellphone vibrate in his jean's pocket. Someone was calling him. He thought, "Dang it, this is not the right moment," when Prof. Ríos started walking towards his row. Even if the cellphone was not ringing, it would still provoke a small sound thanks to its vibration, not to mention that there were some coins also inside Gabriel's pocket. The phone stopped vibrating finally.
     "You look rather pleased with yourself Mr. O'Reilly. Are you finding the exam quite complex? Or is it so that you just filled your brain with appeasing knowledge in order to pass this exam and never see me again?"
     This was one of these questions where whether you answered what he wanted you to answer, he would still humiliate you in front of everybody. So Gabriel simply looked at him nervously and half smiled without a verbal reply. This made the professor happy, in some way, since he continued his stroll through the rows going back to ignore Gabriel.
     Once again, Gabriel's cellphone started vibrating. This time, it seemed like whoever was calling him to his phone, was in critical need of reaching him. Maybe it was his mother trying to get a hold him. Or maybe it was some other family member, calling him to inform him of the finality of his grandfather's life.
     "No, I cannot think about gramps right now. I need to concentrate. Whatever it is, it cannot be that grampa' died, it is surely mom just calling to see if I'm already out this wretched test," thought Gabriel, trying to focus on the exam.
"Time's up!" said Prof. Ríos triumphantly.
     "Pass your answering sheets to the front so that I may collect them. Ah, that's settled then. Ok dear students. Our semester, and for most of you, your history study is finally over. You may exit the class."
     "Hey Gabe!" called Hub from the row that was next to Gabriel.
    "How did you find the exam? Was it difficult for you? I'm glad this is over mate. I think I'm going to have one colossal headache from having had such an extensive review yesterday. Blimey, I feel like my arse is starting to feel like as if it was made of solid rock m'dear mate. What do you say, shall we get a cup of tea at Coblr's to celebrate?"
     "Hahaha, what a brilliant idea, pal. In fact I think that we should hurry to the parking lot. I'm afraid it will begin to rain once again. Look at the clouds; they are as black as the night. It's been four days and it still hasn't stopped raining. I wonder when it will cease."
     They started walking towards the parking lot. Gabriel would soon graduate from Woodloch University. This was his fifth year in college and he was more than happy to celebrate with Hub the conclusion of the first semester of what was his last year as an undergraduate student. One more semester to go and all this would be over. He would then search for a job as an English teacher at a school in Olden Vale where he would pursue his dreams. Every step that he took was filled with melancholy; the kind you get when you're a senior about to graduate from high school. That sad-inviting emotion that suddenly is replaced by the excitement of having new adventures in what would be a new chapter in life. That was the exact same feeling that Gabriel had each time he walked to his car, to get back home.
     "I know that look on your face, Gabe. You're feeling quite melancholic again aren't you?"
     "My good o' fella', Hubert!" said Gabe not hiding his Latino accent. "You certainly know me. In fact, I was wondering what will happen to this university once we graduate. Don't you think that this institution might fall since its most valuable English majors are graduating? Who will bring the fun to its halls now that we will not be here by August of next year? Can you imagine? Today is December 4th. What will we do by this exact same time, next year? What if ––."
     "Cut the hogwash, mate! You've made your statement very clear. Yer' life is 'ere at this very campus. We get it. Now, what do you say if we drink a bit of sweet ginger tea, and leave the jib-jabber for another occasion?" stated Hubert clearly knowing where Gabe was going.
     Gabriel remembered that someone had tried to reach him at his cellphone. Someone had called him several times, trying to communicate with him during the history exam. When he checked his missed calls, he found out that it had been his mother. Rapidly, he called her back. As the phone was ringing he couldn't stop thinking of his grandfather. That same preoccupation that had been haunting him during the night had come once again. Each "ring" that he heard felt like as if he was hearing his grandfather's last breaths through the phone. Then, finally, his mother answered.
     "Mom, what is it?" said Gabriel almost suffocated with worrisome emotions.
    "Mom, what is it? I can barely understand you. Calm down mom, you're speaking to fast. Mother, what happened? No, don't tell me –– is he already?"
     "Gabe, what happened? Is it your grandfather?" asked Hub concerned.
     Gabriel fell to the ground. His cellphone came down with him at the university's hard floor. The sun had not come out still. The sky was filled with gray clouds since it had been raining all night. He was automatically covered in mud all over his blue jeans, not to mention the bottom of his shirt. Hub reached to pull him out of the mud, fearing that his friend might collapse and pass out.
     Almost instantly at Hub's touch, Gabe stretched his arm signaling that he was ok. To Hub's surprise, Gabriel stood up and leaned next to his car. Hub did not know what to do. He didn't know if starting a conversation about humanity's natural end would give him any solace. In fact, he didn't know if even remaining silent would be something that Gabe might find disrespectful. Afraid of sinning without intent, he approached him nonetheless.
    "Gabe, mate. If there's anything that I can do at the moment, just tell me," said Hub finally breaking the silence.
     Gabriel simply stood there, looking at the horizon without replying. Remembering all his ventures to his grandfather's house. Such wonderful and fond memories he had from his childhood. He used to visit his grandfather during weekends. He would beg his mother to let him stay from Friday to Sunday. He enjoyed every bit of a second when he went to that old house. It even felt as if he was at another world. Nothing mattered, nothing was imperfect for he was completely lost in a joy in his own temporary secret world.
     Finally, Gabriel changed his gaze into Hub's direction. "It is funny my dear brother, how life is. One second you're here enjoying your Sunday reading, and the next you're simply hanging around a wretched hospital. Before you know it, you're dead. It appears that I need to make some arrangements. Let us go to my house. My entire family will be meeting there."
     After a long argument with Gabriel, Hub managed to persuade him into letting him drive towards the O'Reilly's house. Gabriel really did not like people driving him around. Ever since he finally got the opportunity of buying himself a car, he promised himself that he would never again ask for a lift. He found it annoying, having to ask for someone to drive him around in his old days when he was carless. So, the fact that he was inside Hub's car was simply a miracle. Nevertheless, Hub managed. It took them about thirty-five minutes to reach the O'Reilly's house.
     The O'Reilly's were an odd bunch of people. Every time Hub visited Gabe at his house he left with a new tale about "how out of the ordinary" Gabriel's family was (based on Hub's British parents' opinion). Gabriel's mother, Mrs. Elizabeth O'Reilly, was a kind-hearted looking woman. If you got the chance to meet her though, her secret was that she never took really good care of Gabriel. Her parenting beliefs involved that after you graduated from high school you were an adult. Therefore, you would have to take care of yourself.
     She had been born in Puerto Rico at Olden Vale. Her original last name was Rodríguez, which was also Gabriel's second last name. She was about petite height, with black eyes, and died-blond hair, even though her original hair color was black like Gabe's. She was a proud Latina, from the town of Aguas Buenas, another rural town from Puerto Rico, much the same in appearance as Olden Vale.
     As Hub drove through Gabe's house main road, he saw that Mrs. O'Reilly was standing at the front door looking rather shaken. Hub parked the car, and they both got out and started walking towards the front door. "Whatever you hear from my family, Hub, they are all lying. They never went to visit grampa' Edward at his house. You just hear them. All of them will tell tales of how good he was and much they loved to spend time him."
     "I know how the cookie crumbles mate. Remember that we've been friends since freshman year. You just focus on what you gotta' do and ignore the rest of them leeches!" added Hub, with a tender look.
    "Oh, Gabe! It has been terrible. He died after we went to visit him at the hospital today. You should've seen him Gabe. He was completely angelical today. It was almost as if he knew that he was going to die. Oh my munchkin!" said Mrs. O'Reilly breaking into tears.
     She quickly hugged Gabriel, full into tears. Sobbing, Gabriel held her back, pressing her closer to him. Enjoying fully what only a mother can give. Love and understanding in the most difficult of situations. Gabriel loved his mother, even if he did not agree with her life philosophies most of the time. The important thing was that at the end of the day she was still his mother, therefore he loved her no matter what.
     As they entered the house, everybody from both the O'Reilly and the Rodríguez family was at the living room. They all had gathered in this dark hour of sadness and despair. Everyone that could be called close or nuclear family was there. The majority of family members that had come were mostly from the Rodríguez family since grampa' Edward, whom had died, was the Rodríguez patriarch. Almost all of Gabriel's paternal uncles were missing. But on behalf of Gabriel's fatherly side of the family, there was his dad Mr. Howard O'Reilly, uncle Eddie O'Reilly, and his paternal grandparents, Mr. Ernest O'Reilly and Mrs. Susan O'Reilly.
     Everybody looked to the house's entrance at the exact moment when Mrs. Elizabeth entered with both Hub and Gabe at her side. There was absolutely no one that had the face of a happy guy or girl. The environment told you that at least for the couple of hours there had been lots of crying and desperate hugs in search for solace. Both sides of the family stood up from their seats as a manner of respect towards Gabriel. They all knew how important grampa' Edward had been for Gabe. They were all waiting for him to say something. He always found something encouraging for everybody to say in situations like these.
     "Hello everyone. I know that you're probably wondering how I am. Of course, my answer is predictable in such a situation. Still, I find myself preoccupied with thoughts of loss. I mean, I know you all think that I am the most emotionally stable guy around both the Rodríguez and the O'Reilly families. I have to announce that I just want to be alone and mourn for my grandfather's memory. It is not the healthiest thing to do. But at least I feel like I am honoring him in personal way."
     "Gabriel, we know how much you loved grampa' Edward. But the true matter that we have come to discuss in this family reunion is the matter of your grandfather's last will. It appears that he has left a personal statement, but the attorney has stated that in his last wishes, your grandfather made it quite clear that the will was to be read only if you were present at its reading," said Howard O'Reilly.
     Hub looked at Gabriel, remembering what he had said before walking to his house. Nobody cared for the dead man. Most of them did not feel love for Edward nor were going to miss him. The majority just cared for his money. The same thing had happened when Mrs. Rodriguez had died. Nobody cared, it was all about her last personal statement.
      "When will we be able to hear this dad?" asked Gabe clearly annoyed.
     "In the morrow if everyone from the Rodríguez family agrees. I believe it is of outmost importance to get that out of the way. Since after the mourning there will come the emotional battles of who got the best out of your grandfather's will. It would be better if we just take care of this quickly. So, do we all have an agreement?"
     All the Rodríguez family nodded. Uncle Edmund Rodríguez moved a little closer to the center of the living room. Making body language that clearly stated that he was about to say something to the whole crowd. Everyone raised their gazes, and directed their attention to him. He put his hands in his jean's pockets and started saying, "I know this is tragic, but I think I speak for everyone from the Rodríguez family. We have to take care of this at the moment."
     Uncle Edmund Rodríguez was a short-tempered man. He only thought about how to get the advantage out of people. Life depended on money for him. If one did not have enough money, it meant that you were not living well. That was of course based on his standards. He was a tall man, with black hair, and big brown eyes.
     "What do you say people? Shall we go tomorrow to Mr. Ramos' office?"
     They all looked at each other. Thinking that even at the slightest comment regarding the matter, someone at least would think badly of them. Therefore, everybody stood quiet. Not answering was the best weapon that one could have against uncle Edmund's greedy claws in situations like this. It was best to ignore his comments at first hand.
     Gabriel of course, was a courageous guy. So he stepped out of his mother's grasp and away from Hub's side and faced uncle Edmund. "We haven't buried grampa' still and you're thinking already about what would you acquire out of this situation." "Gabriel please, you're...," started saying Mrs. Elizabeth O'Reilly but was immediately cut off by Gabriel.
     "Mother, let us honor grampa's memory at least once. The normal structure that one follows when someone dies is simple. First you bury the deceased. It is common sense!"
     "So, that being said, what shall I do with the attorney's appointment? Shall I cancel it? Would you all like me to postpone it until the entire funeral process is over?" queried Mr. Howard.
     Everyone was afraid to answer. They all feared that if they truly showed their ambitions and greediness they would be forever in whoever's got the chunk of money black list. So they all remained silent. Gabriel again broke the awkward silence to put finality to all of this. The importance was that he had to make a clear statement so that his grandfather's memory would not be tainted.
     "Let's go one with whatever we are supposed to do people. Let's just have the funeral tomorrow and then whenever you guys want; we may go to the attorney's office."
     After hearing this, everybody started noiselessly and awkwardly trying not to be noticed when gathering all the things to leave. What they all did not know, was that just by doing this their were still stating that they were all leeches. Leeches of power and money they had become the moment they lost their humanity to a simple green bliss.

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