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Eddie died on a rainy Sunday in March. It was very sudden. One month he was fine, the next he was a vegetable, the next…he was gone. It was very traumatic for his brothers and sisters. After all, Eddie was the second sibling they had lost in under a year’s time. Just when the pain of losing their big sister Margie began to become bearable, their big brother passed away.
Eddie’s funeral was held the Wednesday before Easter. It was perhaps the first day of the year when the blazing heat of summer was oh-so subtly in the air. The day had begun crisp and clear, but by mid-morning, you could no longer feel the coolness of the night.
Eddie’s immediate family was small enough, but he had seven brothers and sisters who loved him very much. Those brothers and sisters had children. Those children had children. And so on. It was a massive turnout at his funeral. And since it was the day before spring break began, many of those children’s children were allowed to take the day off of school and pay their last respects to their great-Uncle.
Adam Cline stepped out of the low, four-door sedan he had arrived in with his mother, grandma, and grandpa. He had just turned fourteen, and was finishing off eighth grade. His mother looked rather harassed, as if thinking: who died, again? She stepped out of the backseat right after he did. Grandma Freda exited out of the passenger seat, looking white and somber. Eddie had been her brother, after all.
And then his grandpa emerged from the driver’s seat looking as if he wished he were at home eating Hot n’ Spicy Buffalo Wings and watching whatever football game happened to be on TV at the moment.
Adam looked at the groups of people that had gathered outside of the church. He couldn’t help but raising an eyebrow, because the groups seemed to be the clusters of different families of Eddie’s siblings, as if they were all afraid to mingle.
There’s Uncle George. Dang, that group over there is big. Those must be the Duvals, he thought, recalling the size of the Duval family from previous encounters. He recognized one kid, about his age, among the Duval family, who he had met the previous year at his great-Aunt Marge’s funeral. Oh, what was his name? Johnny? That wasn’t a very pleasant exper-
“Come on, Adam,” said Adam’s mother, interrupting his train of thought. “Let’s go- over…yeah.” She steered him by his shoulders to a spot near the closed church doors. On the way, he passed a ground of people that seemed to be mourning the most intensely.
The Barringtons, he thought, as his mother let go of his shoulders and his grandpa and grandma brought up their rear, the latter looking close to fainting.
God, I hope I don’t have to shake anyone’s hand!! Adam thought, in silent prayer. But his heart dropped as he saw three people approaching them: A woman, a man, and a boy, perhaps two years older than he was who sported a Mohawk that rivaled an arm’s length in height.
“Aunt Freda?” said the woman in a small voice.
Adam’s grandmother gasped in surprise.
“LeAnne!” she shrieked in reply, and they embraced. “It’s been so long! Hi, Dave, how are you? And- oh! Alex! I haven’t seen you since you were eight years old!”
The boy with the Mohawk (Alex, apparently), inclined his head with a brief but unmistakable smile.
“Dear me…this can’t be the first time you two have met?” sniffed Grandma Freda. “Well, Alex…this is my grandson, Adam.”
A smile flashed across everyone’s face except for Adam’s, as if this were a birthday party rather than a funeral. He knew this was coming, he knew it! That Duval kid embarrassed him, and now Alex the freak would, too!
“You know what that means,” said LeAnne mischievously, and stepped back.
Oh, God, thought Adam. What kind of family shakes hands to see which person is stronger? This is crazy, who cares? Who made this up? WHAT KIND OF CRAZY CONTEST IS THIS?
Alex had stepped forward and held out his hand. Adam stared wildly at it for a moment, before gingerly taking it in his own sweaty palm. He gulped.
“Play nicely, kids” said LeAnne.
Adam gripped Alex as tightly as he could, but Alex was just as strong.
“He plays, trumpet, you know,” commented Alex’s father, David. “And he’s planning on attending Wayne State someday.”
Don’t care! thought Adam fleetingly. He was squeezing with all of his might. He wouldn’t let this weirdo win.
This went on for some time. Adam huffed and sighed and cringed in pain, but finally, Alex’s face began to go red. His grip loosened ever so slightly, and finally he let go, rubbing his hand in defeat.
Adam’s mother and grandmother clapped excitedly for his victory.
“Yes,” sniffed LeAnne indignantly. “It’s been nice seeing you, Aunt Freda.” With that, LeAnne waspishly grabbed Alex by the shoulders, and the family off three walked off.
“Good job, Adam,” chortled Grandma Freda, shaking her head bemusedly at the three retreating backs.
Adam didn’t care. He still thought it was crazy. What kind of family actually has a contest like that? What is its purpose? What does it try to prove? Adam looked up at the church: it was looming, and almost menacing in nature. But he couldn’t help but smiling as the doors opened and the crowd slowly piled into the building for what was sure to be a sad visit. He had won his first handshake.