• The Death of Cliff Huxtable / Chapter 3: Rudy

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    The crowd is just too much...

    Rudy has long since grown out of the need to be the one in the spotlight. The burden of being the youngest...and being the cutest...and being the one they all wanted to see dance has now been exchanged for the one to follow in her mother's footsteps as a lawyer...and the one who appears regularly on which ever news channel in need of the "it" Black social justice lawyer in Manhattan...and the one of the Huxtable children not currently, nor ever have been, married. No one marvels at who she is anymore. They marvel at what she does...and that leaves a hollow place in Rudy.

    To escape the noise of the nosey and the endless inquires of her love life and earnings, Rudy politely navigates a familiar escape route through the living room and up the stairs toward the second floor. Before she disappears to the halls of the second level, Rudy stops to look above the crowd. She sees her brother take over as the patriarch of the family. 'He's so handsome,' she thinks. He chose to wear the black Gordon Gartrell suit she sent him for Christmas nine months ago. Theo could always wear black on black...he looks strong...the family will need that.

    Rudy continues to assess the room a little longer for she realizes this isn't a vantage point she held often in this house. She recalls usually sitting on the stairs, hiding behind the rails to sneak peaks at Vanessa getting yelled at for going to Baltimore that time or those nights Denise would sneak some boy in the house when she was suppose to be babysitting.

    The best days of her life where on these stairs, she thought, but suddenly the stairs feel brand new. She's taller. She's not hiding behind the rails but with her best friend gone, she isn't ready to expose herself either. She has to get away...

    This crowd is just too much.

         "Rudy..." calls a sister's voice from the front door, over the crowded room. It's Sondra. She, Vanessa and Olivia are walking in, without Denise...which was fine by her. Rudy simply couldn't bare Denise's dismissive attitude today. Not today.
         "What? And why are you yelling my name from across the room?"
         " Because there's someone outside waiting to see you."
         "Well tell him to come on in."
    Sondra pokes her head out the door to talk to the unknown visitor. She returns to say, "He said it may be easier if you come outside."

    'Oh jeez...I'm moving away from the front door and I have to make my way through this crowd of fake to get to some random person on the front stoop. Who is it?' wonders Rudy.

    Rudy arrives at the front door. Sondra, Vanessa, and Olivia are all swooning at the vision on the front stoop of the brownstone.
         "Ok ladies...how 'bout ya move so I can get out the door and..."
    Rudy stops cold in her tracks. Her 5'6" frame is no match for the 6'3" Adonis standing in front of her, holding a bouquet of wildflowers. He's a stranger with a familiar face. This man stands, looming over Rudy, casting a long dark shadow as he shielded the setting sun from Rudy's face, leaving a ring of heavenly hue haloing his head. The man seems a slight bit nervous, which is made evident when he greets Rudy. He takes a deep breathe and stands a little taller as he says,
         "Hello Rudy."

    And with an uncomfortable chuckle, Rudy and her old friend, Peter, move in for an awkward embrace. Rudy notices the hug lingers a little longer than she had expected but it gave her ample time to feel this strange man's biceps and feel him lift her effortlessly with a bouquet in one hand. The softness of his strawberry blond beard tickles Rudy's forehead.

    Rudy takes a step back to look at Peter.
         "Jesus...what did you do?" she says uncomfortably intrigued. "I am so sorry. I know that was rude. But I..."
         "I know...no one from the old neighborhood remembers me...looking this way...which is fair because I don't remember the neighborhood having three Starbucks spots within a 5 block radius."
         "Well...things do change."
         "And the things you need to be familiar, you're glad they are."

    There is a sweet, uneasy silence between the two of them. Rudy snaps out of her gaze into Peter's icy blue eyes, thinking to herself, "When the hell did he get those?" she invites him in,
         "Ummm...everyone's inside..." Rudy turns to the front door to find Vanessa and Olivia peering through the window of the door, "don't mind the pets."
         "Well actually, I can't. I'm double parked and I've got to get back to the city and then back to Pittsburgh in the morning."
         "Pittsburgh? You left New York City for Pittsburgh?"
    Peter laughs,
         "I left Brooklyn for Pittsburgh."
         " I went to Pitt for college. I played football there and now I'm an assistant coach."
         "Oh wow...football huh? Let me guess...you were a running back."
         "Close?! All the times you went barreling out of the house like a freight train...?"
         "I know...but no. Tight end. I had a growth spurt, leaned out, gained some speed, became really good with my hands...tight end...a finesse position."
         "Oh...oh...well...ok then." Rudy is blushing...as is Peter.

    After the warm conversation cools,
         "Rudy, I'm so sorry to hear about your Dad."
         "Thank you."
         "Thank YOU."
         "Me? For what?"
         "For sharing him with us. Dr. Huxtable...well...he was all of our Dads. And I had a great Dad...but Dr. Huxtable was special to me. To all of us. We use to be a little jealous that he got to be your Dad for real...like you had the greatest guy of all the time. I don't know...I'm rambling. I'm just really sorry he's gone and I'm really sorry for your loss."
         "Thank you Peter. I'm sorry for your loss too."
         "Did you know he came out to see me play a couple times? Yeah...he and my Dad would take road trips out to Pitt and watch us play West Virginia every year. My Mom loved it because she didn't like the drive and she didn't like football. Your Dad stepped in and got her off the hook." Peter chuckles. Rudy lowers her saddened face as she can feel the tears creeping up. Peter gently places his hand under her chin and lifts her face, revealing a budding tear, "Your father was one of the greatest men I have ever known. Ever."

    The two friends chat for a moment more. Peter hands Rudy the wildflowers and kisses her on the cheek, still holding her hand.
         "It was really great to see you Rudy. Perhaps I should get home...over to the city, at least, to see you...if you have time...for me...that is."

    The awkward extension to that sentence made them both giggle. Peter's face is turning red.
         "Let's stay in touch. I would love to see you again...soon...Peter."

    Peter slowly let's Rudy's hand slip out of his. He turns, and with the greatest confidence Rudy has ever seen, Peter leaves the Huxtable residence.

    With a soft smile on her face and wildflowers in her hands, Rudy savors the sweetness of her visit with an old friend. She reenters the house, reminded of the bitterness of losing her best friend. Olivia and Vanessa are STILL standing at the door, waiting for the "juicy" details.

         "A white boy. Wow...I would have expected that from Vanessa but from you Ms. Social Justice on the cover of Essence...surprising...but you could pull THAT off."
         "Wait...why would you expect me to bring home a white guy?" inquires Vanessa as if she's being 'accused' of bringing home a white guy. "Not that there's anything wrong with dating a white guy...wait...are you dating a white guy?"
         "Are you 14?! What is wrong with you? It wouldn't matter if I were, but I'm not dating...anyone. Not right now."

    Rudy settles the question of whether she's dating the guy from the stoop but muddies the answer by smelling and smiling into the flowers. Olivia gives Rudy the side eye,
         "Ummmhmmm, but you're doing a whole lot of smellin' the roses...wait...ain't not one rose in that bouquet! What are these? Weeds? He picked these out someone's yard, didn't he?"
         "Rudy, who was that? He kinda looked familiar but..."
         "It was Peter."
         "Peter? Peter from across the street, Peter?! Peter, always through the house like a bull in a china shop, Peter?" Vanessa takes a moment to recall the gorgeous man standing on the porch, comparing him to the memory of the pudgy kid from across the street.  "Wow..."
         "I know, right? Peter. I can't possibly date Peter. He's like family."
         "Rudy, you haven't seen him in over 20 years. He's brand new now." rationalizes Vanessa.
         "He's Peter!" exclaims Rudy.

    The three women are quiet for a moment, all looking at the flowers. Olivia breaks the silence,
         "Girl...you better gon' and get you some Peter."

    She and Vanessa crack up laughing. Rudy is only mildly amused. She hands the bouquet of flowers to Olivia, pushes through the crowd and runs up the stairs,
         "Oh...come on Rudy! I'm sorry..." calls Olivia calls to Rudy.
         "Yep...that's how Peter use to do it." jokes Vanessa to Olivia.

    Upstairs, the hallway is packed with more guest, standing and talking, remembering the good doctor and what times they had together. Rudy pops her head into her old bedroom to see if she can hide in there but swings the door open to find Winny baby sitting the smaller children of the guest as well as Theo, Vanessa and Olivia's children. Before Rudy can turn and leave the room, Cousin Pam and Nelson make their way in with drinks and snacks for the small ones.

    Rudy can feel herself falling apart. The tears are welling up in her eyes, the lump to hard air is forming in her throat, making it very difficult to breathe. Continuing to push through the crowd, she makes her way to the bathroom. She gets inside and locks the door. She is still having a hard time getting air. She finds the edge of the tub, sits and releases the pressure forming in her chest by letting go the tears and the pain of losing her father. Rudy tries to muffle her wailing as not to alarm anyone. She needed the time alone.
         "Please Daddy...please...just come back. Please."

    She repeats this, like a hard sincere prayer, when there's a soft knock at the door. Rudy doesn't say anything at first. She's hoping the faint knock is that of one of the small children who will eventually go away. There is a second, more deliberate knock followed by a deep voice,
         "Rudy...are you in there?"
         "Yeah...Theo...I'm...ummmm...yeah...just give me a second. Use the bathroom in Mom and Dad's room."
         "Rudy. Are you decent?"
         "Ok...well then open the door."

    Suddenly Rudy isn't sure it's Theo. She gets up from the tub's edge and slowly reaching for the door knob, hearing the lock pop and turning the handle to release the latch. The creak of the door accompanies the reveal on the other side: Kenny.

    In an involuntary, impulsive moment, Rudy leaps into Kenny's arms, throwing her arms around his neck and releasing the most cleansing cry she has ever known.

    Quietly, just above a whisper, he consoles her, "Hey now...it's ok. Go ahead and cry." And she does.
         "Here...let's go back into the bathroom. The whole hallway doesn't need to see you like this. Come on."

    Kenny walks Rudy back into the bathroom and closes the door. The press of the lock ensures their privacy. He grabs a handful of tissue and gives it to Rudy.
         "You're welcome. Let's start this again. Hey Rudy."

    Rudy wipes her face, drying her tears, reluctantly gives into Kenny's charm, she girlishly responds,
         "Hey Bud."
         "There's my girl. Hey..."

    They embrace again. Rudy leans into the chest of the only man who, after her father, loved her fiercely and she loved back. In that safety, she grieves.

    The two old friends spend the next hour in the bathroom, sitting on the floor, backs against the tub, referring people who needed a restroom to her parent's room or to the powder room downstairs.
         "Why don't we go into your parent's room and let the people use this bathroom?"
         "I don't know. It seems to make sense to do that as oppose to holding this bathroom up. I don't know. It was the one place I could think that if I said someone's in here, I wouldn't be forced to let anyone in...I guess."

    They sit quietly for a spell. She continues,
         "I attended my first funeral in this room. Lamont Goldfish. He was my first pet. He died and I didn't know what to do so I called Dad. I thought he would come get it but do what with it? What do you do with the dead? I had no idea. So...we all got dressed up and with Lamont laying in a green fish net, we all stood around this toilet, in our Sunday's best, and gave Lamont Goldfish a funeral."  She takes a breath to reflect on that memory, "Wow...I hadn't thought about that in a long, long time."
         "Your Dad had a way with making every moment, these brilliant, compassionate, teaching moments."
         "Yeah...he did. I don't like this Kenny. I can't..."
         "It's ok...It's ok..."
    Kenny puts his arm around Rudy's shoulders and brings her closer to him. Rudy grieves on,
         "This is breaking my heart. This is killing me."
         "I know it is. I'm so sorry Rudy."

    Rudy slows her cry for a moment. She sits up and takes a good look at Kenny. She gently takes his face in her hands, cupping his cheeks. She looks into his deep brown eyes and all the love she can muster,
         "Thank you. Thank you for being here."
         "For you, always."

    They sit and lovingly reflect on the lives of Heathcliff...and Lamont.

    Note from TDV: This is a work of fan fiction, in a non-fiction world. (Originally published July 21, 2015)


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