Don't guess! If you don't know a word in the story, check it in a simple dictionary.
Julian sits at his desk, typing endless lines of code. He's working on a program that is supposed to model fluctuations in global stock markets. He knows it sounds like boring work, but he loves it. He just puts on his headphones and starts typing and it takes him to a different place.
Julian is in one of these zoned out moods when his phone rings, which is why he doesn't answer it. But then it rings and rings and rings and finally gets his attention. He checks it and sees it's his Uncle Jeff calling. This strikes Julian as odd. He and his uncle have never been particularly close and never talk on the phone.
"Oh thank goodness," Uncle Jeff says before Julian can even say hello. "I was starting to worry something happened to you, too."
"Something happened to me? What do you mean?" Julian asks.
"Julian, I hate to be the one to have to tell you this, but your father passed away this morning. He had a heart attack while he was teaching. The hospital tried to call you, but they couldn't get in touch with you."
Julian holds the phone away from his face and breathes deeply. He tries to remember the last time he saw his dad. Christmas maybe? That was nearly four months ago, now. Surely he's seen him since then.
"Julian? Are you there?"
"Yeah, I'm here. I need to go," Julian says.
"Call me if you need anything, okay? I can't believe this is happening."
"Me either. I will."
Julian hangs up and looks at his missed call log. He has three from an unknown number.
Julian takes the week off from work to grieve and plan the funeral. His parents got divorced when he was in elementary school and Julian's mom has no interest in being involved with the arrangements, so now it's all on him.
As Julian flips through a catalog of caskets, his phone rings again. He answers it right away. He's gotten in the habit of answering his phone on the first ring.
"Hello, I'm looking for Julian Barnes," an unfamiliar voice on the other end of the line says.
"This is Julian."
"Julian, this is Dr. Peterson. I was your father's colleague here at the university. We are making arrangements to clean your father's office, but we wanted to give you a chance to go through it first."
"Great. When would you like to come by? I hate to be pushy, but we really could use the extra office."
"I'll be there in half an hour." Julian hangs up and runs out to his car. As Julian drives to the university, he can't believe that he saw his father so rarely despite the fact that his father's office is so close to Julian's home. They always made excuses about how busy they were, but that was never true. They just didn't understand each other. Julian loved the strict rules of math, while his father loved abstract poetry. They didn't know how to talk to each other.
Julian walks to the front desk in the English building and asks for Dr. Peterson. She comes out from a back office and leads Julian up a staircase, down a hall, around a corner, to a small wooden door. She unlocks the door and says, "Here it is."
Julian stares at it. "This was his office? It looks more like a closet."
"Well, when your father first started teaching, he had to choose between this office and a nicer one that he'd share with two other instructors. He chose this one. We offered him better ones over the years, but he always said he loved this place too much. He said it suited his writing perfectly. Well, I'll leave you to it."
Julian stares at the piles of papers and books all over the room, wondering what he's gotten himself into. There's no way he'll ever sort through all of it. He flips through some of the books, some his father wrote and some he just filled with notes, but can't make any sense of them. It's like they're in another language.
"Is it true?" a voice with a thick Caribbean accent says behind him. He turns around to see a tall, dark-skinned woman with braids down to her waist. "Are you really Professor Barnes' son?"
Julian nods. "How did you know that?"
"This is college. Gossip travels fast. I'm Summer. Your dad was my thesis advisor. Well, and my favorite professor."
Julian offers her a hand to shake, but she pulls him in for a hug instead. "I think you could use more than a handshake right now." Julian normally doesn't like touching other people, but Summer's hug is nice and comforting. It is exactly what he needs.
She releases him and walks over to the desk against the wall, then starts yanking on the bottom drawer.
"Uh, excuse me. What are you doing?" Julian says.
"You'll see." Summer pulls harder until there's a loud cracking sound...