Julian Files

Interested in reading Julian Files?

I’m currently releasing a chapter or more every third Saturday of the month. Read here.

 Private Investigator Julian Jones had his finger on the pulse in Lexington, PA, but didn’t realize just how involved he would become. This series is set in the past of In the Company of Shadows and features cameos from Cedrick, Vivienne, Boyd Beaulieu, and others. IMPORTANT: Contains spoilers for ICoS, do not read until you’ve finished Fade!

%

97,600/150,000

Genre: PI/mystery, drama
Expected length: 125k words
Status: work in progress, expected finish date November/December 2015
Type: Spinoff; single novel set in the past
Series: Characters from In the Company of Shadows
Relationships: Primary couple: m/f. Secondary interactions: m/m

 

I made the cover, with the usage of an image from www.unsplash.com that was available through creative commons rights.  The photographer is Tyler Pruitt.

This is a temporary cover to be used as a placeholder for now, until the book is at the point of self-publishing or submitting to a publisher. At that point, it will get an official cover made, most likely, by a professional.

Below you will find excerpts from Julian Files. Note that these excerpts are not edited and are included merely to give an idea of the story. Also remember: this is set in the ICoS world!

DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT FINISHED FADE!

There are major spoilers in Julian Files for information uncovered in Fade.

Driving down the dusty street, with the broken windows and the empty plant holders, Julian saw the merit in staying cautious. If whoever had his brother really did have guns, then Cedrick and Julian were walking into a gunfight without even a knife. Julian had a taser, true, and he would use it if needed. But if there was more than one person armed and dangerous, a taser was about as useful as a piece of paper telling them to be nice and pretty please just hold off on attacking until he was finished with the first.

Although, the mental image of that was almost enough to want to try it one time, just to see what sort of faces he’d pull out of his adversary.

The street began to bend strangely, digging into space that otherwise would have been left untended, and with it the houses came perilously close to the tracks. It was at the apex of the curve that they saw it.

“There!”

Julian hardly heard Cedrick. All he saw was the house.

Pale green, with scalloped accents in white and blue and shades of purple. A porch that had been white picket at some point but now was as peeled and grey as a rotting vegetable. Lights that were long burned out, guttered and broken in shards that sliced the sun’s rays into pinpricks of white. That was the impression he had of the house; lost shades of white fading into greys and blacks and shadows, and hues that bled out like oversaturated watercolor.

It was just as he remembered the Greenes’ house, but with more time gone by to settle ghosts into its bones and sighs into its creaks.

He wondered what they would find inside.

“You sure this is fine?” Julian asked for the third time in fifteen minutes.

“Yes,” Cedrick said patiently. He didn’t take his eyes off the road as it flew by beneath them. The dotted line down the center strobed to his left. It felt gloomier out here on the open road, where the dead space between cities was even more apparent. Cedrick still remembered the way it used to look, before the war. Before the bombs. It had been beautiful, then; before the craters and the dead rock. Before Lexington had been coated in clouds of death.

“But don’t you need to pick up the kid soon?”

“You heard me have the conversation, Julian. I called Vivienne and she contacted the Krauszers. They’ll get him and let him stay over until one of us can pick him up.”

“But won’t that–”

“Lou was ecstatic to hear Boyd was coming over. Apparently he got him a souvenir he couldn’t wait to share. They’ll be fine.”

“Okay.” Julian fiddled with the seat, adjusting it front and back, up and down, angled and straight, in ever-increasing variations. His right leg hadn’t stopped rocking since he’d sat down.

“It’ll be okay, Julian. We’ll get there in time.”

“I know.”

“We’ll figure out what’s wrong with Remi and we’ll help him.”

“I know.”

“We’ll find him a place to stay in Lexington until he gets back on his feet.”

“I know.”

“You don’t sound like you do.”

“I–” Julian paused, expression twisting. He let out a harsh laugh. “I don’t.”

“Have some faith. We can do this. And if we get in over our heads, we’ll call for help.”

“Yeah?” Julian asked darkly. “Who exactly will be the cavalry in this pretty little story you’re spinning?”

“Whoever we need.”

“Like who?”

“The Guild, if need be.”

“Bunch of pencil-pushers and nosy Nellies–”

“The cops, if we have to–”

“–put Remi in jail where we’ll never see him again–”

“We’ll figure it out,” Cedrick said firmly. “We always do.”

“You’re too optimistic for your own good, Beaulieu.”

“It hasn’t steered me wrong yet.”

“Yeah?” Julian shot back snidely. “Did it steer you wrong when the war killed your family or did you see that as an opportunity to smile and give platitudes, too?”

He must have realized instantly what he’d said, because he went quite abruptly still, and looked over at Cedrick with wide eyes.

“Cedrick,” he said lowly, imploringly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean–”

“I know.”

Julian’s lips twisted in a mockery of a smile, a mockery of a frown. “Do you?”

Cedrick flexed his grip on the steering wheel, tight and then loose, feeling the texture of the manmade materials change beneath his fingertips. He stared hard out the windshield, letting the silence speak for him at first while he ordered his thoughts.

“I know people,” Cedrick said finally. “I know you. I know it’ll be okay.”

“How can you be so sure?” It was said so quietly, so uncertainly, that Cedrick could only smile softly at him in return.

“Because I believe in the possibility. And I trust our abilities. You’re the best PI in Lexington–possibly even the state. You’re damn good at your job even when you’re only invested in it for the money. If it’s something personal, if it’s your brother, then I know you’ll do a better job than anyone else could. If it’s possible this ends well, that’s what will happen.”

“And if it isn’t possible?”

“Then you will have done everything you could, and it would be no fault of yours. And I’ll be there with you to discover that it’s the case.”

“Is that… Is that how you saw it when your family died?”

Cedrick was quiet at first. The answer to that was long; the answer to that was short. It was the secret to Cedrick’s philosophy, the way he greeted every day with hope. The way he always saw a chance for something new or better or more.

He thought of how to answer, thought of how Julian needed a real answer and not a dismissal, and thought of how it all began.

“The night Aiden died,” he started, then stopped as the serenity slipped from his voice ever so slightly. He took a breath in, let it out slowly. Checked his tone. Resumed.

“The night Aiden died was really the night of the crash, not the night we unplugged him in the hospital. We hadn’t thought anything of it when he wasn’t back home on time. It was a Friday. They’d had late night play practice all that week, so we thought he and Alexandre were out celebrating the break they’d have for the weekend.” Cedrick’s lips lifted humorlessly. “He’s fifteen years old, I remember Dad telling Mom when he saw her pacing the living room, worrying. Let him live a little. Ironic word choice, really, since ten minutes later we got the call.”

Julian was watching him silently; hand curled over the door handle as if to anchor him to the moment. Gaze searching and intent. Cedrick flicked a glance at him and then turned back to the highway.

“It was a drunk driver. He ran a light and hit the car head-on. Alexandre’s brother, Gabriel, had been driving. Seventeen years old, killed instantly. Alexandre died on the way to the hospital, and Aiden made it two weeks in a coma before we had to give up. My mom cried the whole time she was in that room.”

Cedrick’s eyes unfocused, reliving the memory as he drove the empty road. “That’s what I remember most, you know? The way she cried so hard it was with her whole body. These great, wracking sobs. No breath in between. I could feel my face buzzing in sympathy with hers. I remember that, and my dad holding her around the shoulders, staring out the window but not seeming to see anything. That’s what I recall the most of my little brother’s last days on Earth. Not the way he looked in the bed, all the wrong colors on his too-pale skin, and not even the way Riley looked shell-shocked the whole time, unable to eat or even drink water. I remember my mom. Crying, like if she lost enough tears somehow it would bring Aiden back to life.”

Julian let out a quiet, rattling breath, and turned his face away.

“Vivienne wasn’t there. She was flying back from Paris at the time. When she landed and learned he was gone for good, she took over for us. Everyone says it’s wrong the way she is, the way she acts like she feels nothing, but she feels it. She just doesn’t let herself acknowledge it. And in times of crisis, it’s kind of nice to have someone who doesn’t break down, or look at you with pity, or hurt you with their superficial kindness. It’s nice to have someone take care of everything without having to be asked. She helped us with the funeral, set up the catering after the wake, cleaned the house for us before everyone came and cleaned it again when they left. She paid for everything with her money and refused to let my parents pay a cent. She was eighteen, kicked out of her home, we weren’t even married yet, and she did those things. She said if they really wanted to spend money they should invest in the future instead. Months later, when we learned she was pregnant, they gave us money for the house. She almost wouldn’t take that, either, but they said that was the future they wanted to fund. So she had to say yes.”

“I wouldn’t have thought Vivienne would do any of those things,” Julian muttered.

“No one would because no one tries to know her. They see her glare and they stop there, assuming that’s all there is to her. They hear how cold she sounds and they think she’s empty inside. But she feels love, just like anyone else. She hurts, just like anyone else. And she saved me, saved my family, that night when everything fell apart.”

Julian was silent for a long moment, no words breaching the stillness of the car. Finally, slowly, a question rose above the current.

“Not that I mind the trip down memory lane, but– what brought this on? You’ve never mentioned what happened with Aiden before.”

“I’m talking about faith, Julian. Belief that there’s more than what you see on the surface. I may not believe in God, but I believe in people. I believe in us. You asked if I smiled after my family died–”

Julian grimaced, already opening his mouth to spill out apologies and excuses, but Cedrick stalled them all with a raised palm.

“Don’t, Julian. It’s fine. You were right.”

Julian turned to look at him, not understanding so loudly in his silence that Cedrick didn’t need to hear the words to feel them spoken.

“I did find a way to smile afterward, because even though I’d lost my parents, my brother, I had gained Boyd. And I had Vivienne. I realized, somewhere between Aiden’s funeral and watching Vivienne work silently in the kitchen in the following days, making food she’d never had to make before with her cooks and maids back home… I realized that some things are out of my control. Some things, like whether that man would drink and get behind the wheel, I couldn’t change–couldn’t have, even if I’d known what was happening as it occurred. Some things, like another country dropping bombs on our city out of nowhere, targeting Lexington, of all places, instead of somewhere like New York–”

Cedrick shook his head. “Some things are so far beyond my grasp it’s ludicrous. And I could spend my life hating them, resenting them, blaming them for everything that ever hurt or changed me… Or I could focus on the good. I could walk away from the vigil without a body to bury for any of my family, and I could hate the world for taking them from me or I could focus on my baby boy and the future my parents had wanted to fund. I could spend my life complaining about all the wrong decisions made by those in power that had led us to that point and focus only on one side of the story to make myself feel better, or I could start an organization that cares only about the truth and speaking up for the voiceless, that will always be willing to change its mind with new information. Always be willing to see the good in others if they are willing to give it a chance. Because you know what, Julian?”

Julian was watching Cedrick now; unreadable eyes and stone veneer of a face, but he was watching. “What?”

“If I had stopped at the surface when I saw Vivienne in that cafe that day in Paris, if I had not pursued her no matter how she tried to rebuff me, I might have believed the coldness everyone else sees. But I believed in the possibility that she was simply shy and unused to genuine attention, that she just didn’t believe that I meant it. That she just needed time to trust my sincerity. And I was right, in the end. She hadn’t believed in me because she hadn’t believed it was possible to be loved. Aiden would have died regardless, but if I hadn’t believed in the possibility of Vivienne then she wouldn’t have been there to pick up the pieces for us when he was gone. If I hadn’t had her, I wouldn’t have had her or Boyd to balance the loss of the rest of my family. Sometimes, you just have to believe and it will work out alright in the end.”

“But your family were only here because Boyd was born, right? Doesn’t that mean they’d have been alive without him, without Vivienne?”

“Not necessarily.” Cedrick slowed the car for the last turn that would take them straight to Jamesport. “It was Thanksgiving and my parents hadn’t seen our house in person. How do I know my mom might not have wanted to visit us regardless? She was American, you know; from Maine, originally. She hadn’t been back to the States since she’d married my dad and moved to Canada, not except for the occasional family visit. She was thrilled about Vivienne–she loved her the way I don’t think many other people had loved Viv for most of her life–so even if it hadn’t been for Boyd, she probably would have wanted to visit. And even if I hadn’t been with Viv, who’s to say I wouldn’t have moved here regardless for school? Who’s to say anything would have changed if it weren’t for Viv or Boyd, except the certainty that without them I’d feel a lot less meaning in my life today.”

“I don’t know, but you’re far more optimistic than I can ever be.”

“It’s all in where you end the story, Julian. Do I end it at their deaths, or do I end it in the life I made even after they were gone?”

Julian didn’t have an answer to that, and they spent the rest of the ride in silence.

A faint smile lifted Cedrick’s lips but it wasn’t with the usual enthusiastic grace. No light made to his brown eyes, which dropped to his drink unusually quickly, and Julian remembered Bell’s words from the other day:

He’s been… interesting lately. Secretive.

Julian opened his mouth to ask but before he could, Cedrick was raising his eyebrows and speaking.

“So? Something on your mind that even Kris couldn’t fix?”

Julian’s stared at Cedrick, his mouth working as all previous thoughts rushed out of his mind. “What?”

“Usually you’re in a good mood after a day with Kris,” Cedrick said with a shrug. “You’re not today, though. What’s wrong?”

Julian couldn’t decide whether he was surprised, impressed, or disturbed, and he was sure the indecision must be reflected in his fluctuating expression. He finally settled on drawn eyebrows and a flicker of a scowl. “How the fuck do you know where I was?  Are you stalking me, Cedrick Beaulieu?”

Cedrick rolled his eyes and leaned back in his seat, but there was definite smugness in the quirk of his smile. “You’re wearing your Friday jeans on a Saturday, your shirt is rumpled despite how you obviously tried to smooth it, and I can see a hickey by your collar.”

Julian wasn’t used to being on the receiving end of a perceptive bastard like he usually was against others, and found he didn’t much like it.

Accurately reading huffiness into Julian’s silence, a flicker of a smile moved Cedrick’s lips. “One would think I was the PI and you were the journalist.”

“I dunno, Ced. I’ve come to the conclusion that journalists are more alarmingly nosy and freakishly observant than any PI I’ve ever met.”

“You’re basing that off of me?” Cedrick asked in amusement. “Or did you find another best friend journalist when I wasn’t looking?”

“Bell’s included in the deal.”

Cedrick laughed. “He’s a doctor.”

“That’s not all he is!”

“Yeah, yeah, keep it in your pants.”

Julian pointed triumphantly at Cedrick, straightening with a loud, “See?”

Cedrick tilted his head. “What?”

“I never told you I jonesed for the dude, but you know without having to ask! I’m telling you. You’re freakier than your family, sometimes. And that’s damn impressive, with an alien kid and a robot wife.”

Cedrick kicked Julian with no heat. “Hey. That’s my family you’re talking about.”

“Yeah, I know. They could only be your family, seeing as I don’t know anyone else crazy enough to marry a woman like that and pop out a little alien kid.”

“Would you stop calling Boyd an alien already?” Irritation and defensiveness was beginning to creep into Cedrick’s tone and the narrowing of his eyes, and Julian held his hands up in a gesture of peace.

“Whoa, sorry. I was joking. You know I am. I like that kid, all outer space oddities aside.”

“And stop insulting Vivienne. You just don’t understand her.”

“No one does but you, Cedrick,” Julian said more seriously. At Cedrick’s straightening back, Julian shook his head and held up his hand. “That isn’t an insult. I think she doesn’t let anyone else see who she really is except around you.”

“That’s your investigative assessment?” Cedrick asked dubiously.

Julian shrugged and leaned back against the booth. It squeaked alarmingly, considering how it was hard as fucking stone. “You could say that, yeah. I’ve seen enough people in my day who are like her… show one face to the world, and another to the only people they trust. Most people aren’t as selective in their trust as she is, but I know she has to show you something I never see or else you’d never love the woman the way you do. I know you. You wouldn’t stay with someone who wasn’t a hell of a lot more honorable and good than how we normally see her be.”

“She is a good person,” Cedrick said quietly, his gaze dropping to his beer. It was nearly gone, but he still stared at it. He looked strangely sad, until Julian noticed that the color was almost exactly the same shade of gold as Boyd’s eyes. He wondered if Cedrick was thinking about the last time they’d seen each other, when Julian had rather harshly told Cedrick to get his shit together and stand up against Vivienne for not being a better mother to Boyd.

Not wanting to get stuck in another argument on a topic that wasn’t even on point for the night, Julian rocked Cedrick’s knee with a well-placed foot. Shuttered brown showed from behind a flicker of eyelashes, and Julian took that as assent to change the topic.

The receptionist looked ready to deny him entry beyond the front area at first, but then she gave Cedrick a second, more searching stare. At first he was too harried to understand why, until he realized why she looked so familiar to him.

Cara Jorgenson, sister of Timothy Jorgenson. Almost five years ago, when they were both teenagers, Timothy had been murdered in their house when Cara had left to find food rations. It hadn’t been long after the bombs, which had claimed their parents’ lives. Cara had been left suddenly alone, with no one to help her, and no one to find her brother’s killer. She’d been desperate when there had been almost no investigation, and had finally resorted to calling the local news media to see if anyone would pick up the story, maybe put pressure on the police department. Cedrick had been the only one who had listened, and while he hadn’t been able to do much through his job, he’d exhausted his resources trying to find someone who could.

It was how he’d first met Julian, the only private investigator who had given a damn about the story. With Julian’s help, and Julian’s contacts in Lexington PD to the decent cops left on the roster, they’d eventually found out who had done it–but there had never been a trial, because the perpetrator had been killed on the streets not long after the murder. He’d been mugged for the cash he’d stolen from the house.

When Julian and Cedrick had stopped by her house to tell her that, she had been drawn and hollow-eyed, and with bloodless lips she’d said maybe there was justice in the world after all.

“Cara,” he said in surprise. “I didn’t know you worked here now. How are you doing?”

Maybe it was the genuine concern infused in the last question, or maybe it was simply that she appreciated being remembered four and a half years later, but she smiled widely. “I’m… Well, I’m okay. Some days are better than others. I still expect him to walk through the door, but I think over time that will fade.” She leaned forward to peer over the counter. “Oh my God. Is that your little one?”

Cedrick grinned proudly. He nodded and grabbed Boyd from under the armpits so he could hoist him up for official presentation. Simba-style. “This is Boyd. Tell Cara hi, Boyd.”

Boyd obediently stuck his hand out, which Cara took in slight confusion. He shook her hand while saying politely, “It’s nice to meet you, Cara. I’m Boyd. I’m five.” He splayed out all the fingers of his free hand, as if she needed help visualizing such a large number.

Despite the fact that he was being held up like a cat slowly falling out of his dad’s grip, he managed to sound dignified and solemn. Cara did a double take and then burst out laughing. Her cheeks flushed, and she grinned even larger than Cedrick had. She stood up so she could lean at a better angle over the desk.

“It’s very nice to meet you too, Boyd. Should we have your dad put you down?”

“He won’t drop me. He’s very strong. My dad could probably lift a car.”

“Oh really?” Cara’s eyes sparkled as she looked up just in time for Cedrick to smirk. “Is your dad a superhero?”

“Hmm.” Boyd considered that with all the solemnity of a five-year-old with his little train underwear peeking out from his pants while his shirt rode up past his belly button. “He’s not Batman, but he can be close.”

Cara laughed again.

“Gee, thanks, son,” Cedrick muttered, but he couldn’t hide the amusement in his voice.

He set Boyd down carefully, and then tightly grabbed his hand again. He knew Boyd wouldn’t wander off without him but he was always strangely afraid of Boyd disappearing in a crowd. The thought of losing his son was so unbearable that even just imagining it constricted his lungs and set his mind abuzz.

“So, what are you doing here?” Cara asked, eyebrows furrowing. “Are you visiting someone?”

“Actually, yes. An old woman should have been brought in almost an hour ago. We wanted to check her status.”

“Hmm.” Cara dropped back down into her chair and swiveled it back to face the computers. “What’s the name?”

Cedrick hesitated. “I… have no idea.”

Cara gave him a strange look, and Cedrick felt oddly abashed.

This is a series of excerpts that highlight the different way the Beaulieus interact with each other.


 

Thursday July 21, 2005

By the time he made it home, Boyd’s knee hurt so much he could barely move it. He opened the front door quietly. He peered around the heavy wooden door but his stealth hadn’t worked. He saw his mother reclining on the couch, holding a glass of something pale and not for kids that she called white wine.

Her gaze turned to him at the sound, and darkened.

Austin’s words passed through his mind. They all wish you’d die. Sometimes he thought his mother felt the same.

“What did you do?”

Her voice was cold and sharp, and Boyd felt ashamed for having disappointed her. He stared at her wordlessly, not knowing how to respond. He didn’t know what he’d done to make Austin angry today. Maybe if he did, he could know what not to do tomorrow.

Her lips tightened. “And I suppose you wandered about bedraggled like this the entire way home, making a spectacle of it all?”

He continued to stare wide-eyed, not knowing what answer to give to make her happy. In the end, he didn’t have long to wait before she scoffed in disgust and turned away from him.

“You know where the first aid kit is.”

Boyd did. His mother always made sure it was well-stocked for him. He thought that was very kind of her and showed that she cared. If he wasn’t a good boy she would stop stocking it, he thought. So he had to make sure he stayed good.

In the bathroom he carefully pulled the first aid kit out of the cupboard, trying to ignore the way his neck and shoulders hurt when he lifted his arms at the wrong angle, and how his knee trembled with his weight. He selected the right size of bandaids and placed them on as carefully as he could.

Once most of the scrapes and big cuts were covered, he put the first aid kit away and then went into his room where he changed. He carried his dirty clothes over to the hamper in the bathroom, and then realized he was still dirty and bloody and tried to reach for the faucet but it was too high. He started to try to pull himself up, but something very painful that shot bright lights through his eyes pulled at his shoulders, and he fell back with a short cry. He hit his butt on the floor and told himself he didn’t want to cry at how much that had hurt.

He was a boy and boys didn’t cry.

He was just about to push himself back up to a stand when he noticed movement in the doorway and he froze, looking over with wide, guilty eyes. He shouldn’t have made a noise. Now she was angry with him for interrupting her, he knew it.

His fears seemed confirmed when he saw the way she glared at him. At first she only stood there and her anger felt more pronounced to Boyd the longer the silence stretched.

But then she scoffed and said lowly, “You can’t do anything right, can you?”

She walked to the sink while he watched, half curiously and half in trepidation. Soon, she was kneeling next to him with a soapy, wet cloth in one hand, and a fluffy towel folded on her lap. She wiped at the blood and dirt caked all over him, not meeting his eyes, nor touching him other than through the cloth as she cleaned him up.

Neither of them spoke.

When she was done, she pulled a bandaid off that hadn’t covered the wound well enough. She pulled the first aid kit out again, and then set gauze over the wound and taped it on with the odd tape Boyd had never figured out how to use properly. When finished, she put everything away again, and rinsed the cloth out in the sink before setting it in the hamper.

She ran a clinical eye over Boyd, and then turned and walked out of the bathroom. Boyd stood up and inspected her handiwork. The gauze was much better. The bandaid had hurt the way he’d had it on; too small for the wound and unable to stick to the blood.

He walked out of the bathroom, peered down the hall to find her sitting once more on the couch, sipping a glass of white wine and staring blankly out the living room window. He thought about thanking her for her help but he knew that the best way to thank her was to be very quiet so he didn’t upset her.

 


 

Thursday August 18, 2005

“Why have you called me here?” Vivienne regarded the rooms they passed with an unnecessary amount of wariness, as far as Cedrick was concerned.

“You’ll see.”

Vivienne’s lips thinned. “I do not like surprises.”

Cedrick grinned over his shoulder. “I know. But I’m not setting you up for anything, I promise. I just don’t want to predispose you to anything.”

“A proper summary of events to provide context is not predisposing me to anything.”

An amused smirk pulled at Cedrick’s lips. “Oh? I’ve found your Kryptonite, have I? Vivienne Beaulieu can’t handle not having all the information going into a situation and turns into a tetchy child?”

“I am none of those things,” Vivienne informed him, her nose actually rising into the air. Cedrick had to contain a laugh. She could deadpan like no one else he knew.

“If you say so.”

“I do.”

Cedrick chuckled, and snatched her hand from where it swung at her side. She glared sidelong at him, he suspected more to continue her prickliness than anything, and he grinned cheekily at her. She stared at him and then rolled her eyes, but he felt her fingers curl around his. Their palms were warm against each other, and their gaits fell in step. His hand brushed her leg every now and then, and when they got into the elevator and the doors closed, he found that they were alone. He turned to her, lifted their hands, and kissed her knuckles.

She gave him an odd look. “What was that for?”

“I love you.”

A slight smile softened her features and she shook her head. He saw the fondness in it, and heard it in her voice. “You are an idiot.”

“I know.”

“Uncommonly sappy and unexpectedly romantic.”

“That’s me. Don’t forget to put it on my gravestone.”

She gravitated closer to him. She spoke more quietly, until they were so close their lips nearly brushed. “I do not know what to do with you.”

“I think you should kiss–”

Their lips met; a gentle pull of magnetic force that led them together and made it too difficult to pull away. He could taste the lipstick on her, which he’d never liked, but beneath that chemical mix it was purely Vivienne: all strong notes and sharp edges masking the curves. His eyes fell closed at some point, and their hands squeezed each other.

When the elevator dinged on their level, Vivienne didn’t pull away immediately. Her touch lingered, taking in the heat of him the way an open door does the wayward snow. They opened their eyes, too close for proper focus so all he could see was blue and blue and blue– and against his lips, he felt her smile.

He had never loved her more than in that moment.

 


 

late summer, 2006

“There they were, as still as stone,” Boyd sang, “dreaming they were still alone. And so he crawled onto their bed–”

Cedrick mimed wriggling up the side of a bed, and Boyd snickered before continuing.

“And cuddled close up to their heads–”

Cedrick curled around Boyd’s head as much as he could while they walked. It was awkward and probably looked ridiculous, and it made Boyd laugh and shove him in the stomach.

“Stop it, Daddy, it’s hard to sing like that!”

Cedrick chuckled and released his son, stepping back to his side. He tapped his lips and looked up at the sky in deep thought. “What happened next? I don’t remember the rest of the song.”

Boyd snorted, making it clear just how little he thought of that claim, and swung his arms in wide pendulum movements as he walked and continued the song.

“He stayed there sleeping through the night, and only left at early light. They slept the night so safe and warm,” he wrapped his arms around his torso and rocked back and forth, “could weather even strongest storms–”

“Even a tornado?” Cedrick gasped.

“Yes.”

“Even a blizzard?”

“Yes.”

“Even an earthquake?” Cedrick sputtered in shock, and Boyd snickered.

“Earthquakes aren’t storms!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes! And we don’t get them!”

“Do we get hurricanes?”

“No!”

“What do we get?”

“We get thunderstorms and snow and, and…”

“And sandstorms.”

“Nooo, we don’t get those!” Boyd was laughing outright now, all the somber darkness that had been there before completely gone. “Daddy, stop! You’re being silly!”

“I’m just trying to understand what General Whiskers protects the children from.”

“He protects them from everything, don’t you listen?”

“I listened so well I could hear your thoughts.”

“No you couldn’t!”

“Uh-huh,” Cedrick countered, nodding sagely. “I could. I can even tell you what you’re thinking about right now.”

Boyd looked ready to argue but then he paused uncertainly. “You can?”

“Yep.”

“What is it?”

“Right now, you’re thinking abouuut…” Cedrick screwed his face up and pressed two fingers to each temple. His eyes popped open. “General Whiskers!”

“That’s cheating!” Boyd protested, all three feet of indignation.

“What!” Cedrick grasped at his heart and rocked backward. “How dare you! How dareyou accuse me of cheating!”

“But you did. We were talking about General Whiskers so you knew.”

“Merely a coincidence! Don’t use that to doubt my psychic abilities.”

Boyd frowned, his eyes darting around his father’s face and eyebrows furrowing. He looked confused, his head tipping to the side faintly, and it took Cedrick a second to realize that maybe Boyd didn’t know all the words he’d used. Maybe he was trying to decide whether he should ask for definitions or if he was too stubborn to do so.

Apparently stubbornness won out because he pushed on mulishly, “No, you have to listen to the rest of the song!”

“Who raised this mannerless heathen?”

“Mrs. Beaulieu! I must ask you to be more understanding.” Ms. Callaway dropped her voice and leaned in, her eyes catching and holding Vivienne’s. “His mother passed away from the lung sickness just over a month ago.”

Vivienne stared.

Ms. Callaway grimaced and nodded. “So, as I’m sure you understand, this is a transitional time for young Austin.”

“I do not.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I do not understand. I am waiting for a reasonable explanation as to why you have deemed it appropriate to encourage his behavior.”

“Mrs. Beaulieu, his mother–“

“When I was not much older than he is, I lost both my parents in an unexpected act of violence. I did not use it as an excuse to abuse others, nor did I willfully put their safety in danger for my own amusement. If his sole excuse for harassing my son is a death he saw coming for months, then it is an exceedingly poor one.”

Ms. Callaway gaped at Vivienne, which only served to further irritate her. Everyone in this city was wholly incompetent. Rather than waste further brain cells attempting to explain to an imbecile why it was shortsighted and idiotic to let a kid who’d lost a parent get away with near murder, she stood. She grabbed Boyd on the shoulder and turned him toward the door.

“Enough. We will leave now. I expect you to look into further complaints or I will be forced to take this to the school board. The fact that you are incapable of doing your job correctly should not be reflective on my son’s ability to learn.”

Ms. Callaway’s entire face tightened. Good.

Austin stomped his foot. “You gotta say you’re sorry. We got more money than you so you have to.”

Vivienne stepped closer until she was looming over the impertinent brat. She watched him coldly. “Child, I could have bought and sold your entire family with the money I had when I was a teenager. Do not presume that your wealth means anything to me other than a crutch.”

Austin’s face reddened and scrunched with anger, but he didn’t have an immediate response and Vivienne felt no need to stick around until the imbecilic retort could surface. She gripped Boyd’s shoulder and led him to the car at a fast pace. Austin tried yelling something at them as they stepped inside but she couldn’t be bothered to listen. She could only hope the child would perish before he reached adulthood, or he might become the next breed of politicians set to disrupt the world.

Boyd was quiet as always as she drove them back to the house. She was unaccustomed to the intensity of emotions she had been feeling in the past hour, and she found that she welcomed his silence because she felt increasingly tired. It was as if all the life was draining from her the closer they came to home.

By the time she had parked in the garage and they were walking around front, she felt the heaviness taking over. It weighed down her shoulders and blanked out her mind. It reminded her that a glass of wine was relaxing and time alone was even more so.

The door rattled as she opened it; the keys clattered in the dish she dropped them in; her heels clunked when they hit the floor. Every sound was a vibration in her head, her chest, and every moment one more weight added to her thoughts. When she sat on the couch, she felt it coalesce. It became too much to feel, so she distanced it from herself the way her grandmother had taught her in those much-needed lessons.

She had been young once, too. She had felt alive, but in that liveliness she had been reckless and immature. Even now, she remembered her grandmother Mireille teaching her how to improve herself. The only way to live in this harsh world. The only way a woman could exist without being used or hurt.

The memory was strangely vivid: the long, curved fingers gripping her head as a child, tangled in her hair. The water on that precipice between painfully hot and comfortingly warm, sloshing against the edges of the porcelain tub. Mireille’s voice echoing faintly against the tiles as she said, “Control your expression. Show me that no matter how you feel, no one will know,” right before she shoved Vivienne down and back–under the water with barely a chance to gasp in breath. And the blurred view she had looking up; the bathroom ceiling and her grandmother’s face, twisted by the currents into something harsher than in reality. The burning in her lungs and the fight in her limbs that she tried to hold back. The thoughts rushing frantically through her mind: don’t fight, don’t be pathetic, don’t be a child, you can do this,while intermingling with her grandmother’s words: nobody will ever love a monster like you.

In Cedrick, she had proven her grandmother wrong while losing everything else in her life.

She realized she had been staring out the window, unfocused on the Hensley house across the street. She looked to the side, and saw that at some point Boyd had disappeared. Probably to sit in his bedroom and draw or whatever it was the child did on his own.

She was grateful. With the memory of water rushing into her lungs and her grandmother’s reprimand distorted by time, she didn’t think she could deal with him much longer tonight anyway.

Cedrick always found himself wondering what the story was of people he saw. He built fables in his mind; sometimes dramatic, sometimes heartbreakingly not.

To these strangers, he built a story:

The young man was named Max. He had always tried to find love in the girlfriends he had in high school, but it never worked out. Something was missing. In his first year of college, he met Trevor. They became best friends and Max had never been happier. They spent all their free time out of class together, and sometimes even skipped class to go on suddenly devised adventures. Max’s favorite thing to do was to go urban exploring, and Trevor had decided to go with him last night. They were looking for ghosts, which was particularly alarming for Trevor who refused to acknowledge just how afraid he was of the supernatural. They visited the old, abandoned hospital in Carson City; rumored to have housed the worst psychiatric patients the state had seen in decades.

Cedrick had visited the hospital once, and even as someone who was fascinated by mysteries and the supernatural, he had found it to be unbearable. The air had felt suffocating; metallic, as the taste of blood. The shadows had seemed so much darker, an umber hue on the edges but fading so quickly to pitch black it was akin to sharp drops in the sea floor.

That was how it had felt to Trevor, when he’d gone: the cold flutter of air on his skin like skeletal fingers dancing across his back; the creaks of the old building settling like the cracking groan of bones grinding against one another; the piercing silence as the pause right before Death drew in a rattling, endless breath. Trevor’s heart had been a drumline in his chest; tripping over beats and melodies but staying enough of a tune to keep him alive.

Cedrick roamed the Sun’s parking lot looking for a space left. After the second aisle, he saw an open space and started to pull into it. Boyd daintily ate that gross ass bran muffin he’d insisted on, and Cedrick lamented once again about his family’s lack of taste.

“Are you sure that’s what you wanted for your birthday?” Cedrick asked for the third time. “You’re seven today–don’t you think that deserves some ice cream or something?”

Boyd licked some crumbs off his thumb. “There’s no good ice cream.”

Cedrick gasped dramatically, and slammed on the brakes as he threw the car into park. “You take that back, young man! What a scandal!”

“It’s true.”

“Take note right now! Headlines across Lexington will soon read: Father Shocked To Death By Son’s Insane Declaration Of War Against Ice Cream.”

“No, they won’t. That’s way too long.”

“Boyd!” Cedrick turned to his son with round eyes. “You are a sassy little scoundrel today. How dare you!”

“It’s true. Even I know they’re shorter than that, Dad. You have to say it would say Dad Dead ‘Cause He’s Weird.”

Boyd looked at Cedrick calmly, but Cedrick recognized the spark in his kid’s eyes. That deadpan sense of humor he had that came out of nowhere from his adorable little kid face. What a little bastard. Surely he got that from his Moreau side.

Cedrick scoffed. “Shows what you know. That headline does nothing to explain the theme of the article. Plus, it’s misleading, seeing as you’re the weird one.”

Boyd made a baby-Vivienne snorting sound and started to unbuckle his seat belt, but Cedrick stopped him with a hand on his wrist. Boyd looked at him curiously, and Cedrick peered at him.

“We’re playing a game first. It’s called Answer What Ifs And You Can Leave The Car.”

“That’s a long name too.”

You’re a long name.”

“Nuh-uh! Yours is longer!”

“No, it isn’t! My name’s clearly only spelled with three letters, and yours is a whole four.”

“No, it isn’t! I know your name! Cedrick is a lot more letters.”

“Nuh-uh! You spell it C-E-D.”

“That’s not your name! It’s a nickname.”

“No, it’s my full name. It’s about time you know that you’ve been lied to since you were a child.”

Boyd eyed him skeptically but didn’t say anything.

“Such doubt! You don’t believe me?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well!” Cedrick huffed, and crossed his arms.

He eyed his kid, trying to keep a straight face through all of this. Messing with Boyd was one of his favorite things to do. The kid pulled into himself so easily that joking with him was the best way to pull him out and–when Cedrick was lucky–make him laugh. He knew Boyd liked it, too. As much as he acted like he was getting more stubborn as their debates continued, Boyd really liked the attention. He liked getting into arguments for the sake of trying to always be right. It was so adorably a combination of Vivienne’s bullheadedness and Cedrick’s own inability to let a topic die, that Cedrick loved his son even more every time they did this.

“Okay, we’re doing the game now. What if there was an ice cream flavor you liked? Would you eat it then?”

Boyd considered that with a severe sense of gravity. At length, he said, “What kinds of flavor?”

“I don’t know. What would you like?”

Boyd scrunched up his face. “Broccoli?”

Cedrick gagged.

Boyd frowned. “Umm… Cheese?”

Cedrick gagged louder and fell over in his seat. He landed one arm dramatically across Boyd.

Boyd glared and shoved at his dad’s arm. “It’s maybe good!”

“That would be disgusting. Good God, what kind of taste buds did you get? Do you have any? Are you maybe an alien after all?”

“I’m not an alien! I bet it’d be good!”

“No! I refuse to believe broccoli or cheese ice cream would be good. This is sacrilegious!”

“You’re wrong!”

“Do you even know what sacrilegious means?” Cedrick asked with raised eyebrows.

“No, but you’re still wrong,” Boyd said mulishly. He crossed his arms and tipped his chin up. “I’m gonna find cheese ice cream and I’m gonna eat it in front of you.”

“No! This is the worst!”

“And then when it’s really, really, really, really, really good, you’re gonna be jealous ’cause I won’t give any to you ’cause you’re wrong and mean!”

“I’m not mean, I’m realistic. Jesus. I can’t even imagine the horror of broccoli ice cream. You’re ruining ice cream for everyone, Boyd! Apologize right now. Apologize to the world.”

“I won’t! Ice cream’s gross unless it’s broccoli or cheese!”

Cedrick shook his head in horror and opened the door. They both got out of the car, gathering their bags and heading toward the building while they continued talking.

“This can’t be. You cannot possibly be my child. I swear, you were switched at birth.”

“Maybe you were switched at my birth.”

“That makes no sense.”

“Maybe you make no sense.”

“Yeah well, maybe you’re weird.”

“Maybe you’re weirder.”

“Maybe you need new material.”

“Maybe, umm…” Boyd frowned and looked around as if seeking inspiration as they walked into the building.

Cedrick hit the up-button for the elevator with triumph. “Ha. You can’t do anything but parrot back my insults. Such a child.

“Maybe!” Boyd gripped his backpack straps and strode into the elevator. “Maybe you’re wrong!”

“Wow. All that time waiting for that? You can do better, son. Come on. Try a little harder.”