More Julian Files! I had planned, briefly, to post the chapters as I wrote them. And then I realized that would be bad for my mental health and creativity for writing this, so I decided not to do that and to stick with random snippets. I’m sorry 😦 I have this terrible tendency to think something is brilliant late at night, and then the next morning go, “Oh, but then reality.”
Anyway, did you notice the word count?? WTF. I’m bizarrely ahead of schedule–I’ve never been this fast at writing a story in NaNo, ever. But honestly, this has been so much fun to write. So far I have POVs for Julian, Cedrick and baby Boyd, and I don’t know yet but it’s possible Viv will even get a go. (If she doesn’t it’s only because I will be writing Domino which is all Viv, all the time). It’s unedited (of course) so expect terrible wording and typos– and there are some details I still need to fact-check to make sure the timing is right–but I don’t even care! I’m sharing it anyway! ohoho!
My goal this NaNo is to actually finish the book in this month–which is likely to be much higher than 50,000 words–and not just stop at 50k because that’s the goal NaNo set.
Ok, ok, all disclaimers aside, let me just say that I chose the below excerpt because it’s just, very… It’s very Cedrick. It’s why I love him, whether or not anyone else ever will, same as I love Vivienne whether or not anyone else ever does. It’s been really fun writing him, and yet it also underscores to me how different life would have been for Boyd and Vivienne both if the past had been different.
Ok excerpt now!
Wednesday August 17, 2005
Open road between Lexington and Jamesport, PA
“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.”
“We’ll figure out what’s wrong with Remi and we’ll help him.”
“We’ll find him a place to stay in Lexington until he gets back on his feet.”
“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.”
“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–”
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.