Well, I forgot about having to post this about 20,000 times so I’m posting it without trying to perfect it further. It’s a little cheesy, sorry. Also it may feel a little bit repetitive from last chapter because I had hoped to write a new chapter in between them.
Oh well. You get another Cedrick and Boyd hang out chapter. Except this time, something a bit more important happens….
Julian Files chapter 6, scene 1
Saturday July 16, 2005
“–and we’ll have enough time to stop by the art store if you want.”
Cedrick had been talking for eight minutes straight and didn’t think his son had heard a word of it. Boyd trotted along at Cedrick’s side, small hand engulfed in Cedrick’s palm, but his wide eyes had been roaming the streets around them ever since they had left the used clothing store. Cedrick didn’t know what it was that had the five year old so intrigued, but it had left him in an even quieter mood than normal. Used to his son’s quirks, and accustomed to comfortable silence with his wife, Cedrick didn’t think much of it. He filled the gaps with stories and plans for the day the same way he always did.
As they passed down a main thoroughfare, Cedrick felt a tug at his hand and looked back. Boyd had slowed nearly to a stop, his head craning at an awkward angle as he looked intently to the side. When his feet stilled, Cedrick was forced to stop as well. He looked in the direction Boyd was staring, but it was too crowded for him to make out anything other than a bunch of people and some stores.
“What is it?”
Boyd didn’t answer. His fingers tightened on Cedrick’s hand.
Cedrick crouched down. “Boyd?”
He brushed fine blond hair off Boyd’s forehead and tucked it behind his ear, but Boyd only frowned at first. His amber eyes flicked over to Cedrick, back to the shadows, and then with a tick in his eyebrows he looked hesitantly at his father once again.
For a second, Cedrick thought his son might be afraid of whatever he saw, and was about to tug him along in case there was unseen danger he couldn’t detect, but when Boyd spoke all Cedrick felt was perplexed.
“Are we… so very much in a hurry?”
The way that kid worded things, sometimes… Good thing Julian wasn’t here, or he’d probably upgrade Boyd to a British alien now.
“Well…” Cedrick rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know, really. We need to be somewhere at four but we have time. Why? What’s wrong? Do you have to go to the bathroom?”
Boyd scrunched up his face, as if the very thought of him needing to do something so plebeian as to pee at a time like this was insulting. Cedrick had to hold back a laugh; all he could see was Vivienne in that unnecessarily haughty stare.
“So, I’m… not in trouble if I see something?”
“No, Boyd, of course you aren’t. You’re never in trouble if you see something and you’re never in trouble if you tell me something. Where do you get these ideas?”
Boyd hesitated, his lips moving between pursing to thinning out, before settling into a contemplative frown. He didn’t look away from the direction he’d been staring. After a long moment, he finally spoke.
“I think the skeleton needs help.”
“What?” All Cedrick could see was a bunch of people walking around, going about their busy days without paying much heed to their surroundings. “What skeleton? I don’t—”
But in a gap of people, he saw it.
An old woman was sprawled on the sidewalk, leaning against a wall at the edge of an alley. Covered in filthy rags, she was pale and gaunt to the point of looking like a skeleton, just as Boyd had said. She stared straight ahead, unmoving. Cedrick felt his heart lurch in the second before she was swallowed up by the crowd again.
Was she dead?
He tightened his grip on Boyd’s hand, wondering how traumatizing it would be for Boyd to see a dead body, but he couldn’t leave his son alone in a crowd, nor could he leave the woman now that he knew she was there. He resolved to hide Boyd’s sight with his leg, if need be, while he got someone out to help bring dignity to her body.
He glanced down at Boyd to see his son looking at him hopefully, and Cedrick gave him a grim smile. “That was a good eye, Boyd. Thank you for pointing her out. We’ll go check on her, okay? We’ll see if she needs help.”
Unmistakable relief loosened Boyd’s features and shoulders, and he nodded. They gripped hands tightly as they wove across the current of people, and emerged on the other side. They were close to the storefronts now, although many of the windows were still boarded. Crater Lake wasn’t more than a handful of blocks away, and people were still leery to settle into the area.
Noise felt unusually muted over here, caught between an unseeing crowd and broken windows like sharp-toothed maws of monsters, ready to swallow passersby into the abyss. The sky had been overcast all day, a steel grey incongruous to the warm summer wind, and that breeze worked against them as they approached the woman.
She smelled like death and decay. Like a life gone rotten, surrounded by people who didn’t care even to look.
Cedrick felt pity for her as strong as he felt injustice on her behalf; that an old woman should decompose not two feet from dozens of people who could have at least placed a blanket over her out of respect.
As they neared, he saw that she was missing most of one arm, and the opposite leg was missing a foot while the stump looked to be overtaken by gangrene. Her eyes were milky and dead, staring straight through the people. Cedrick slowed and then stopped, feeling so very sad looking at her that he didn’t know for a moment what to do.
How could he help a dead woman he didn’t know?
There was a time when calling emergency services would have gotten the right people out there but now, after the bombs, the system was still skewed. So many people continued to die from aftereffects of the bombs, or repercussions from limited food and shelter, that it was pointless calling the cops. Better to go straight to the source on this one. He didn’t know what sort of burial she might have wanted, but he could at least call the Medical Examiner’s office. Maybe he could track her in the system after her autopsy, assuming they gave her one at all.
They probably wouldn’t. At her age and in her shape, it seemed natural causes could be the only reason for her death.
She would probably get thrown out as another Jane Doe in a city of Jane Does.
Cedrick sighed heavily. He reached for Boyd’s head blindly, feeling the soft fall of hair catch his fingertips, and tried to turn Boyd’s face toward his thigh. He felt Boyd resist.
“What are you doing?” Boyd asked.
Cedrick dug in his pocket for his phone and looked down at it to flip through his contacts list. Maybe Bell would know a better option. Cedrick didn’t want the woman thrown out as a Jane Doe with nary a second glance. Maybe if she was filtered through a hospital first it would somehow help. Would the ME come out, anyway? He hadn’t needed to call them on a situation exactly like this before. Maybe there was protocol to follow.
“Dad, you have to hurry!”
“It’s too late, Boyd. Don’t look. I’ll get someone to take her away.”
Boyd made a noise of discontent and jerked his head out from beneath Cedrick’s palm.
“No! You said you’d help. You said you’d help the skeleton!”
“I am helping, Boyd, but it’s too late to do any—”
“No! You have to call 911! We’re suppose to call 911 if someone is hurt or in trouble. That’s what the book says, dad! Are you calling 911?”
Cedrick sighed, holding the phone at his side for the moment as he looked sadly down at his son. He’d been hoping to hold off explaining death to his son a few more years. But Boyd was a child of the war, born into death, so that had only been naive optimism on Cedrick’s part. In truth, Boyd probably already understood it better than Cedrick liked to believe.
“Boyd,” he said heavily. “Sometimes, when people are very old or very sick, even 911 can’t save—”
Boyd glared, yanked out of Cedrick’s hold and ran over to the woman. He knelt in front of her and shook her shoulders.
Alarm sprung in Cedrick’s chest. He sucked in a breath and ran after his son. All he could think of was the possible illnesses festering on the woman, and his baby boy getting something that could land him sick or dying in a hospital—
“Wake up,” Boyd was urging the woman. “You have to wake up. My daddy won’t call 911 if you don’t.”
“You have to stop being a skeleton so he sees—”
Cedrick jerked Boyd away from the body, about ready to yell at him in an uncharacteristic display of anger, borne of fear for his safety. But before the words could form, they died instantly in his throat.
The woman’s eyes had shifted; just slightly. Just enough to settle on Boyd’s face before staring through him, as well.
She was alive.
Right up next to the woman, Cedrick could now see that her chest was moving. A most imperceptible of movements, but life nonetheless.
Cedrick’s heart stumbled over itself as he quickly dialed 911. He gave the operator all the information he had in a daze, requesting an ambulance code 3, and watched as his son knelt at the woman’s side and patted the only hand she had.
“Good,” he said, as if she were a dog to be praised. “Now you’ll be okay.”
Cedrick couldn’t bring himself to pull Boyd away again, this time out of fear that his son was the only thing keeping her in this world.
It felt like forever for the ambulance to arrive, even though he knew it couldn’t have been more than a handful of stretched-brittle minutes. When the paramedics descended on her, Cedrick finally pulled Boyd back and out of the way. The crowd had stilled briefly at the drama, but when they saw it was just an old woman and she was already being loaded onto a gurney, the majority of them continued on their way without a second glance.
Anger rushed through Cedrick, tempestuous and impatient. He wanted to yell at them; wanted to demand why the hell they didn’t care about this woman. Why their lives were so much better than hers, just because they weren’t old and alone and seemingly forgotten. He wanted to yell out how pathetic their city was if the only one who saw the woman, the only one who cared, the only one who fought for her, was a five year old boy who must have barely been able to glance her through the crowd.
He resolved in that moment that, just as he had decided to do after the war had taken his family, he wasn’t going to stand silent about this. No matter what happened with that woman, he was going to track down her story come hell or high water and he was going to write a goddamn feature piece about her and her life in the Sun—or, if they wouldn’t have it, he’d get it in the next Journalist Guild release.
She wasn’t going to be forgotten any longer. No matter if she lived or died after those ambulance doors shut, she would be remembered more than any of those assholes would be, who had dismissed her the second they’d seen her.
The furious indignation didn’t leave him until the ambulance was loaded. After they took off, Cedrick turned and looked down at his son.
Boyd was watching the ambulance disappear with a worried expression that only heightened when he regarded his father. Cedrick made a conscious effort to remove the tension from his shoulders, his features, so his son wouldn’t mistakenly think it was directed at him.
He pulled Boyd into a one-armed hug against his hip. “We’ll see what happens, okay? We’ll go get the car and visit the hospital. They’ll need time to look at her so it’ll be okay if we don’t get there immediately. Okay, Boyd?”
Boyd nodded, silent and wide-eyed, and didn’t speak for the hour and a half it took them to get home, get the car, and find parking at the hospital. There was only one high quality and fully functioning hospital in the city, still; the other having been destroyed over five years earlier in the bombs.
Westwind was where Boyd had been born, far on the western edge of the city, and there wasn’t a day that passed that Cedrick didn’t thank every god imaginable that Vivienne had insisted they use the hospital nearer to their home. Cedrick would have gravitated to one in the southern half of the city, because a woman he’d met on the train one day had said her uncle worked there and it was a very good hospital. She’d gone on and on about the doctors and stories of people who had been saved by their trauma center.
But Vivienne had been disgusted by the idea of using a recommendation from some stranger they didn’t even know—found on public transportation, no less. She’d said that if she was going to have to spend time in the hospital, it was going to be the best. And, settled over by Glass Town and West Shore Drive, Westwind was in one of the most expensive parts of the city and boasted an impressive facility.
At nineteen and still reeling from being disowned from millions of dollars, in a country across the world that was at war with her homeland, Vivienne had still directly equated the level of worth with the amount of money it cost, whereas Cedrick with his working class background saw worth in word of mouth. But it had been her body going through the pregnancy so he had felt it only right that she got to choose the hospital that made her feel most comfortable, regardless of it digging further into their savings.
In this case, Vivienne had saved their lives.
When the bombs had hit Lexington, they’d decimated the hospital Cedrick would have chosen, and the surrounding neighborhoods had been subject to the initial fallout. They would have died one way or another, just like Cedrick’s brother and parents had died when visiting one of those neighborhoods.
Vivienne’s contempt had changed everything.
So, despite the pomposity in the overly expensive landscaping and overtly grandiose building, Cedrick felt a sense of nostalgic relief when he rushed Boyd through the front doors of Westwind.
The receptionist seemed ready to look past him, 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 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 when it came with the knowledge that she had no money to pay. 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 shot 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 withdrawn and hollow-eyed. With bloodless lips, she had said, “I guess there’s justice in this 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 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 burst out laughing. Cheeks flushed, she grinned even more largely. 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. “Is your dad a superhero?”
“Hmm.” Boyd considered that with all the solemnity of a five-year-old with his little Sesame Street 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 his amusement.
He set Boyd down carefully, straightened his clothes, and then tightly grabbed his hand again. He knew Boyd wouldn’t wander off without him but he couldn’t help always being terrified 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.
He knew, logically, it was probably because his family was killed in the middle of a crowded space. He knew, logically, that it had been in the middle of war, and even if they had been somewhere more sparse the bomb still would have gotten them. He knew it wasn’t likely to happen to Boyd right here, right now.
His mind knew all this, but his heart galloped at the very idea of anything happening to his son. At even the idea of losing sight of him in a place where he could be hurt or taken or lost. Death would always be far too close for his liking in this world, but he would gladly give his own life if it meant his boy could be safe.
He gripped Boyd’s hand harder.
“So, what are you doing here?” Cara asked, eyebrows furrowing. “Are you visiting someone?”
It was a relief to focus on something other than the mental image of Boyd disappearing, although the topic was hardly less dire.
“Actually, yes. An old woman should have been brought in about an hour and a half ago. We wanted to check her status.”
“Hmm.” Cara dropped down into her chair and swiveled it back around to face the computers. “What’s the name?”
“I… have no idea.”
Cara gave him a strange look, and Cedrick felt oddly abashed. He rubbed the back of his neck, his head tipping downward slightly.
“Boyd saw her on the street. She looked dead, but she was still alive. Just very sick. I called 911 and the EMS said they’d bring her here. I promised Boyd we’d check up on her, but I don’t know what room she’d be in, and I don’t know who she was. She looked like she’d been living on the street for months—maybe years, judging by her condition. Is there a way to find her? I can describe her if you need.”
Cara chewed her lip, studying Cedrick, then Boyd. She glanced thoughtfully over her shoulder. “Maybe. Just a sec—let me check with someone first.”
Cedrick nodded and obediently stayed at the desk, quietly observing the people around them, while she hurried away.
“Do you think the skeleton wants candy?” Boyd asked.
Cedrick blinked and regarded his son. “What?”
Boyd looked up at him with his huge eyes. “You say it makes you feel better to eat chocolate when you’re sad. The skeleton might be sad. Should we buy her chocolate?”
Cedrick smiled and smoothed hair back over Boyd’s head. “You’re a sweet kid, Boyd. Never lose that. But she probably can’t eat chocolate right now. She’s sick, and hospitals give healthy food to sick patients to make them better faster. If we brought chocolate, we’d just get in trouble.”
“Oh.” Boyd regarded Cedrick for a long moment and then looked away decisively. “A book, then.”
The smile turned a touch sad, as Cedrick wondered whether she would even be alive for them to bring a book, or if she could see even if she was. He didn’t know if her blurred eyes were from disease and exhaustion or if something more had clouded her irises.
“We’ll see,” was all Cedrick could think to say.
He was spared from having to think of something more by Cara reappearing, her face flushed.
“I just heard the whole story from Kate. You said Boyd saw her?”
Cedrick nodded. “He wouldn’t let me leave until I called 911.”
Cara’s eyes brightened to near tears, and she rushed around the desk. She dropped to her knees and pulled Boyd into a hug.
“Sweetheart,” she breathed into his ear. “Sweetheart, you saved her life. They said if five more minutes had passed it would have been too late, but they got her here in time. She’ll lose a leg but she’s going to be okay.”
Air guttered out of Cedrick’s lungs, leaving him feeling hollow and whole all at once. He looked down at Cara, whose breath hitched as she held Boyd more tightly, while Boyd looked between the two of them in bewilderment.
“Why are you sad? The book said you call 911 to save someone. Dad called 911 so I knew she’d be okay.”
Cara sucked in a breath, and then she was crying against Boyd’s shoulder. Cedrick released his son’s hand, so Boyd could pat Cara lightly on the back in a there, there gesture. Cedrick knew this was about more than the woman. Seeing Cedrick so unexpectedly had probably brought all the trauma back to the forefront for Cara, of losing her whole family. Maybe knowing that the woman had been saved by strangers made her feel a little like there was still good in the world, that not everyone was lost like her family had been.
At least, that’s how it felt to Cedrick, who himself was orphaned like Cara.
It didn’t take long for Cara to recover herself. She pulled back, sniffing and wiping her eyes with the back of her wrist. She kissed Boyd on the forehead, lingered in a hug again, and then reluctantly stood. Boyd stared up at the adults with the same unaffected expression from before.
He didn’t seem to understand the importance of what he had done. He didn’t seem to realize that a woman was alive because he’d refused to ignore her pain, even when everyone else did. Including his own father, by thinking she was gone. He’d done something good because it came naturally to him, not because he expected accolades.
Cedrick had never felt prouder of his son in his life.
“So, can we see her?”
Cara nodded. Her eyes were red-rimmed, but she looked happier and more alive than he had ever seen her.
“She’ll be in 820A. She’s still in surgery, so you won’t be able to visit her for a few hours. I could call you to come back when she’s ready?”
Cedrick hesitated, and glanced down at Boyd. “No, I… I think we’ll stay here for a bit. Just in case.”
“Okay, but before you go. Cedrick…”
The weight in her voice caused Cedrick to return his attention fully to her. He faced her curiously, and Cara looked caught in that moment. Her lips lifted in a soft smile, but her eyes shone.
“I wanted to thank you. For everything you did for me before. I had nothing to offer, but you still went out of your way to help a complete stranger…” Cara’s liquid gaze fell on Boyd. “Thank you for passing that on to your son. I really…”
She bit her lip and scrunched her face. “I know how stupid this sounds, but I feel so much better knowing there are people like you and your son in the world to help balance the people who took my brother. My parents. If it weren’t for you, I might be dead. You were the only one who cared. The same way it sounds like your son was the only one who cared about that poor woman.”
Cedrick shook his head. “It’s nothing to thank us for, Cara, really. It’s what anyone would do.”
“No,” she said quietly. “It’s not.”
Cedrick didn’t know how to respond to that, and luckily he didn’t have to formulate a reply because Cara flashed him an enigmatic smile and pointed toward a set of elevators back and to the right. “Take one of those elevators and not the other ones around the corner, or you won’t be able to access the right wing. Go to the eighth floor and when you get off, hang a left. There’s a lounge you can use while you wait.”
“Thank you, Cara. And—I’m happy see you here. I’d wondered what happened to you. I’m glad to see you seem to be doing well.”
Cara smiled that gentle smile again and shook her head. “That, too, is something not everyone would do.”
“Care, or remember. Your family… Your family really is a blessing.”
If Cara saw such good in Cedrick and Boyd for doing what was right and what any normal person should do, he wondered if she would be able to see the good in Vivienne as well—or if she would retract her statement if she ever met Cedrick’s wife. He wanted to believe Cara would know, the way Cedrick had always known. He wanted to believe that Cara could be the stranger who would not ignore Vivienne.
But he would likely never know, and even if he did, he knew Vivienne wouldn’t care what some random woman thought of her. She never did. She couldn’t, because almost no one understood her and if she let herself be brought down by those who didn’t, she would spend her life moored in depression that would never let her leave the house.
Cedrick dismissed the idea the way he dismissed so many thoughts that moved through his mind constantly, always reading stories into the experiences around him.
He was about to walk away when he stopped and regarded Cara.
“Oh right. What’s the name of that woman? So we know what to call her when we see her.”
“Oh.” Cara consulted the computer and then looked up. “Looks like her name is Jezebel. Jezebel Aldrin.”