Julian Files chapter 6, scene 2 — read scene 1 first
Saturday July 16, 2005
Westwind Hospital, Financial South neighborhood
“Why did we have to come back?”
Cedrick mused how his five year old son passed the gift shop without a second glance but Cedrick, the twenty-five year old dad, slowed and eyed the wares longingly. The notebooks! They had his favorite sizes, although a bit more melodramatic in style than he preferred. He didn’t really need something gold and flowery proclaiming “be well” on it, but—but then again, it looked like it would fit into his back pocket well, and there was something to be said about hiding important notes in plain sight, and…
Shaking his head to himself, he tugged Boyd along as he sped his walk. He had entirely too many notebooks already. Soon, they would run out of room in the library and Vivienne would not be pleased.
She actually liked the library.
On the rare days she wasn’t working or doing errands or otherwise engaged, sometimes he found her curled in the library’s corner chair with her hair tumbling over her shoulder as she slowly flipped the pages. Her free hand would be curled around a warm mug of jasmine tea with milk. Once upon a time she had scoffed at the addition of milk but after his mom had introduced it to her, she had continued to add it even on her own, even after his mother had passed.
Sometimes on those days, when he walked into the room and if she was really taken with a story, she wouldn’t notice his presence until he was behind her and kissed her on the neck. On those days she would turn, startled, and her sky blue eyes would be unguarded. He would get the luxury of her flushing cheeks, and a flash of the smile that had broken his heart and mended it back together the first time he’d seen it. A genuine, brilliant pull of her lips that brightened her entire face and made her, for once, look her actual age, if not even younger.
It would remind him of when they had been teenagers, back in France when they’d first met. The time it had taken him to win her over, to convince her he wasn’t just trying to use her or hurt her; that he wasn’t mocking her or demanding she become an entirely different person to become someone worthwhile.
The time it had taken her to believe in the idea that someone could like her for who she was, not who they wanted her to be.
On those library days they were years younger again, and it was the first time he saw her smile, the first time he heard the clear bell of her laugh, the first time she gripped his hands and danced on light feet backward, facing him and smiling while the wind swept her hair into a pirouette circling to the sky.
It was all the many firsts in one moment; all the times he got a glimpse of the fierce and lighthearted woman she might have been if her grandmother had let her be human.
On those days, she would kiss him on the cheek and run her fingers through his hair, gently, so gently, and he would rest his forehead on her and take solace in the warmth of her presence. On those days, they were a team again, and nothing he’d done or not done had ever pulled them apart.
But those were rare days, when he had the chance to see that breathless smile. Rare days, when she didn’t look at him the second he walked into the library, with her flawless features that couldn’t help being guarded even at home.
Still, she was more relaxed in the library than anywhere else. Still, she felt more accessible there, with her blond hair a gentle roll down her front, and her shirt dipping down over one shoulder, and her eyes the most beautiful blue he’d ever seen.
After years of stasis, those quiet library days had been increasing again lately, which he took to be a sign that she was finally starting to heal from the death of his family. She’d been hit even harder than Cedrick had been by their loss. It had devastated her to such a depth that for so long, she had been a shadow of herself.
For so long, he had worried he would lose her, too.
Cedrick looked down at Boyd’s cocked head. People often made fun of Cedrick for how quickly he got lost in his own thoughts, and after a point they tended to stop bothering him about it and left him to his own devices. They grew accustomed to him leaving questions unanswered. Boyd, whether through youthful oblivion or stubbornness, never did.
Cedrick had to search his memory for what Boyd had asked before he could reply. “It’s Saturday so they had restricted visiting hours, and she wasn’t stable enough for visitors this morning.”
“Is she stable enough now?”
“That’s what we’re here to find out.”
They stopped at the front desk, finding Cara gone; whether it was past her shift or she was just on break, he didn’t know. The stop was much quicker this time, and within minutes they were in the elevator. It was completely silent in there, and for once Cedrick missed the elevator music.
He watched the others in the elevator instead: a young man with arms tightly crossed and red-rimmed eyes, who didn’t stop rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. He stared at the slowly shifting numbers announcing what floor they were on, with a gaze that burned intently. Next to him, a middle-aged woman gripped a little girl’s hand; the girl looked younger than Boyd, and seemed oblivious to the tears tracking the woman’s cheeks. In the other corner was an old man so wizened that his features were mere fluctuations in the rise and fall of the skin on his face.
Cedrick constantly wondered what the story was of people he saw. He built fables in his mind; sometimes dramatic, sometimes heartbreakingly not.
For these strangers, he built a story:
The young man, he decided, was named Max. Max had always tried to find love in the girlfriends he’d 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 together, and sometimes even skipped classes to go on spontaneously-devised adventures. Max’s favorite thing to do was urban exploration, 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 had visited the old, abandoned hospital in Carson City; rumored to have housed the worst psychiatric patients the state had ever seen.
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; the taste of blood, accompanied by the faint ringing of screams he swore he could hear in the far, far distance. 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 drum line in his chest; tripping over beats and melodies but staying enough of a tune to keep him alive.
When they had reached the top floor, Trevor had been jumpy and frightened. When something crashed and screeched on another floor, Trevor had thrown himself backward.
Not seeing the gaping hole open beneath him.
Thankfully only to the next floor, with detritus to slow his fall. But in that second when Trevor had disappeared, and in the subsequent scream and choking gasp shot straight to silence, Max had felt his world end. He’d raced downstairs, frantic and unable to understand the maze of the corridors in his panic, until finally he’d located Trevor unmoving on the pile.
Max had run up to him, fingers slipping and hands shaking as he had searched for a pulse, as the flashlight had woven and bobbed with his actions, making it impossible for him to see if Trevor’s chest moved. It had seemed like forever before Max had felt it: a pulse, shuddering only slightly, and it had seemed like another portion of eternity until Max could figure out how to get Trevor out of there. There were no ambulances in Carson City, no one but scavengers to find them weak and ripe for attack. It had taken him entirely too long, but he’d managed to fashion a gurney out of a rickety old rolling table and a slab of desk that had broken beneath Trevor in his fall. Entirely too long before Max had been able to place Trevor in the car—carefully, so carefully so as not to hurt or twist his back—and far, far too long to get him back to Lexington.
Here, to Westwind.
Trevor had been in the ICU the night before, and Max had spent every second here since. Raw on the corners and withholding tears so hard it reddened his eyes anyway; turned them bright and sharp on the edges while his hands clenched buried beneath the opposing arm. His jaw worked; tightening and loosening, grinding the teeth and then not.
He hadn’t been able to stand still since he’d had a revelation the night before:
He loved Trevor.
He loved Trevor, and he was bi—or gay, or, hell, he didn’t know what he was anymore. All he knew was his best friend meant the world to him and now he knew Trevor might not be okay because of him.
Even if Trevor ended up being okay, that Friday night had shifted the entire paradigm of Max’s existence.
And Max was terrified of letting anyone know.
Terrified that somehow, some way, someone would notice, and they would tell Trevor when he finally woke up, and Max would lose his friend all over again.
Better, he thought, to keep it all in. Better, he believed, to deny.
So he held himself tight and brittle-strong. He shifted his weight relentlessly, and he stared so hard forward that no one would know to look at him twice. No one would know what he’d realized he’d become, or maybe—maybe had been all along.
The elevator dinged loudly, drawing Cedrick sharply out of his thoughts. The young man—the ostensible Max—let out a quiet hiss and all but ran out of the elevator. He left in long-legged strides, loping across the open area toward the windows showing a helplessly bright summer afternoon beyond.
Cedrick sighed and leaned back against the elevator wall. He’d liked the story he’d started to build for the man he’d randomly named Max. Now he was sad to see the guy go, and was too attached to the mythical Trevor to want to commit himself to a story for the other occupants. Even so, he studied them thoughtfully when they weren’t looking, until the doors dinged again.
This time, it was his stop.
Boyd fell in step beside Cedrick, weaving through the twists and turns of the hospital until they reached their goal.
The door was open, but at first Cedrick couldn’t see anything other than a portion of a crisp white hospital bed, closed cabinet doors in the back wall, and a window with the blinds pulled down. He glanced at Boyd as if to silently ask if he was ready, to which Boyd gave him the silent reply of, “I’ve been ready all along, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Cedrick’s lips twitched at the thought that he was building stories for his own son now, too. Always putting words to others’ actions; meaning to their glances. It had been that way for him his whole life. Maybe it was why he could read into people like Vivienne and find the woman to love when so many others stopped at a person to hate or misunderstand.
To Cedrick, it had always been about the depths and the uncertainties; the silence and the stories.
He knocked on the door lightly, peering around the edge as he called out, “Hello?”
There was no answer, and inexplicably Cedrick glanced at Boyd again. Like a five year old would know any better what to do in this case than someone twenty years his senior. Cedrick almost snorted to himself, but thought that it might make him seem even odder to poor Jezebel than he was liable to be on his own.
He stepped into the room, the door creaking in a way that made him wince. Boyd was a dark shadow at his hip, silent and observant.
The room seemed empty at first. Then, they moved so they could see around the half-drawn curtain, and Cedrick found the woman lying on the bed.
She looked only marginally better. Death still seemed to have a hold on the old woman, if nowhere stronger than her expression. An IV fed into her wrist, there was a bandage over the edge of her missing arm, and the sheet traveled over one long and knobbly leg to her foot, while it fell to an abrupt halt on the other thigh. Her skin looked paper-white and just as thin and fragile; great dark circles pressed around her eyes as the shadows in a skull, and her collarbone rose as a mountain against the ridges of her chest just above her gown.
But it was her eyes that made Cedrick ache.
She stared sightlessly at the meeting of the ceiling and the wall, hardly blinking, hardly breathing. If it weren’t for the machines telling him she was alive, Cedrick might have thought she was little more than a mummy yet to be wrapped.
Cedrick hadn’t noticed he’d lost Boyd’s hand until he saw his son appear next to Jezebel’s bed. Cedrick hesitated, feeling as if he were intruding on the woman in the first place, and not knowing whether Boyd was only making it worse—but the silence felt too heavy, too strong, to risk being broken. So he stayed there, electric and unknowing; watching the scene unfold the way his son watched the woman.
She didn’t react at first. She stared at the ceiling as Boyd stared at her, until he raised his hand and placed it gently on her wrist. He was clearly very careful not to touch her IV, not to touch anything but her skin. Whether it was the warmth of his hand or the size of it that drew her attention, Cedrick didn’t know. But finally her eyes moved; slowly, catching and sliding along the way as if her body were unused to the motion. Or any motion at all.
Her head dropped to the side, and her eyes settled on Boyd. He watched her calmly, his hand unmoving from hers.
The intake of her breath felt momentous and loud, for how subtle and quiet it was. Cedrick didn’t dare move from where he hovered, and didn’t dare speak when Boyd patted her arm. Cedrick realized that the wavering of her shoulders belied silent sobs.
They stayed there the whole two hours that they were allowed for visiting hours, and although Cedrick eventually sat in a chair where she could see him, Jezebel never spoke or acknowledged him. Her watery eyes stayed on Boyd the whole time, and even when he sat in a chair at her side he didn’t let go of her arm. He didn’t speak again, either; he just watched her while she watched him; letting her exist in the small space of reality she was able to carve out for herself right now.
She fell asleep before their time was up and a nurse stopped in to check on her. Cedrick quietly gathered Boyd in his arms, holding him to his chest rather than letting him walk at his side. He felt the weight of pain and loss from that silent room, and he wanted the comfort of Boyd’s small heartbeat resounding in his chest. They left the room shortly before the nurse, who caught up to Cedrick before he could leave.
She wore pale blue scrubs in a faint paisley pattern, and her hair was held back by a headband. She touched Cedrick’s arm to slow him down, and didn’t speak until he’d turned.
“Are you Jezebel’s family?” she asked, and Cedrick had to shake his head.
“No, we’re just visiting.”
Boyd turned his head from where it had been buried in Cedrick’s neck. When he faced the nurse, Cedrick saw understanding brighten her features.
“Oh,” she said significantly. She reached out, pushing hair from Boyd’s eyes. “You’re the one who saw her, aren’t you, honey? They told me it was a pretty little boy like you. They didn’t tell me you had such beautiful eyes.”
“I don’t know where he got it,” Cedrick explained, the way he always did when people commented on Boyd’s amber eyes. The next question was always ‘oh are his mother’s like this?’ or ‘oh, does this run in the family?’ “My family was mostly brown or hazel and my wife’s was mostly blue. He just got lucky, I guess. It’s a pretty rare color. Did you know they call it wolf eyes?”
“I can see why.” She smiled at Boyd, who only stared solemnly in return. Her smile turned a touch sad, and she ran her hand back over Boyd’s hair even as she tipped her eyes up to Cedrick. From this angle, he could see the tag on her scrubs, giving her name as Cierra.
“Poor Ms. Aldrin,” Cierra said. “She’s been quiet the whole time she’s been here. We don’t know if she has family, if she will have a place to stay when she’s eventually released… anything. I’ve tried asking her when I go in there but all she does is stare.”
“Will they be doing a psychological evaluation if this continues?”
“Most likely, yes. Especially given her age and condition when she was brought in. But when I saw she had visitors, I have to admit I really hoped her family had come to help her, or at least keep her company.”
“How long do you expect she’ll be kept here?”
Cierra sighed heavily and, with a light pat on Boyd’s head, she straightened. “It’s hard to say right now. She was severely malnourished when she was brought in, and with the amputation we’ll need time to monitor it to ensure there are no complications. Then she’ll need therapy and will have to learn how to use a wheelchair or, possibly, be fitted for an artificial limb. At her age, we have to be even more careful. It will be a month at least, if not much longer depending on her health and recovery period.”
“Can we visit her again?”
A smile like the sun broke out on Cierra’s face. “Of course. If she’s okay with it. But—” Dark eyelashes sheltered the thoughts in her eyes when she looked back at 820A. “I have a feeling she needs that connection, even if right now she doesn’t realize it.”
“Yeah.” Cedrick thought of that thousand-yard stare. “I think you’re right.”
Cierra patted Cedrick on the arm, flashed Boyd another smile, and then excused herself to continue her work. Cedrick was lost in thought as he carried Boyd out of the hospital. It was easy to get wrapped up in his mind when Boyd was around; he asked so little of his parents, and brought so little attention to himself, that Cedrick’s natural tendency to lapse into rumination often took over without him even realizing he was doing it.
The abrupt ring of his phone from his back pocket made him jump, automatically tightening his hold on Boyd in protection.
As if Doctor My Eyes blaring from his ass was really a portent for an attack on his kid.
Cedrick snorted at his own idiocy, and balanced Boyd with one arm while he dug around for the phone. He caught it right before it went to voice mail.
“Yeah?” he asked breathlessly, knowing by the ring tone who it would be. He held the phone precariously between his cheek and shoulder. His arms were starting to ache from Boyd’s weight but he couldn’t bring himself to set his son down, even though he was almost certainly too old to be carted around like this.
“You alright?” came Bell’s deep voice.
“I’m fine. Why?”
“It’s release day and usually you’re around, or at least call to ask if it all went smoothly. I expected a call or visit hours ago, but when it never happened I grew worried.”
“Shit!” Cedrick’s gaze darted all around, as if a schedule would magically appear on the hospital wall or the close-up view of his son’s hair. “I completely forgot—I’m sorry. Something happened earlier today and I lost track of time.”
“Something bad?” Bell cut in sharply, protectiveness and worry all rolled into one.
“Sort of, but it’s not what you’re thinking. I’ll tell you about it later. Suffice it to say, everyone’s fine, we were never in danger, there’s nothing to worry about. I was so consumed with following through that I forgot about everything else.”
A soft laugh rolled across the line. “Sounds about right. Cedrick Beaulieu always has to see it through to the end of the story.”
Cedrick chuckled. “Know your weaknesses, as they say.”
“And your strengths. It’s that too, Cedrick. Never forget.”
Cedrick made a verbal noise that amounted to a shrug.
“Well,” Bell said as he drew in a great breath. “No harm done. It went as smoothly as ever, so you can desist any retroactive worrying you might have started since the beginning of this conversation.”
Cedrick laughed. “It’s possible you know me a bit too well.”
“Can’t ever be too well for a friend. Take care of yourself. I’ll see you next month.”
He nearly said Bell’s name aloud, but didn’t. It was possibly paranoia or possibly smart thinking, but they only called each other by name if the one speaking it was in a secure location. They were certain of the security of the line itself, but one never knew who might be eavesdropping on one half of the conversation. One never knew what small pieces of information they might accidentally drop in a conversation that could build up to a much greater, more ominous whole in the wrong hands.
It was for the same reason that they never said the names JG or the Journalist Guild over the phone. Just in case someone overheard. Just in case their anonymity was compromised.
Bell hung up, and Cedrick returned the phone to his pocket. He was silent a breath, and then looked over at Boyd.
He offered his son a grin. “So. Who’s up for the art store?”
Boyd released one small hand from Cedrick’s neck to raise it in the air.
“Okay!” Cedrick enthused. “And who’s going to pay?”
Boyd put his hand down.
Cedrick laughed. “Cheapskate.”