"They can find us here just the same."
Joey paced the room and ran his fingers through his hair and tugged on his shirt and did anything but join JC on the bed. Anything but do what they had, presumably, gone away together to do in the first place. And JC was just... he was tired of it.
"No, they won't," he insisted. "Joey, your girlfriend is practically to the point of waddling--"
"She's not my girlfriend," interrupted Joey, acting--as he had all afternoon--like he wasn't even listening to what JC was saying. Or not listening to the important parts, anyway. "And you don't have to... look, I know that's what you're really upset about."
"I'm not the one who's upset," JC said, but it didn't take a genius to know that he wasn't exactly happy with the situation. "It's not like Kelly goes out of her way to talk to Bobbie, they're not going to compare notes. We'll be back tomorrow, Joey, can we just have tonight?"
"You are upset about it," he said. "You've made that pretty clear, Jace..."
"Well what do you want me to tell you?" said JC, springing up from the bed and stalking across the room, his back to Joey. "You get her knocked up and you think things are going to be the same between you and me after?"
"It has nothing to do with you and me."
"It has everything to do with you and me," said JC, and pressed his head against the window and wished that Joey could just understand that without a fight.
Joey was silent, pacing and waiting, and JC didn't know what to say so he stared out the window into the evening sky.
December in New Orleans and the weather was at least cooler than it had been in August, but the air still felt thick, the clouds piled high. This was Lance's city, hot and mysterious and bright and seductively slow. And always on the go, beneath the surface. JC and Joey were only in it by default, because it was close and because it was a place they could lose themselves, for a while.
"You can't just have a child with someone and expect nothing to change with us, Joey," he said finally, turning away from the window and closing the curtains tightly. "It's already changing. Look at you, you're paranoid about her finding out we're here together because you know she'll go off the deep end if she does."
"That's just the pregnancy," he said dismissively. "That'll end."
"No, Joey, that's just Kelly," insisted JC, tugging on the curtain so he wouldn't do anything else with his hands. "You know that. And you may say she's not your girlfriend to me, but you, me and the whole country know that she thinks she is."
"Most of the country doesn't even know she exists."
"You know what I mean."
"Jace," he said, and JC finally turned around to face him again. "I know it's hard right now and I know things are weird, but then she'll have the baby and everything will be back to normal again. And just picture it... you and me and my little baby..."
"Joey, what makes you think I'd want that?"
That, finally, got his attention. "Jace," he said, and stared at him, and then said again, "Jace. God. Now's a fine time to tell me. When were you planning on doing it? After she was born?"
"You just haven't been listening," he said, and let go of the curtain to throw his hands up in the air. "It's what I've been trying to say all along. You and me were... something. Something good. And then suddenly I find out that your girlfriend--yes, your girlfriend, just admit it Joey--is pregnant and you're gonna be a proud daddy and. Everything changes now."
"So maybe we should just end it," said Joey flatly. "Maybe that's what we came here to do, not to get some time together, just to end it."
"Joey, just stop, don't you want to--"
"Want to what?" snapped Joey. "Have a quickie for the road? No thanks." JC couldn't remember the last time he'd seen him like this, and didn't remember Joey ever having been genuinely nasty to him before. Ever.
"Oh come on," said JC, but Joey looked serious. "What, you'd rather just end this than talk about it like adults? Some kind of father you're gonna make. I'm just gonna... I need to get out of here."
He was already grabbing his bag, with his notebook in it, when he heard Joey say, "Well fuck you anyway," and open the door for him.
JC had never been so happy to get away.
JC got into the cab and guessed he had an hour, maybe two, left of sunlight. He would barely get comfortable somewhere before he had to turn around and leave, but maybe then he could retreat to some nearby café until he felt ready to go back to Joey. He was pretty sure that, at least, was going to take more than an hour.
"So where am I taking you?"
JC looked up, startled, realizing that "away" wasn't really a good enough answer. "Um, wait," he said, digging around in his bag for the guide book of the city he carried with him, just in case. "I had a list... of some places I wanted to see." Things that Joey would never, could never, do with him. He wanted something relaxing and quiet and... inspiring. And outdoors, because he didn't think he could stand to be cooped up any longer than he already had been. The book eluded him. "Are there any old cemeteries near here?"
"Take me there, then," he said, and closed up his bag again.
"You're going to have to be a bit more specific."
"Oh," JC tightened the straps and thought about it. "I don't know... somewhere, you know, not so busy. Quiet. Somewhere I'd be safe to be alone. If there is such a place."
"Oh, there is," his driver assured him, and started off without even specifying what direction they were going in. JC found he didn't really care. He was getting away, going somewhere, and maybe he could get some perspective on the whole thing.
"And if there's a back gate," he added, "that would be good, too."
As they got closer, he noted that it might be a bit of a hike to get to any kind of coffee shop when it started to get dark, but at least the way was well lit and... oh god, was that a school. He hadn't thought to ask about that. The wave of nervousness he felt go through him, knowing he was alone out here, wasn't unexpected. He had no security, had never really planned on leaving the hotel. No one knew he was in town, but that didn't mean--never meant--that he would go unrecognized.
"What is this place?" he asked, nose practically pressed up against the window. It didn't look anything like what he was expecting. "Is it in my guide book?"
"Probably," said his driver as he came to a stop. "Was a potter's field once, they call it Holt. Lots of history here. It's got soul. Just watch your step."
JC didn't know whether he was being literal or figurative, he just paid him his money and didn't ask, and he'd driven off again before JC even got through the gates.
It didn't look anything like what he'd been expecting; there were no mausoleums, no crypts, no littering of monuments, no narrow walkways between them to lose himself in. It was wide open and sprawling, the ground uneven but at least well-kept. The bodies here were below the ground, not above, graves marked off by boards or stones or flowers or nothing at all, with headstones that pitched and lilted and sometimes tumbled right over.
It wasn't beautiful, and JC loved it on sight.
It wasn't hard to understand his cab driver's warning now--the reason why graves here were above ground wasn't just cultural; it would be pretty traumatic to trip over some kind of surprise, poking out of the ground. And plus, the graves themselves were so erratic, and some so poorly marked, that he never knew from step to step just what he was treading on.
As he made his way further inside, he was surprised to find himself not only mostly alone, but completely alone. Not another soul was in sight from where he was standing, no caretakers, no visitors, no one. He supposed early evening in December wasn't really a prime time to visit the dead.
It was exactly the kind of place to turn his raging frustration--anger even--toward Joey into something he could actually cope with. Something he could examine without wanting to lash out in some way. Which meant, typically, that he wanted to write about it, distill his feelings into lyrics and then never show them to anyone because truth in pop music wasn't a trail he felt ready to be blazing.
He passed by broken tombstones and fresh graves with elaborate homemade remembrances on them and by a tall wooden grave marker with a fading name and some dates painted crookedly on the front. He ran his hand over the unfinished top of it as he headed towards a nearby tree, a huge oak covered in moss.
No matter where he stopped he would probably be sitting on someone's final resting place, but at least beneath the tree he could tell that it wasn't recent. He pulled his notebook out of his bag--dammit, and there was the guide book, all along--and started jotting things down. Words, phrases, black scribbles. And let himself get lost in the process.
He didn't really notice that it was getting dark until he couldn't see the words he'd written anymore. And by then it was too late to hope that he'd be able to get anywhere else before night fell. It might even have been too late to hope he'd even get out of the cemetery by that time. He'd been vaguely aware of a couple people walking somewhere nearby while he'd been there, but when he looked up he was completely alone again.
Probably because, like having the good sense to come in out of the rain, everyone else knew to get somewhere safer than a cemetery before dark. He did take the time to carefully stow the notebook before getting up--he'd gotten down a few things but mostly just angry words and nothing rhymed and it was more an exercise in free association than any kind of lyric composition. But it had still been better than hanging around the hotel room and fighting some more.
He hadn't gotten very far before he realized that he'd misjudged, that he wasn't alone in the cemetery after all, and he braced himself for whatever was coming--for anything from a stalking fan to a gang of kids to a guy with a gun. He wasn't sure which would be worst. When he looked back of his shoulder, there was no one there... but he saw a wisp of movement out of the corner of his eye. A bird, or a snake. The feeling of alarm passed, and he turned back around to start on his way.
JC had never been so startled by a child before in his life, which given his life was saying a lot. As the light faded from the sky it was like she just appeared there, in front of him. Looking sweet and innocent and... alone.
"Hello," he said after a moment, the word too loud, to compensate for his speechlessness a few moments earlier. "Uh, hi there."
There was no denying the fact that he could see right through her, but his brain wasn't quick to process that fact and trigger any sort of appropriate reaction. So he was running on instinct, and instinct told him that if a little girl said hi to him, he should say hello back.
"I'm lost," she said, and rocked back and forth nervously and stared at her bare feet.
"You're... lost?" he said, frozen in place, staring at the little, delicate creature in front of him. "Where are you trying to be?" He wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer to that question at all, and his guts started twisting. Lately, that wasn't such an unfamiliar feeling,.
"Home," she said, and would have been digging a toe in the dirt if there had been any substance to her. "I can't find my mama and daddy."
JC could imagine that she couldn't. Not in here. Maybe not anywhere. And his gut clenched again as he watched her face scrunch up. He even thought maybe he saw tears. And suddenly she was nothing but a little girl, who needed him.
"Let me help you," he said, when he knew he couldn't, and reached for her hand. A chill went through him as she reached for him, too, and touched his hand and there was actually something of substance there. Something for him to hang onto. "Let's look."
She turned her face up toward him and smiled and there was such detail there: a smudge of dirt on her nose and cheek, a gap where a front tooth was missing, wisps of hair trailing along her cheeks, fallen from where it was raggedly tied back with a ribbon. And the look on her face was one of absolute trust. JC's guts twisted again, but it wasn't that he was afraid of her.
He looked around at the uneven rows of graves around him and had no idea where to start. The light was already bad enough that he would be stumbling around, and the idea of going even deeper into this cemetery gave him shivers.
"My mama gave me a new dress," she said cheerfully, though, as she started leading him along a narrow path between graves. And over them, he was sure. Her dress looked anything but new, worn and torn and dirty, but everything had been new once, he supposed. This one happened to have been new a long time ago. "She made it jus' for me."
"It's very pretty," said JC. "You're a very pretty girl." She gave him her gap-toothed grin again and tugged him faster. "Whoa, slow down honey, you don't want to fall."
She obediently slowed down, almost to a stop, which let JC got his bearings again. "That's what mama always said to me," she said. "Slow down, slow down, you'll fall and break your neck, Emmy." She gave a credible imitation of an older woman, grinning at him again.
"Your mom's a smart woman," he told her, looking around and trying to spy the gate where he'd come in. All he saw were graves and trees and long shadows. "When I was little my mom used to tell me that, too."
"And did you fall?"
"Quite a bit, actually," he had to admit, and squeezed her hand. It was still solid, but he refused to look down, knowing he would see that he was holding onto air. "I never broke my neck, though."
JC stumbled, hitting his knee on a jagged stone that marked the edge of a grave. He tore his jeans and was bleeding, but he hardly noticed.
"Are you okay?" she asked as JC pulled himself to his feet again, her hand still firmly in his. "You fell."
"I did," he said, and stared at her. "I'm okay, though."
"I'm okay now, too," she assured him, and tugged his hand. It was getting darker, and there they still were, and JC still had no way to help her. He could feel an all-too-familiar panic rising in his chest, squeezing, and he choked in a breath. But this little girl... she still had unwavering faith in him to take care of her when her parents couldn't. He wouldn't let her see he was afraid.
"Come on," he said. "Let's keep going."
"I remember the way now," she said, tugging on his hand again. "Don't worry, we'll go slow this time."
He didn't have the faintest clue where she was leading him until he got there, and it occurred to him that then would have been a perfectly appropriate time to show a little fear, or at least common sense, but he just followed her anyway.
"Here," she said, and JC remembered the wooden grave marker. He'd run his hand over it not so long ago. "I've found my way home."
Home. 'Emily Laviolette," was the name painted onto the wood. "Beloved daughter. 1936-1941." And when he looked close he could see a tiny rosebud etched next to her name, almost worn away by the years. JC didn't know what to say, so he just looked at her and smiled and finally let go of her hand.
"Thank you for bringing me home," she said. When she moved overtop of her grave, JC could see the tombstone right through her. The look she gave him when she lifted her head to meet his eyes again was very solemn. "You'll do better than you think," she said, and sank into the earth and vanished.
"JC." He felt a hand on his shoulder and jumped and spun around. Joey. "JC, you're freezing!" Joey shone a light at him, the Maglite he kept on his keychain, then switched it off, letting darkness fall over them again. "What were you doing? What were you thinking?"
It took JC a few moments to come back to himself, to answer. "How... how did you figure out where I was?"
"I followed you," said Joey simply. "To the gates. I waited for you there, but it started to get dark and you never came. And then I couldn't find you anywhere..."
"I was lost," murmured JC, and shivered, and wondered when he'd gotten so cold. "You followed me?"
"Yeah, I followed you," Joey admitted sheepishly. "I know, you don't have to give me that lecture about giving you your space, I've already heard it. But I didn't want to leave things the way we left them."
JC finally understood a bit better just why they had, though. "I'm not mad," he said. "I'm sorry."
"No... no I'm sorry," said Joey. "For the stuff I said. I'm sorry. I just... I'm scared, Jace. I'm scared I'm in over my head here. I'm scared I won't have any idea how to be a dad, and that having a baby will mean I'll lose everything I have now... "
"I'm scared too," JC interrupted him, and put a hand over Joey's mouth. "No, listen. You know if we're gonna stay what we are, your baby's gonna be part of my life, too. And I don't know if I'm gonna be good at that. If being a good, responsible parent is genetic, then... well, you've got the advantage there."
"Oh, don't," said Joey, gently pulling his hand away. "JC... you don't believe that, do you?"
"I'm scared of it," he said honestly. "I don't know what to do about that."
"You're great with kids, Jace, you know you are."
The thought still made JC's guts clench. At least now he knew why. "I'm great with other people's kids."
"I'm other people."
"Not other people enough," said JC. He reached for Joey's hand, and sighed. "I'd have to live with my mistakes."
"I'm scared of making mistakes too," said Joey. "I think that's pretty normal. You're just... you're worried about being a daddy, too."
JC was. Because he had no way of knowing what kind of daddy he would be, and no way of knowing just how everything in his life would change with a baby in a mix. How he and Joey would change, and it was an inevitable thing that they would. They had to face that. It was hard enough to balance things in their lives now, and still be together; it might turn out to be impossible.
"So what do we do now, then?" JC asked. "What happens now?"
"You don't want to lose me," said Joey, "and I don't want to lose you. So I guess we... just try. And figure things out as we go."
"Try," said JC, and nodded his head. There was no stopping it now; muddling through was the only thing left they could cling to. "Okay."
Joey switched his light back on, and started to lead them through the dark.