Second Star To The Right


francois_icon.gif teo3_icon.gif

Scene Title Second Star To The Right
Synopsis Left to find his own way home, Francois takes a detour.
Date February 5, 2010

Mexico, Antigua

Several days ago

Sunset this time. No less lurid than the sunrise that had presided over their parting, but this one has more blue than red, maroon instead of burnt ochre and the sky stacked with striated clouds that are probably going to burn off before any hope of bringing precipitation to the desert's blistered face.

Teo had made some calls. First to the firm to whom he— owes a car, the steering-wheelless state of the current one not yet divulged, then to some contact over in Antigua who's related to Miguel through some arcane webwork of blood relations. Through some combination of Spanish, English, and numbered dolares, he wound up with— another car. That has a steering wheel in it, a skinny fourteen-year-old for a driver, a loaf of cornbread and a whole crate of water bottles.

He doesn't seem to know what to do with the water. Stands there with the doors ajar, severed cheek and scabby mouth turned pensively downward, staring at the neat double row of white caps and sculpted plastic blocked across the back seats. The kid's still in the driver's seat, one leg hanging out into the ghost down and his eyes huge in his head as he studies the ruins like they're out of a story. Teo couldn't even begin to tell him.

Nighttime and desert chilliness come swifter thanks to winter. Francois blinks up in the sky as if to judge the time, then angles his gaze downwards to the car, resting his shoulder against a craggy corner of worn brick. Blankly, he sails his attention over the metal hood, snagging on the presence of a stranger and then, finally, resting on Teo. Probably a better idea to melt back into obscurity and wait for the sound of a car engine. Being the king of bad ideas, Francois carries himself forward on casual, meandering steps.

The grey sweater washes him out in low sunset light, covering up bandaging, tattoos, older scars. His jeans are still dusty from falling off his horse and getting tackled in the next few moments, and his feet are bare against still warm concrete and gravel.

Oh, look, Francois is here. Teo lifts his eyes briefly, drops them again, lifts them again as if this were some sort of comedic double-take but his expression doesn't change between the minute adjustments of his gaze. Down, then up again, though the second time— the second time, he doesn't get any higher than Francois' white feet.

After a moment's consideration, he stoops his shaggy off-blond head under the car's roof and there's the sound of snapping plastic, wrenched in his fingers until one bottle comes loose in his fingers.

He straightens up again and throws a water bottle at Francois' head. It's not very big— fourteen ounces, short and stubby and almost narrow enough for his fingers to meet around its ribbed girth. Long before its expiration date, too. It is a nice present.

Only slightly undercut by the coarse strength with which he slams the side of his hand on the roof above the kid boy's head. The child's eyes pop wide out of his reverie. He jumps out like a skinny brown jackrabbit, doesn't wait to be seized or shoved or shouted at; he stumbles into the back, squeezes in with the water bottles, giddy with fright. As much of the ghosts as the gringos.

A step to the left, feet at a crab's shuffle against the ground as Francois ducks without particular grace. If he was more awesome, he'd catch it. In this case, the water bottle bounces off a curved shoulder and goes careening off behind him at a skitter. Teo can hear the Frenchman's aggravated sigh from over there, a hand that had gone up in instinct now going back down after ruffling through hair. You can chase dogs off by throwing things at them — Francois concedes territory only by not coming further forward.

His hands find pockets in his sweater, more caught off guard by Teo bruising his fist against a car than the flung item, which gets a glance back, weight of his gaze settling back on the Sicilian once more, choosing to convey skepticism out of all the options he has. Chin tilts up. "Your ride?"

"Looks like it. Put on your seatbelt." The latter remark is directed at the child, obviously, and accompanied by a brief pantomime of the seatbelt-fastening process, one hand in the shape of a grip, pulled to and fro along the diagonal of Teo's own torso to demonstrate. The boy fumbles to obey, his brown fingers switching reedy over rounded metal, missing its socket a few times before it finally grinds home under the heel of his hand. Teo stares through the dusty glass until satisfied.

Afterward, he scratches his nose with a thumb like some uncouth mutt, a loud sniff run up the inside of his sleeve. Teodoro turns his head away while he runs his tongue over the ugly slit in the corner of his mouth, checking if it's as dried up and stiff as it feels, irritably jingling the handcuff still hanging off his wrist with a bent index. Everything is too bright or so deeply buried in shadow it doesn't seem to be there at all.

Everything is jumbled parts, inconvenient pinching, and smarting colors, and on the verge of falling apart. It's very— very irritating. "It's a piece of shit, but it'll do."

He can be verbose, usually. Flowery words lacking contractions, usually trimmed before anything can qualify as a rant or ramble. Rarely particularly quiet, which is what Francois is being right now, awkwardly so as he watches the foggy shapes of the boy inside the car scrabble to do as he's told, then dragging his attention back up over the car. It's a cool assessment, carefully chilled, in fact, and his head tilts towards the left in simple agreement.

Yes, the car is a piece of shit, but it will drive Teo away nonetheless. "I can see that. Are you taking it all the way to New York?" he asks, his voice light, conversational, cottoning around a hidden question or two.

"No." Teo closes his hand on the edge of the door then does nothing else with it, motion visibly stalled out in his figure. For whatever reason, he can not quite bring himself to sit in the car, shut himself in, and drive off on that note, even if it's a little bit beyond his ken right now to recognize the questions therein hidden. As a consequence, he winds up standing uncomfortably outside in the parching glare of the afternoon and looking at some interchangeable zone of terrain. "Just to the airport.

"A few stops on the way. There was the problem with the rental." For all he understates, there's nothing particularly coy about his word choice or his tone of voice. The problem; Francois knows or can imagine which one. Teo glances down at the roof of the vehicle as if his eyes could penetrate through it and check whether its original driver is okay after that small and short-lived display of violence, but the roof divulges nothing, and his astral projection would still appear to be on the funk, so he just— stares, until his irritation begins gradually to mount again.

It's probably petty that Francois says nothing, at this point. Chin dips back down in a nod, hands retracting from pockets midway Teo's words and arms coming to fold by the time he's done. He's not ready to leave, though it could probably just take a few minutes — putting together what few things he has with him, shoving on shoes. Rather than rushing to do these things, Francois remains where he'd come to stop and watches Teo as if to see what he's going to do next.

It is probably petty that what Teo does might have been different if Francois had said something. Francois doesn't.

The stalemate withers in the desert air for a few stilted seconds, before the Sicilian makes an odd little twitch through his neck and shoulders. Kind of a nod, sort of a shrug, make-believe ambivalence because that's politer, somehow, than a feline sneer and a prissy hiss. He lifts his hand and sinks into the car. It shuts with a clunk of chapped chrome and compressed and the engine starts with an awful scraping, grumbling noise, as if it's physically clearing its throat. A spume of exhaust roostertails out behind it and Teo's wrists, both encumbered and free, ply the wheel and pull the car out of the ruins' shadow.

Stoicism doesn't break even when Teo's shutting the door and driving off, all exhaust and kicked up dust and engine growls. There's a slither of some emotion beneath the surface, but by the time it's there to be seen, foggy under ice and indistinct, Teo has other things to focus on. Francois' shoulders hike up either in a cold shudder or a shrug to himself, before bare feet are carrying him out of sight even in the rearview mirror.

Mississippi, Jackson

Present Day

February 5, 2010

Maybe there will come a time in my life when I can no longer write down the accounts of things I feel are relevant. If I'd broken my right hand, these entries would probably be smaller. But what of old age? The stiffness of arthiritis siezing on joints, or tremors that make letters go wild and incomprehensible. Maybe I would need glasses or perhaps that wouldn't do me any good, eyes slowly clouding an inevitable dimness on the world. Perhaps I should fall out of this habit while it is still my decision to do so.

She said, "Why'd you come back here?" Moments after she'd realised that I was not lying when I introduced myself as Francis Allen. She had crossed herself, and tried to shut the door. In the messiness of conversation with too many questions going unasked and answered anyway, this one had slid by.

It is remarkable how much people do not change, even after almost sixteen years. There are lines printed into the corners of her eyes, weight gained, fashion adjusted to the times and her own age, her hair cut and features more severe — but it was not the smoothness of her skin or the length of her hair or even the shape of her curves that I remember her for. Her eyes, almost black, are no different, and the way her face has narrowed only emphasises the angles I recall, and of course, her name is still Laurel, and she still wore a crucifix, a golden one set with pearl that sits high between her collarbones.

Carlisle Dreyfus had changed in that he no longer cared whether I was alive or dead, although he did want me gone. The whiteness of his hair had startled me, but now I can see how unimportant that is, the physical effect of age. I was a footnote in his personal history. A man he didn't kill, once.

I have made so many mistakes that returning to New York City is unfathomable, and perhaps Teo agrees. I do not know what I have done to deserve the comfort I have found here, of a woman who remembers me just enough to welcome me into her home — after I explained how I could be and who I was. She had known something of the truth then, those fifteen years ago. Fifteen years that feel like only a collection of months to me, which is absolutely no time at all. I do feel things for her, but she had asked me to leave the first time and I suspect she will do so again. Unmarried for a reason — it is not as though she chooses to remain alone so that only I can fill a void.

She had asked it of me again, this morning — why did I come back here? This time it was without fear or accusation, but curiousity. Concern. I will try to recall what I said to her. I said that I wanted to find something familiar to me. I had found her name in the phonebooks a few weeks ago and knew that inevitably I would have to come see her. It was not for her ability, no.

She is a prophet, journal. And I did not come here to know of my future.

I was welcomed into her bed the next day, by sunlight, and that evening, I slept alone I found this book among her things, and she had bid me to keep it and take it with me, wherever it is I choose to go. She told me that her daughter had given it to her, and it was only after I filled out a page or two, and tore them out again, that I remembered to ask her about her child. No husband, she told me first, and that he had only served to give her a child anyway. She didn't speak anymore of her daughter and I found some pictures when she went out to an evening mass. I think she died. I should not be here.

The things I want to write about go out of order. I want to talk about how Kazimir Volken has perished. I do not know what to say about Antarctica because I can barely understand what happened, and I don't care to find out. I can only say what did not happen — the world did not end. I want to write about Abigail as a child, and let the woman read a full account of that day. Then of cour

Her smooth brown hand closes the journal, long fingers splayed along the cover. Her fingernails are clean of paint but wouldn't need it anyway, coral petals at the end of her fingers. The scent of tea leaves and lavender are fleeting when she leans in enough to press a kiss against his hair, breath warm and voice rich with something like rueful affection.

"Go home, boy."

So he does.

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