Working up a potential new storyline...
Updated: Feb 7, 2021
These two came to me as I was lying in bed one night, watching The Originals, hence the names "Camille and Nick" (and NOLA, but we all knew I was already obsessed with that place). I was half watching the show, half thinking about the things that haunt us. And the things that haunt me most are the people whom I have loved. And I got to thinking... what if they're never really gone?
Nick LaCroix died alone in his dirty, ghetto-ass duplex apartment sometime between last night and this morning, and I’m probably the only asshole alive who’ll miss him. Probably the only one who knows he’s dead, too. I pulled across from his apartment just as the EMTs were pulling him through the door on a gurney with a sheet covering him. I know it was him because the emergency crew ran the wheel of the gurney straight into the hole in the porch—the one Nick had glued an old rag rug over—and when it sank in, the jolt was enough to rattle an arm out from under the sheet, and Nick was the only person I knew with bones tattooed on his hand. His skeleton hand. He got the tattoo because he thought it would look “badass” when his fingers changed chords on the neck of his guitar, though I hadn’t seen him pick the thing up in years.
I had intended to stop by, throw back a bottle of whiskey with him, and have some rough and sloppy makeup sex, but I guess I was a little too late. In the part of town that Nick was living in, junkies die every day—most of the time, no one notices, except maybe another junkie, if the dead one put a kink in their supply chain, and even then, grieving isn’t something that is really afforded to addicts. They were the walking dead—broken bodies with protruding bones and sunken eyes, wandering the streets, driven only by one thing—and they all knew their time was coming. I had watched several “death parades” while sitting on the edge of Nick’s porch, smoking cigarettes and leaning shoulder to shoulder into each other. First the ambulance, then the cops, sometimes a rust bucket of a car speeding behind them, if someone gave enough of a damn to hope the OD wasn’t final, and always the rubber-neckers. Nick always joked that they were “Fourth Line Parades,” because he said no one in that neighborhood was worthy of the Second Line, and Bridgeport, West Virginia was a far cry from New Orleans, Louisiana where he’d spent the first decade of this life. I always half expected him to jump up, grab his guitar, and chase the lights and sirens down the street, playing a Fourth Line appropriate funeral dirge. He never did, though. He just watched with the same expression as the rest of the junkies on the street—a weird blend of regret, fear, and resignation—a “there but for the grace of God go I” look. Except there was no God. Not in that neighborhood. Not unless you counted the sweet answered prayer that came from a needle spiked into a vein.
I had known Nick since we were twelve years old. I met him when he and his mother moved into the apartment next to mine. He was my first best friend, my first boyfriend—my only boyfriend to date, actually. We’d never broken up, or he never quite left, or we’d never quite left each other. We were satellites, orbiting each other—sometimes close, sometimes far, but never off track. And when he’d pull back, I’d let him because I got it—drugs are fun… at least they are until they become a chore, which is what they became for Nick over the past year, and he knew what he had become. I knew what he had become. But we didn’t talk about it because talking about it felt too much like betrayal.
I twisted the top off the Jack Daniels I’d brought and watched as they loaded Nick—my boyfriend, my best friend, the only person I had left—into the back of his death taxi. I couldn’t cry. Not yet. So instead, I took a long drink from the bottle I’d intended to share with him, then held it up in a toast. “Here’s to you, you son of a bitch. I can’t fuckin’ believe you left me here. Alone.” And as I took another long swallow, I could swear I heard him calling my name. I lit a cigarette and, as the smoke curled around my face, I closed my eyes and listened, but I didn’t hear it again.
The first time I heard her speak, I knew I loved her, selflessly and with reckless abandon. “Hey,” was all she said, but her voice… it was like a song you’ve never heard, but somehow you already know the melody by heart, like it’s something that’s always been inside you. The very idea that I, in my preadolescence, could love someone like this—heart and soul—was absolutely exhilarating. Certainly more exhilarating than the pencil I had woven between fingers on a hand which grew dewey with nervous sweat. I dropped it and looked at her, squinting against the summer sun that shone behind her.
“What’re you drawing?”
I answered immediately, without even knowing words were falling from my mouth. “It’s nothing.”
“That doesn’t look like nothing.” She gestured to the colorful villain I had sketched in my notebook.
“Well, it is.”
“Whatever, dude. Tell me what you want, but I’m lookin’ at that thing, and I’m telling you, it isn’t ‘nothing.’”
“Thanks, I think.”
“Yeah, you’re welcome. I’m Cami, by the way. Short for Camille. What’s your name?” She extended her hand to me.
As I took it, I felt the color red splash through me. “Nick.”
She cocked her head, “Nicholas?”
She grinned, and metal braces peeked through her lips, as she wiped her palm against the back pocket of her denim shorts. “Well, Just Nick, nice to meet you. It’s hot out here. You want a popsicle?”
I wanted anything she had to offer me. “Yes.”
“C’mon, then. Come inside.” She, again, clasped her hand around my sweaty palm, pulled me up from the ground, and led me inside the apartment building. We walked in perfect sync into the elevator, and she pushed buttons. “What’s your number?” She asked.
“You don’t know where you live?”
“I think it’s 221. Yeah. 221, like Sherlock.” My mother and I had moved in only days before.
“No shit!” she exclaimed. “I’m 223. We’re neighbors.”
She turned the knob to 223 and walked into the apartment she shared with her mother and mother’s fiancé, while I stood, silently relishing that I shared a bedroom wall with a girl more beautiful than any I’d seen.
“Well, c’mon, then. Get in here. Don’t just stand there like a weirdo.”
What I didn’t know then was that I’d met the love that everyone aspires to, but how could I have known? At twelve years old, the only references I had for life were comic books and colored pencils.
Over her popsicle, Camille told me about her life, openly and matter of factly. I watched and listened, determined to learn everything about her. Each of her stories were the same—sad memories of the way things used to be and unpleasant tales of present life, all wounds she allowed to bleed openly and freely—and I sat, eyes wide and rapt with fascination with my then untroubled heart, accepting everything she told me while cold, sticky liquid ran over my hand. I’d never liked popsicles.
“…and don’t you feel sorry for me, either. I’m just telling you how it is. Because if we’re going to be friends, you might as well know it all up front.”
“Okay. I won’t.” The truth was that I didn’t know how to feel sorry for her because I could barely wrap my head around the things she told me.
“Good. So, what about you, then? What’s your story? And I want the whole thing.”
“Um, we just moved here.”
“Duh!” She rolled her eyes.
“I need the gory details.”
Gory details? How many twelve year olds other than her had ‘gory details?’ “I, uh, like to draw?” I was asking for approval.
She grunted. “Fine. Be mysterious, then. What kind of accent is that? Where are you from?”
“Why are you here?”
“My mom said she got tired of the humidity. I just think she ran out of boyfriends,” I said with a shrug. “She used to live here. In this town, I mean. So, she came home, I guess.”
“Do you have a dad?”
“Kind of. Not really.”
“Where’s your mom?”
“I dunno. Not here. The Applebee’s bar, if I had to guess.”
“But, it’s noon.”
“It’s five o’clock somewhere, Just Nick.”
I didn’t know what that meant, and I am not sure if she did either, so I just nodded, then sucked in breath as she grabbed my hand again, examined where the popsicle had left a red, sticky residue, then licked it and laughed. “C’mon,” she said, “let’s go play Nintendo.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. You see, when you are a child, you enter into friendship with honesty and good faith because you don’t know otherwise, and after a while, you kind of become each other. You end up possessing all of each other’s strengths and all of each other’s weaknesses—even your joys and your fears meld together. And that’s okay, because those things become sacred to you, rules as hard set as the commandments. For instance, neither Camille nor I ever used a yellow lighter, not once. Why? Because Camille said they were bad luck, and though she never seemed to have supporting evidence of that, I believed her—yellow lighters brought ill fortunes. And that was that. And at that age, none of those things—those joys and fears— make or break you because you don’t think with your head, but with your heart. One of you decrees it, and so it is. And always was. And always will be. Because as young creatures of heart, you forge ahead in life blindly, innocently trusting that everything will always remain the same.
The thing is, though, it doesn’t.
A millions times I asked myself: If only I’d known what lay ahead on the day I pretended to like artificially flavored ice, globbed up and frozen to a wooden tongue depressor… would I have declined her invitation? Would I have forgone all the pain and suffering that life eventually served us? I honestly don’t know. Life’s lessons are cumulative, and my life may have turned out better by definition—maybe I’d’ve been a successful artist, selling paintings in the French Quarter, like I’d dreamed, but maybe I wouldn’t have turned out to be that at all. Maybe my journey was always meant to end the way it did. And if I’d said no, if I’d simply ignored Camille and continued drawing The Joker, alone, under the shade of the only tree by my new apartment complex, nothing in my life would have unfolded with her. And a life without Camille might have burned slowly, but it would have burned a lot less bright.
Because even on the day I died—the day the reaper finally caught up and came to collect his bounty—I didn’t gasp or fight for air as fluid gradually replaced oxygen in my lungs, but simply closed my eyes as they stopped between one breath and the next and remembered how beautiful she was the first time I saw her.
I don’t remember driving off. I don’t know if it was Jack Daniels or shock, all I knew was by the time I reached the bar—my bar—I was furious when I should have been sad. Anger just seemed so much easier than sadness—less messy somehow. I slammed bottles as I cleaned them, trying to not think about Nick.
Drop your comments below! What are the things that haunt you? Do you think this is a plot worth pursuing?