One long leg dangled out of the jeep, then another. Joyce heard her high heels meet the wet sidewalk with a damp scratch, and cast her eyes skywards. It had been raining most of the way there, but though Los Angeles was overcast, the clouds were becoming thin and ragged, with darkening blue sky threading through the gaps. Rain didn't look likely, so she figured she'd be ok to make the short walk to her destination.
It was the first time she'd been back to her hometown since the operation. Not that she really missed the place; it reminded her of Hank and divorces - and other things that weren't worth her consideration anymore. She paused to look in her side mirror, running stiff fingers through travel-flattened hair so that it sat better on her head. For a moment she caught a glimpse of her scar, a white right angle that contrasted sharply to her tawny locks, but she ignored the sudden dread that gathered like fog at the pit of her stomach. So many things weren't worth consideration.
The future was worth consideration, however, which was why she was here.
A quiet discussion with Rupert had lead to a phone call to Wesley, which in turn had got her to Los Angeles and a bar called Caritas. A bouncer stood at the entrance, and he clearly wasn't human. His purple head swivelled in her direction, an odd contrast to the black tuxedo and white shirt, and Joyce smiled despite herself. Not three years ago she would have dismissed him as a publicity stunt, convinced herself that it was just a man in a strange costume, or invent some other 'logical' explanation. Now she knew better and she'd got to the point where it didn't even shock her. You've come a long way, baby.
The bouncer appraised the slim woman. In a deep, melodious voice he intoned, "Our bar is not for humans."
"I - I know what sort of bar it is, thank you," Joyce replied, trying to sound confident.
There was a moment of silence as the bouncer continued to stare at her. Then, "Very well. Please respect our other patrons. Also use the human toilets."
Joyce nodded. "Thank you."
She walked past him and into the bar. The second face on the back of the bouncer's head watched her go. "Did we get reviewed in the Post or something? The humans better not think we're trendy."
Joyce walked down the short flight of stairs into the main bar area, raising an eyebrow at the site of what appeared to be an octopus singing Do You Know the Way to San Jose on the stage. Blinking a few times she made for the bar itself, an ordered a Virgin Mary.
The barman nodded and asked, "Is that blood or tomato juice?"
"Oh, tomato juice. Please."
She nursed her drink for a few songs, watching as various creatures made their way to the stage and sang into the microphone. Wesley had warned her what she had to do if she wanted to get any information from this . . . what was he again? Analogue demon? Fortune teller, anyway.
She winced as the thing that was on the stage murdered another line of My Heart Will Go On. Sure, Celine Dion had been bad, but this was just torture.
"Dontcha just feel like your brain is gonna cascade out of your ears any minute?"
She jumped, the voice a surprise. She heard a low chuckle. "Sorry, sweetling, I didn't mean to scare you."
Joyce looked at the source of the words and saw a tall, green demon in a white suit, clutching a glass of cocktail in one verdant hand. He used the other to indicate the singer, still marauding through his song.
"Kevin has a thing for Celine. I'm not sure if Ms. Dion would see it as a compliment or a grave insult, but he tries his best, bless his little heart." He gave Joyce a friendly smile. "So, my lovely lady, are you going to show us what your lungs can do?"
"I guess. I don't know what to sing though. Is there a certain type of song that helps him?"
"The demon that can see the future."
"Peaches, you can sing what you like. Although I have a soft spot for the old divas. Aretha, Chaka, Diana. That sort of thing."
"Oh. Oh! You're him?"
"The Host, at your service."
He watched her on the stage, quavering through Son of a Preacher Man. He liked that she'd chosen Dusty. He didn't like what he was seeing, or rather not seeing. Damn, he hated it when this happened.
She finished the song to gentle but genuine applause, and wobbled over to where the Host sat at a table to her left. She sat down, breathing hard. "I can't believe I did that."
"Sweetheart, you did her memory proud."
The Host gave her a serious look. "Now for the clairvoyance bit. Concentrate." He paused. "You've had some rough times, haven't you? It's not been your year. Not really been your decade."
Joyce nodded, not really wanting to say more.
He took one of her hands in his own, patting it with his other. "Honey, all I can tell you is this: it's gonna rain sometimes in people's lives whoever they are. What you have to do is enjoy the gaps in the clouds, because, my love, you don't know when it's gonna rain again. You've got a gap just now. Make sure you enjoy it."
"Is something bad going to happen?" Joyce asked, a worried expression across her face.
The Host smiled at her for a moment, a gentle expression. "Sure there's thunder a-coming. But you'll deal with it when it rumbles."
"What about my daughters? Will they . . . are they going to be ok?"
Red eyes flicked to the middle distance. "They'll manage."
Joyce opened her mouth to ask more questions. The Host put a finger to his lips. "Hush, now, my dear. I can't tell you everything. I don't know it all. Just you go have some fun. You're young, free and single after all!"
Joyce nodded again, slowly this time, as if she was trying to understand it all. "Thank you for everything."
She got to her feet and left, and the Host sat back in his chair, watching her go. Poor woman. She wants to know her future and she doesn't realise that she doesn't have one.
Joyce was back at the jeep when the first spots of rain began to bounce off the hood. She got in and pulled the door shut, sitting for a moment watching rain streak the windscreen. Then she reached into her handbag and pulled out a business card. An art dealer called Brian had scribbled 'Dinner and a movie sometime?" on the back. She flipped it over, pulled out her cellphone and tapped in the number.
She was going to enjoy the gap.