They’re on the couch when they get the news. John leaning against Lafayette’s chest. Dozing as Lafayette reads one of his school books. Highlighting when he needs to. Holding the book above John’s head, and arranging his arms so he can hold John and write at the same time. It’s not practical, but it works. John’s half asleep when his phone rings. He swats at his pocket. Struggling back into consciousness. The hardest fight he’s ever fought. Lafayette kisses his crown. Amused.
By the time John manages to turn the phone on. Answer it. It’s almost rung out. But he manages with a slurred “‘lo?” Lafayette generally doesn’t listen to John’s conversations. Is much more invested in what Piaget has to say. But John gasps out a “What?” and sits up so fast Lafayette doesn’t have time to move his book. Slamming his forehead into the spine, nearly knocking it from Lafayette’s grasp entirely. John doesn’t seem to notice. He’s on his feet. “Say that again.”
John’s not tired anymore. He’s filled with energy. Adrenaline coursing through him so quick Lafayette can smell it. He sits up straight. Watches as John starts pacing. Lafayette sets the book on the coffee table. Any pretense for not listening, gone.
“When?” John’s voice is straining. His hands are shaking.
Lafayette pulls his legs under him. Takes inventory. His wallet’s in his jacket pocket. His keys on the key ring by the door. Where they belong. “John?” he asks carefully.
“My father just dropped dead,” John replies shortly. “What-no I’m not going to apologize for that Martha. Where are you right now? Where’s your mother?”
He’s still pacing. More frantically than before. He’s a mess. Lafayette stands up. Walks to his keys and activates the automatic car starter. They’re going to be going somewhere. Doesn’t matter where. Lafayette just knows. They’re going to be travelling somewhere. “Samantha.” John sighs. “I’m sorry for your loss.” He doesn’t sound sorry. If anything. He’s going through the motions.
Only reason he’s lasted this long is because he’s running on adrenaline. Anger pushing him forwards. Giving him a chance to talk without flinching. Without pausing. “Has someone told Junior and James—no she said...Marty said Alice was with him.”
John’s feet fall to a stop. He stares blankly at the wall in front of him. “Again?” he drawls slowly. Lafayette can almost hear the voice on the other side huffing a response. “Daughter…?” John asks. “Wait, what the hell do you mean you— what?” He lifts a hand to his eyes. Rubs at them. “Where’s Frances now?”
He rushes to snatch his jacket off the back of a chair. Struggles to get his hands in the sleeve while pinching the phone to his shoulder. He’s out the door before he’s even off the call. Lafayette trailing behind him. John’s feet slow to a stop, and he blinks at the running car. Turns back to frown at Lafayette. Phone still pinched to his ear. “No I’m three hours away. I’ll be there when I can.”
Waving toward the car, Lafayette shrugs. Welcomes John to proceed. He does. Walking about to sit in the passenger seat. Lafayette sits behind the wheel. They’re on the road only a few moments later.
The call clicks to an end. Lafayette has no idea which direction she should be driving in. He waits for John to explain. “Car crash,” John murmurs. “He was drunk. He got into a car crash.” John’s seatbelt digs against his throat. His hands lay limp in his lap.
He stares out the windshield. Licks his lips. “He got married again. Divorced. Married. I don’t. He’s got another kid.” For someone who never talks about his family life, this is more information than John’s ever offered. Than Lafayette’s ever heard. He starts towards the interstate. Lets John continue explaining in a daze. “Frances. She’s three.”
Left or right. North or south. “John?” Lafayette presses quietly. Waiting for a decision. John stares at the street signs. Shock’s finally settling in.
Lafayette turns the car to the right. They have a long drive ahead of them.
Francine Laurens is three years old. She has curly blonde hair and a smattering of freckles. Blue eyes. And John’s button nose. Her mouth and jaw matches John’s as well. Or, perhaps a better way to look at it, is that Francine shares the same genetic tendencies as her older brother.
Lafayette’s still trying to wrap his head around the fact that someone could be so detached from his family that he didn’t realize his father had been married and begotten another sibling for three years. John seems to still be reeling from the news that a man he’s despised is well and truly gone.
John’s father’s house is opulent. Massive. The grounds are sprawling. The building far too much for a single man, his wife, and their young child. Even Lafayette’s house in France had seemed miniature by comparison. And Lafayette never thought his house could be called small.
One of Henry Laurens’ employees let them in. They look at John with a slightly star-struck expression. As if finally putting a name to the face of someone oft referenced. They don’t seem particularly surprised he’s there. Just. A little dumbfounded.
But they don’t stop John from finding Frances. They don’t stop him from slowly opening the door to her bedroom, and staring at her. Frances is sitting with a doll in her lap. A glossy book in front of her. She pinches the pages between her fingers. Squeezing them together as she pulls one page over. Turns it. Then the next. There’s music playing from a pink little stereo. She seems more interested in running her hands over the glossy book.
She doesn’t look up at John. Just keeps squashing pages between her fingers and palm. Slides it to the other side. Squish. Squish. Squish. “John?” Lafayette whispers. He takes a step deeper into the room. Glances around them as if any moment something could explode from under Frances’ bed.
“Her parents are dead,” John murmurs. Frances squishes another page in her book. It’s the last one. She frowns. Tiny pink lips twisting about on her pale pale face. Looking up at John, her blue eyes widen. Her lips pull back in a great smile. She holds the book in front of her chest and shows him the glossy page in the back.
“Ah-ah!” she tells him with pride. He has nothing to say to that. Can only blink at her. This is the first day they’ve met. And she hardly seems to realize it.
The staff member who’d been chaperoning Frances before they arrived, quietly slips out the door. Leaving them alone. Talks in hushed voices to her colleagues. Frances isn’t her responsibility any longer. Her employer is dead. “When is your step-mother coming back?” Lafayette asks carefully.
“She’s not.” The information is new. Startling.
Lafayette returns his attention to the little girl.
For a child who’s just lost her parents, she seems quite...happy. Too happy. Big blue eyes stare up at John. Then turn toward Lafayette. The book falls from her fingers. She reaches out toward him. Hands opening and closing. Bending knuckles. Gimme! obvious.
She toddles toward him. “Ah-ah!” passes John and nearly bumps into Lafayette’s legs. So focussed is she on raising her hands up to reach above Lafayette’s head. John’s watching them. Face inscrutable. “You’re taking her home,” Lafayette realizes suddenly. John’s lips press tight.
“I’ll bring her to the dorm. Find something from there.” His face twists with disatisfaction. “The staff’s leaving.”
Frances keeps reaching higher. “Ah-ah!”
Lafayette bends his knees. She’s so tiny. He needs to lean down to get on eye level for her. But she’s not interested in his eyes. She’s interested in his hair.
She throws her hands into his hair and — okay that’s an odd feeling. “Ah-ah!”
John’s watching him warily. And Lafayette knows. Knows this is another test. Knows this is another breaking point in the fragile relationship they’ve started to build. John’s going to bring his sister back to the dorm. So she’s not at the house. Not an imposition. Not in Lafayette’s way. He’s going to do this...why?
He’s never met this girl before. Four hours ago they hadn’t been thinking about little girls in pink dresses. Reading glossy paged books on their bedroom floors. “They’ll put her in foster care.” John whispers. He’s afraid of something. Upset. “My step-moms,” because apparently his father re-married no less than four times after his mother’s death, “they won’t take her.”
Frances poofs his hair. Strokes it like a cat. Tugging and pulling and giggling as she plays with its edges. It’s volume. She likes it. It’s amusing to her. “I’m the only one old enough...to take her in.” Frances places her hands on Lafayette’s cheeks. Kisses them. First left. Then right. He wonders who taught her that. “Alex was in foster care.”
Lafayette reaches up, and places his hands on Frances’ slim hips. He hoists her up into the air. Holds her to him. She laughs loudly. Kicking her legs back and forth. Lafayette knows Alex had been in foster care. Knows Alex’s stories about foster care. “Let us stay the night here, non? ” Lafayette suggests. “We’ll need to gather her things in the morning.”
“Things.” John doesn’t seem to understand the concept of the word.
For a man whose possessions include an armful of clothes, school work, and a stuffed turtle, John’s hopeless when it comes to items of personal value. “Things,” Lafayette agrees. “If she’s going to live with us, she’ll need some things.”
John stares at him. “We don’t live together,” he whispers. Stunned and uncertain.
Lafayette doesn’t dignify that with a response. He just looks down at blonde little Frances, who couldn’t look less like John’s sister if she tried. She smiles at him. Okay. He decides. She’s theirs.
Frances hadn’t been raised by her parents. Lafayette discovers that very shortly after they start collecting Frances’ things. Her parents had little to do with her. The staff have a guide book instead. And they’ve rotated out so frequently that Frances has few attachments to any of them. They regard her as they regard a dirty spoon. Something to be cleaned and set aside until useful.
“He’s never been hands on,” John mumbled in regards to his father. Never calling him by any affectionate title or moniker. Lafayette’s almost certain John would call the man ‘Henry’ if he could get away with it. Instead, he avoids the mention as much as he is able. “He doesn’t like kids.”
Frances is sitting on her bed with her glossy paged book. Squinting at the pages. Her hair’s a mess. Her clothes are rumpled. The staff say she’s not their concern. “He has...five?” Lafayette questions. John’s searching for a brush. He finds it settled on an armoire too mature for such a tiny child.
“Martha, Junior, James, Frances, and me.”
The names are intriguing. Lafayette can’t help but ask, “Why are you not ‘Junior’. You are the eldest.”
“Why would he name me Junior?” he asks quietly. Staring at the brush as if it was going to answer him. Letting his hand fall to his side, he gives Lafayette a disparaging look. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Frances is white.”
Lafayette blinks. Blinks again. He turns back to look at the small child. Mouth thinning to a single line. Lips disappearing as he presses them tight. “I take it your father and siblings—”
“White. Whiter than bread. Mayonnaise. Crackers. Whatever the fuck you want to call them. I look like their staff . My mom was his staff.” Lafayette thinks back to the photograph John keeps in an envelope by his bed. A gorgeous woman holding a small brown skinned child in her arms. Freckles and curly hair. Smile so bright she could shame the stars. “They were young. She served in their household. Cleaned their floors. They thought they were in love. Ran away and got married. Then he woke up one day and realized having a colored kid like me did nothing for his reputation. His happiest day was when my mother died. Gave him an excuse to find someone who looked right. Someone to complete the family portrait.”
It’s more than John’s ever said about his family. Lafayette feels his hands start to clench. His irritation growing. Grateful that Henry Laurens had died. Furious that he’d died without the suffering he truly deserved.
John rubbed at his cheek. As if he could somehow wipe away his dark skin. As if he could somehow scrub it down. Make it white. With his brown eyes and his crinkly hair. He’d never pass it off. He’d never be able to be something he wasn’t. “He told Samantha I didn’t want to be around her.” Lafayette walks toward Frances’ bed. Sits down. The little girl is absorbed in her book. She doesn’t lift her head.
His boyfriend is staring off in the distance. Not looking at anything. Lost somewhere between past and present. Losing any sense of time or reality. “Told her that I hated her. Couldn’t move on.” He kept rubbing at his cheek. “Got me an apartment near the school. Had me live there alone while he had his own life. With her. Martha.”
“How old were you?”
“Ten. Mom died the year before.” Tears start falling from his eyes. “Samantha divorced him when she saw my apartment. Said it was cruel. He got mad about that.”
“That wasn’t your fault.”
Like it mattered. The words are useless. Years too late, and not even a little bit helpful even if he’d heard them then. John’s lived a lifetime since he was a child. He’s been on his own. He’s learned how to live on his own. For better or for worse.
Lafayette’s words are meaningless. And John’s deaf to them. Makes no motion he’s heard. Keeps staring at the wall. Rubbing at his skin like washing away a curse. Lafayette stands. “Did he hit you?” He doesn’t ask if John liked it. He knows he wouldn’t.
“I’m not letting Frances go into foster care,” John replies instead. He doesn’t continue his story. Doesn’t pick up where he left off. Leaves it at that.
Lafayette lets him get away with it. The man of John’s nightmares is dead. There’s nothing else that can be done. Except. For Frances. “Francine,” he decides. John’s brows furrow. “I think I’ll call her ‘Francine’.” They look at the little girl. She doesn’t seem to care one way or another. Just keeps reading her book.
They spend a day cleaning out one of the spare bedrooms and turning it into a nursery. They don’t paint the walls. But they do setup her bed. Bring in all the toys they can find. Arrange things just so.
Frances doesn’t speak. She does stare at the world around her in open wonder and confusion. She holds onto her books. Looks out the window. Kicks her little baby legs in her car seat. She latches onto Lafayette the moment he unbuckles her from the car. And Lafayette is perfectly at ease with dragging her up onto his shoulders. Letting her sit there and hold fistfulls of his hair between her palms.
She burrows her face into it. Tugging it this way and that. John watches him with wide eyes. Disbelieving. “I have interacted with children before, mon amour, ” he informs John primly.
Granted, not a child like Francine. But children nonetheless. Francine’s caregiver had given them a book filled with instructions. She side eyed them both as they had packed Francine’s things. Explained that Frances needed a schedule. Routine. That she didn’t like strangers.
There’d been an awkward moment where the caregiver lifted her eyes to where Francine had been burying her head in Lafayette’s hair, and John couldn’t help the snort. Asking, “Does she know he’s a stranger?” in an acerbic tone.
“Well you’re certainly a stranger to her,” the woman had snapped back. John flinched. Ducking his head and muttering darkly under his breath. Lafayette felt his anger rising. How dare she?
Francine had yet to really look at John at all. Her eyes skittered past him. She didn’t react to him. Didn’t seem to notice him standing at Lafayette’s side. Didn’t respond when he asked her questions. If not for her fascination with his hair, Lafayette was certain he’d receive the same treatment. But at least for now she seemed content occupying herself with him.
If Francine’s inattention bothered John, he did his best not to show it. Considering his phone continued ringing off the hook with various siblings, lawyers, and step-mothers, Lafayette imagined John was actually happy Francine at least had something to distract her. She fell asleep, flopped over Lafayette’s skull. Tiny hands still wound in his hair. A topsy-turvy hat that wiggled from time to time.
Organizing Francine’s bedroom didn’t take as long as it could have, though. By the end of their first day with her, she was the privileged owner of her own ten by ten. Small and cramped compared to her palatial room at her father’s house. She didn’t seem to mind. She’s got her books. She’s got Lafayette’s hair. She seems very happy.
He moves her to her new bed. And she curls around her favorite things. Sleeps just fine. Lafayette steps out of her room to find John curled up on the floor next to her door. He’s sitting on his butt. Knees pulled up to his chest. Arms wrapped around his legs.
Lafayette sighs. Sits down across from him. Their feet slide against each other in the hall. Legs knocking side by side. “What do you need?” he asks. Because right now he hasn’t got a clue. So much has changed within the last twenty-four hours. John never talks about his family. Never mentions his father. Never brings up his siblings. He doesn’t like confrontation. He doesn’t like other people in his space. There’s not much he likes about anything that’s happened.
He’s doing it anyway. “Pourquoi, mon cherie?”
“Parce que je le dois,” John replies. French falling off his tongue so much faster now. With confidence. He’s listened to Lafayette speak to him for months now. He has several playlists in nothing but French. When he speaks, Lafayette will occasionally correct the pronunciation. And French sounds glorious on John’s tongue.
“Elle est ta soeur. Pas ta fille.”
“Pourquoi fais-tu ça?” John asks. He lets his knees fall down. Lets his hands fall into his lap. “Why are you doing this?” he repeats in English. Crawling across the floor. Lafayette creates space for him. Spreads his legs. Lets John press his hands to his shoulders. Lets him crowd him against the wall. He barricades John’s body with his legs. Reaches his hands to squeeze John’s hips. Lets his nails dig into John’s perfect skin.
“Do I need a reason?”
John’s offering himself to him. Baring his body. Wilfully submitting beneath Lafayette’s hands. And Lafayette can see how this goes. Can see John meek and submissive beneath him. Thinking it’s what Lafayette wants. Thinking that it’ll get John what he wants.
The thought is utterly repulsive. “Yes,” John whispers to him. “You need a reason.” The terms must be set in John’s mind. He must know his groundwork. His foundation. Where he is and where he’s going to be. He wants to know his role. His place in life.
“Because you’re mine,” Lafayette tells him firmly. He pinches John’s chin between his thumb and forefinger. “I look after what’s mine.”
He’s telling the truth.
And John accepts it as fact. The night ends. Both of them listening for the sounds of Francine, Lafayette holding John’s body tight. Squeezing it close. Hurting and being hurt in turn. It’s the only way they can breathe.
Francine eats the same meal every day. She likes peanut butter and apples for breakfast. A tuna-fish sandwich for lunch. Green beans and crackers for dinner. No alterations. No changes. She eats at the same time every night.
Her schedule is mandatory. They take turns making sure it’s followed. John goes to class while Lafayette watches her. Lafayette does the same. She’s mostly quiet. Hums to herself occasionally while she plays with her books. Smiles to herself always. But if her schedule is broken she sobs uncontrollably. No amount of cuddling able to calm her down.
When she’s asleep, they go downstairs. Beat each other until they can’t move. More painful, but less violent, in equal measures. John only stops when he can no longer stand. When he can no longer think. Can barely breathe. Lafayette takes him down faster. Smarter. Aims for places that won’t ruin John’s ability to serve as caretaker.
Three days after Francine has become theirs, the night John’s signed her guardianship paperwork, Lafayette fights him. The difference is obvious. Fractured walls splintering like broken glass. Lafayette aims a slow punch towards John, and he lets it hit him. Lets his hand drop. Lets Lafayette take him down. Strike him as he does nothing to defend himself.
Lafayette’s fury is blinding. He pulls John up by his throat. Slams him against a wall. John’s crying. Really crying now. Not simply tearing up from biology or otherwise. He’s sobbing. And Lafayette drops him. Has no idea what he’s supposed to do. How he’s supposed to fix this. John hated his father. The funeral’s tomorrow and they’d already decided not to go. But John’s crying so hard he’s barely breathing.
And he’s using Lafayette to punish himself. “I don’t fight you for this,” Lafayette tells him. Their fights had never been about punishment. About shame. About willful torture. John liked getting off with Lafayette. He fought back because he liked fighting. Liked throwing punches. Liked watching as blood swelled under his fingers. Adrenaline its own form of high. “If I wanted to beat someone I’d beat Alex.”
It’s a cruel thing to say, given the circumstances. Alex just barely recovering from his last run in with someone who had no qualms about beating him. He says it to get a rise out of John. To force him into fighting back. John’s collapsed on the floor. Shaking apart before his eyes.
Lafayette doesn’t know what to do.
He calls Alex. No point in trying to make things better. When Alex picks up, he cuts to the chase. “I need your help.”
Alex arrives with bells on. He explodes through Lafayette’s front door. Aaron scurrying after him. Lafayette can hear them both on the stairs. Alex thumping down into the basement. Rounding the corner and finding John sprawled against Lafayette’s chest. Still crying. He hasn’t stopped. It’s been nearly half an hour. But John hasn’t stopped crying. And he shows no signs of stopping.
Lafayette shifts as Alex hurries forward, passing John into his care as Aaron finally appears at the bottom of the staircase. With John secured, Lafayette can approach Burr. Can snatch him by the arm and drag him back up to the main house. He has no business being down there with John and Alex. Not right now. Not ever.
John’s in pieces at the moment, and he deserves his own privacy.
He releases Aaron when they get to the living room. Lets him go and walks to the kitchen. Aaron, thankfully, doesn’t press his luck. He follows, if a little warily, and lingers half in the hallway. Lafayette doesn’t care. His heart is pounding in his throat. John’s submitted to him before. Yes. He’s given in.
But he’s never…. never just laid beneath him and wanted to get beaten for no other reason than to be beaten. Especially not for the pleasure of the blow. John hadn’t been enjoying himself. Hadn’t wanted to fight. He’d let Lafayette hit him because it was what Lafayette had wanted to do at the time.
He was going to be sick.
Lafayette’s hands slammed to the edges of the counter. Aaron jumps beside him. It doesn’t matter. He breathes in sharply. Ignoring Aaron completely. Just focuses on keeping calm. On not losing his mind. On not taking it out on anything other than himself.
There’s a shift upstairs. A high pitched whine. Aaron whips his head about. Stairs at the ceiling like it might collapse on him.
Pulling in one last breath, Lafayette pushes away from the counter. Goes to soothe the child. Aaron gets in his way. “What was that?” he asked. More aggression and dedication than Lafayette’s ever seen him portray.
“John’s sister.” He goes to push past Aaron, but Aaron places a hand on his chest. Plants his feet firmly in Lafayette’s way.
It’s the shock that forces Lafayette’s feet to stop. Nailed to the floor. What a presumptuous little— “You’re not going up there like this,” Aaron all but commands.
“What exactly do you think I’m going to—” his mouth snaps closed. He knows what Aaron thinks he’s going to do. The thought is so putrid, so utterly repugnant, Lafayette feels his temper snap. He snatches Aaron’s arms and twists. Throws him to the floor. Just barely manages to keep from kicking the man while he’s down. It takes everything he has to not do so. “ Casse-toi!”
He’s up the stairs before Aaron can get up off the floor. Opens the door before Aaron manages to follow him. It doesn’t matter, Francine is in her bed. And she’s crying. She’s crying big fat baby tears, and Lafayette goes to her. Murmurs sweetly in French. Trails his fingers over her arm to capture her attention. Then bends down so she can see his face. His hair.
She lifts her hands and grabs it immediately. And he pulls her up. Cradles her against his shoulder. Rubs her back and hushes her. Aaron slides into the doorway, breathing hard. Looking for all the world like he expected Lafayette to be beating Francine bloody here in her bedroom.
Her hiccuping cries had started to subside while she’d been held, but they started up the moment she saw Aaron. Wailing even louder. Piercing Lafayette’s ears. He squeezes her a little tighter. Giving her a tight embrace. Shooshing her as he fumbles for her blanket. It feels wrong in his hand. He’d known it was wrong when they packed it.
Granted his understanding of early child developmental disorders was comprised of his junior year baccalaureate level course load. But he’d at least paid attention. He’d read the books. He’d taken the tests. Her blanket was warm, but not heavy enough. They’d need to get something else.
Her guide book said she liked layers. Maybe it’d been less about layers and more about weight. He wraps it around her anyway. Still speaking in French. She likes the sound of it. Likes hearing it. She settles her head against his and lets him rock her. Hold her tight and keep her safe and warm. “Mon petit Chou…” he tells her. Cupping a hand to the back of her head. Letting her nestle in against him.
She doesn’t seem like she wet herself. Her diaper isn’t full. But she hiccups and cries against him. And doesn’t stop for a long while. Aaron watching him incredulously from start to finish. Monitoring the situation. Not trusting that Lafayette had no intentions of harming Francine in any way.
Aaron had no right to judge.
Francine doesn’t go back to sleep. Stays stubbornly awake and clingy. She stops crying. Though she’s unhappy. “Ah-ah”ing against his head as she pulls on Lafayette’s hair. He takes her downstairs. Carries her to the sofa where he curls up with her in his lap. Aaron asks, “What’s her name?” Lafayette doesn’t answer.
He pulls the guidebook out and starts flicking through pages. Trying to find any reason why she’d wake up like this. There’s a page towards the back. Wakes up during the night. Ignore. He tosses the book in the garbage. Cursing as he rocks Francine back and forth.
He has one of his Early Childhood books somewhere. It’s hidden under Abnormal Psychology and Piaget. Snatching it, he starts trying to find something to answer.
He can’t encourage her to eat something. Can’t entice her to let him go. Go back to sleep. He can feel his eyes starting to burn. He’s exhausted. But Francine is impervious.
She hugs on tight and she doesn’t let go. And is still there when John and Alex come up from the basement. John’s eyes go to Francine immediately. His shoulders sagging. “She’s having a rough night,” Lafayette warns him. John nods. Wanders closer. The bruises on his skin stand out. It’s uncomfortable. They make Lafayette’s stomach twist.
He balances Francine with one arm. Uses the other to cup the back of John’s head. Bring his face closer so he can kiss his brow. “Do not do that again,” he tells John firmly. His boyfriend nods.
“Sorry,” he offers. Even as he reaches for Francine. Shifts her from Lafayette’s hold to his own. Francine’s eyes start welling. She’s going to cry again. Lafayette can see it. But when she looks at John, she stops. Raises her tiny little fingers to poke at his bruised cheek. “Sorry,” he tells Francine too. She presses a kiss to his cheeks. First the left. Then the right. Then she rests her little head against his shoulder. And promptly falls asleep.
John looks like he might start to cry again. But instead, Alex guides him out of the kitchen and upstairs. Lafayette hopes he’s putting John to sleep. John desperately needs to sleep.
The next day, John floats about the house. He holds Francine. Sits next to her while she plays with her book. Cuts her her apples. Gives her her peanut butter. He’s in shock. Can’t bring himself to muster up enough energy to react to his surroundings. Lafayette holds onto him. “You’re okay,” he whispers against John’s head. Tries to ignore the shaking. Tries to piece him back together again.
“Just because you hate someone, doesn’t mean you’re ready for it when they die,” Alex muttered quietly the night before. Lafayette doesn’t need Alex to tell him that. The proof is obvious. John’s breaking apart right in front of him. He doesn’t know what to do.
His father’s funeral is at noon. Lafayette watches as John stares at the clock. Counts the seconds until it starts. Francine doesn’t notice. Just keeps playing. By twelve-thirty, John’s leaning on Lafayette’s shoulder. He’s shaking.
The clock keeps ticking. John’s whole family will have been together. Step-mothers. Siblings. Alex said, “John hasn’t been allowed to see his siblings in years.” This would have been his only opportunity to see them together. Alex said, “John’s always wanted his father’s approval.” Then, quieter, “I know what that’s like.”
Wanting someone who abuses you to love you. Wanting someone who hates you to treat you well. Lafayette wants to raise Henry Laurens from the dead. Wants to drag him before John. Throw him to John’s mercy. Knows, that if he does that, it won’t be Henry Laurens. Bleeding on the floor. It’ll be John. John, who wouldn’t raise a finger to his father. Who would let the man hate him. Because he thinks he deserves it.
The clock chimes one.
The speeches will have started now. All the dearly beloved gathering round. Sobbing into handkerchiefs. Accepting condolences.
Francine lets out a shrill laugh. She lifts the book up to show John. And John takes it mechanically. Brown hands sliding over white fingers. Flinching away. Ashamed and uncertain. Lafayette wonders whose voice is narrating the actions in John’s head. He wonders if necromancy can be a thing.
One-thirty. Maybe some music will play. Something stiff and formal. Maybe someone will remember to give John a brief mention. Maybe no one will bother to think of John. Or Francine.
Lafayette pulls John closer. Cups his cheeks. “In France, I lived in Haute-Loire. Do you know where that is?” John doesn’t answer. It’s fine. Lafayette doesn’t really expect him to remember this conversation in the morning. “If you place your finger in the center of a map. Trail it down just a touch. It is there. It is beautiful you know. So much more than this.” He adjusts John. “I will take you there sometime. Perhaps this summer. Over break. You and Francine. You’ll like it.”
John closes his eyes and breathes out. Leans his head forward so he rests his brow on Lafayette’s lips.
The clock chimes two.
“I have a mémé...she will dote on Francine. Our little one. You as well. You’ll want for nothing.”
“Why are you doing this?” John asks him again.
“Because you’re mine,” Lafayette responds once more. “You’re mine.” He kisses John soundly. Francine giggle. Claps her hands. Walks over to them and Lafayette lets her mimic the action. She presses her lips to his cheek. Left then right. She’s very proud of herself. She kisses John too. And he sighs.
Closing his eyes. He takes a deep breath in. Stands up. “Okay.” He meets Lafayette’s gaze. “Okay.”