It’s me, Johnny V and apparently having a trip to the other side (complete with angel wings) inspired me to make the crazy decision to move my family from California, back to Wisconsin. And not someplace nice like Madison, Milwaukee or even Green Bay. No, for whatever reason I was forcing my family back to Beloit, the small town that we fled all those years ago.
While I was breaking my lease over the phone and quitting my nurse position at the Los Angeles hospital my demon-fairy wife, Azzy, picked out a house and paid in cash. Her ability to do that was an impressive feat even for the small town of Beloit. But I knew she wasn't happy. In fact, she was downright pissed.
I was kinda forcing her to remain on speaking terms with Remy, her gay best friend who raped her into unconsciousness back before he surrendered his demon powers. I know I need to be supportive of my wife, but Remy was not the same person who attacked her. He deserved to be forgiven. And he was, technically, the biological father of Lucas, the baby Azzy and I consider to be our son.
So the deal was made, he would pay for half the house in exchange for a place to live and time with our son.
It only took Remy and Azzy a few days to pool their money and buy a house in one of Beloit’s nicer neighborhoods. It was a three bedroom, two bath. Azzy and I took the main room, my sister Olivia took the second and the last one was made into a nursery where Remy would stay with Lucas.
Remy had given up on being apologetic. But there was no doubt that Lucas loved him. And I loved my son. Part of me felt like I was choosing his happiness over Azzy's. Luckily, I had school to distract me.
I enrolled in medical school at University of Wisconsin, Madison. It would require a significant commute, leading my family to ask why I requested we live in the small town of Beloit. It felt right. It was where we needed to be (or maybe I just needed the commute time to clear my head before entering the lion's den.).
Olivia got a job as a substitute teacher for the Beloit school district. She was still working on finishing her degree but her story was so compelling the people in charge decided that it would be good publicity: The remarkable young woman who survived a brutal attack that cost her arm and leg, returning to Beloit to make a difference.
Azzy took a job at Walmart, working as a cashier while Remy stayed home with the baby. My wife made it clear that this was not her choice. She would have preferred Remy to get a job so she could stay at home. But since Remy had no desire to go back to work, it fell to her to get a job. Or else Azzy would be forced to spend the day with her ex-friend, competing for the affection of her only child.
After my first day of classes, I came home to Azzy cooking dinner, Olivia grading papers, and Remy sleeping on the sofa with the baby in his arms. I picked up my son. He giggled as he opened his big blue eyes. “Did you have fun with Uncle Remy?” I had decided that was the ‘title’ I was going with and so far Remy had no objections. I made my way to Azzy and put my arms around her waist.
She flinched. “Get him away from me, the baby smells like Remy.”
“If you need to kill him I’ll help you get rid of the body,” I said jokingly.
“Not funny,” she said as tears streamed down her rosy cheeks. “I can’t be in the same room as my own son without thinking about what that asshole did to me! My childhood best friend raped me in a catatonic state. And you invited him to live with us?! You should have killed him!”
“You’re free to,” I replied in my same jovial tone, hoping to lighten the mood.
Azzy turned to me with a glare. “Do you even love me?”
“You know I do.” I took her hand placing it on Lucas's soft little face.
Our baby smiled as if to assure me I was making the correct decision.
“We need to do the right thing, to be good role models.”
“Role models?” Azzy suddenly stopped her tears. “Not a bad idea.”
I paid it no further mind, simply glad that I managed to calm her. But the next evening I came home to a much stranger sight. Olivia, Remy, and little Lucas were on the front porch. “You might not want to go in there,” Olivia muttered as she organized files in a large box.
“Why?” I pushed open the door to find my wife holding a cocktail party for a diverse group of people all of whom were heavily armed.
“Hi, Johnny,” she said in a cheerful voice. “I’m going to run for city council.”
“My platform will be revolutionizing and re-envisioning gang warfare.”
“Oh,” that confirmed my suspicions.
“Beloit is a hub, gangs from all over ship their product through here, on the way to more profitable cities. The trouble arises when certain gangs become territorial and then bodies end up in the river. All of which contributes to our city’s crime statistics.”
My first thought was how she managed to get such a diverse group of people to agree to a meeting under one roof. Then a looked closer, they were all young, attractive people. “Are these your father’s friends?”
“His very powerful friends, who are going to help me change the world.”
I rolled my eyes, too tired to argue.
Over the next few days, Azzy quit her job at Walmart to devote more time to her campaign, but that also meant spending more time at the house. Even with her new friends to keep her company she still had to tolerate Remy and the baby.
I'd hoped things would begin to work themselves out. But one night, a week later, the situation came to a head, and not in the way I would have expected.
I awoke to my son’s cries. The sound was terrifying as if he was screaming for his life. I ran into the room to find Lucas on the bed kicking and screaming. I didn't even bother to turn on the lights. By the light of the window, I scooped up my terrified son, rocking him in my arms.
That was when I stepped on Remy's arm. Remy was on the floor, his body was in spasm, he might have even been foaming at the mouth. Gripped in his hand was an empty plastic bag that smelled like bleach, next to a mostly full bottle of vodka. What had been in the bag; powder, pills? “Are you fucking serious?” I cried. I was sick to my stomach. How could he Remy do this? How could he hurt our family? Then I remembered Azzy’s father’s friends.
I reached for the closet landline phone to dial 911. Upon hearing the words “drug overdose” the operator informed me that an ambulance was on its way and for me to stay with Remy until they arrived. Rocking my son in my arms, I knelt down beside Remy’s shivering body. “What the fuck, man?”
“I-I’m sorry,” he gasped, reaching for my hand. “I just needed something to help me sleep.”
"You have Lucas, you have my family!"
Remy's closed his eyes as he shook his head "Everything hurts."
Suddenly, I could hear Azzy giggling. She entered the room and took the baby from my arms. “Come to Mommy. I’ll make you a bottle.”
“Azzy?” I wanted to follow her but Remy was convulsing.
Luckily, Olivia appeared. “I’ll stay with Remy, you need to talk to your wife.”
I thanked her and hurried to the kitchen. Azzy was calmly feeding the baby. She coo-ed and stoked his chubby cheeks. “You’re Mommy’s little angel.”
“What did you do?” I whispered, not wanting to upset Lucas.
“Funny, I could have sworn someone said I was free to kill that bastard,” Azzy replied with a gleeful smile.
“What did you do?” I repeated.
Azzy shrugged. “I just told my new friends about what Remy did to me. So, if my ex-friend came to any of them asking for a ‘free sample’, to make it extra special.”
"And you knew he would..."
"Because he's a f-ing loser and always has been!" Her tone caused Lucas to cry as she forced the bottle into his mouth. “The only reason you’re protecting him is out of some promise you made to the ghost of his dead boyfriend! Let him die. I’ll take care of my son!”
I put my arms around my wife and child. “Our son.” I could feel the warmth of the bottle against my skin, as Azzy cried on my shoulder. “I love you, my devotion is only to you. If you don’t want Remy here I will make him move out but you need to remember the person he is now, was not the person who hurt you.”
“That’s what’s even more messed up. The old Remy was my best friend. I knew him for years!”
“But over time his mind became corrupted by power.”
My words caused Azzy to pause, looking into my eyes. “And you don’t want that to happen to me.”
Now I was the one crying. “You are so strong but so angry.”
Azzy nodded. “Just like my father was.”
“Like anyone who works in retail,” I said with a laugh. “I will stand by you no matter what you choose to do. But I want to plant the seed of forgiveness. You don’t have to forgive him, I certainly don’t, but you can’t just murder your problems away."
“I can’t?” she asked with a smile.
“You shouldn’t.” I smiled back and kissed her cheek. “But I’ll love you no matter what. I promise.”
Remy was taken to the hospital where he was put on dialysis. He was suffering from severe blood poisoning, and it was entirely possible he would never walk again.
For the next few weeks, Olivia and I visited him as often as our schedules would allow. She even decided to decline any substitute teaching jobs until Remy’s fate was decided.
“He wants a DNR,” Olivia told me as we sipped coffee in the hospital cafeteria.
“Do you think it’ll come to that?” A 'Do not resuscitate' form was usually reserved for patients without hope.
"Remy ingested some really bad shit, the damage is pretty severe. Even if he survives, what could he do with the rest of his life?"
"Says the employed substitute teacher missing two limbs," I muttered with a smirk.
"But I have a fully functioning brain."
"Yeah,” I sighed.
"Well, Nurse Jamie said that maybe bringing Lucas by would lift Remy's spirits."
“You haven't met Jamie, the day nurse? He is the coolest!”
"I guess our paths just never crossed.” With my upcoming residency schedule, my time was limited to nights and weekends. And since Remy was not in the ICU the ratio of nurses to patients appeared to be one for every dozen or so. But Jamie sounded like someone special. “Do you think Jamie could put in a good word with Azzy?”
Olivia shrugged. “If we could here get her down here.”
Azzy had taken to spending more and more time with her new friends, keeping Lucas with her at all times.
We returned to Remy’s room. When I arrived at eight he had been asleep, hence why Olivia and I went for coffee. As we opened the door I saw a tall African American man with long braids, strumming a guitar. Although he was clearly wearing hospital scrubs, he looked like an artist, and part of me expected him to speak with a Caribbean accent. That was not the case.
He sang soft and slow, his voice deep, seductive and distinctly American.
"Sweet love's showin' us a heavenly light
Never seen such a beautiful sight
See love glowing on us every night
I know forever we'll be doing it
Sweet love's showin' us a heavenly light
I've never seen such a beautiful sight
See love glowing on us every night
I know forever we'll be doing it..."
(*lyrics- Whenever I Call You Friend, by Kenny Loggins)
Remy’s hand was placed on the body of the guitar. His eyes were closed, but I could tell by his movement, he was savoring the vibration of the music.
“Hello, you must be Johnny,” James said with a slight southern twang. “Your sister has told me so much about you. I’m James Proudstar, but my friends call me Jamie.”
"Hi." I shook his hand, unsure what to say. Olivia was right, there was something really unique about him. "Are you a Christian?"
"Why, because I’m a brother, from Atlanta, who can sing?" he asked with a wide grin. I shrugged nervously.
"You give off a Christian preacher vibe."
Jamie laughed. “I would hope not.”
That caused Remy to smile. "You've got a mouth like a preacher." Remy blinked his eyes slowly as Jamie’s lips met his. The kiss was tender and sweet.
I coughed to clear my throat. “Jamie, could I speak to you outside? One medical professional to another?"
"Sure, man..." Jamie said as he slowly pulled away from Remy's embrace, and followed me out the door. “What’s up?"
"Olivia told me about the DNR."
Jamie's expression changed from bliss to anger. "That’s not going to happen, not on my watch."
"Do you know about what happened between Remy and my wife?"
Jamie nodded. “A cousin of mine went through something similar. Her boyfriend was high on meth when he beat her into a coma."
"Did she ever forgive him?"
Jamie sighed. "They had three kids together. Forgiveness was the right thing- the necessary thing to do. But only after he got clean and a few years of therapy for both of them. My point is, I’ve seen pain; someone so blinded by anger that all they can see is what hurts. Do they have a right to hurt? Yes. Does your wife have the right to hate Remy with every fiber of her being? Absolutely. But where will that get her?"
I had to agree. Remy repaid his debt, at least in my opinion. “Do you think you could convince Azzy to visit him?”
"I could try."
I took out my phone and switched to speaker mode as I dialed Azzy. She picked up on the first ring. “Hey, Johnny.”
“Hey. Guess where I am?”
“Visiting Remy: you have a break in your classes, where else would you be?" she said in a clearly annoyed tone.
"I’d like you to speak to his nurse."
"Hello Azzy, my name is James Proudstar."
"Your name is what?" Azzy paused and chuckled. "James Proudstar, like the Marvel character?"
It was only then I realized how strange his name was.
Jamie only smiled. “You can’t change what you are.”
"And what are you?" she asked.
“An angel, a superhero. I’m what happens when you ascend; leave behind who you were, to become the person you were meant to be.” He placed a hand on my shoulder and nodded. “So, Miss Azzy, do you think you can find it in your heart to pay your old friend a visit?”
"Yeah, I guess," she replied in a meek voice.
Azzy arrived twenty minutes later with entourage in tow. “You don’t have to go in there alone,” said a punk Asian girl with a massive dragon tattoo on her arm.
Azzy held baby Lucas close. He appeared to be sleeping on her shoulder. “I won’t be alone.” To my surprise, she reached for my hand. “Johnny, You ready?”
“Um, yeah. Of course.” I took her hand, and lead her through the door. "Remy, Olivia look who finally made it."
“Hey, Azzy.” Remy's voice was breaking. “How goes the campaign?”
“Good,” Azzy’s replied as she took a seat beside him. “Do you remember the first time we met?”
Remy nodded and took a labored breath. “W-We w-were seven, and your dad took you to Hawaii.”
“Because your dad requested that he bring along a babysitter so they could party all night long." Azzy laughed as she wiped tears from her eyes. "That's what Dad told me. I remember getting off the plane, and this big breasted Barbie doll of a woman introduced me to a little island boy with long hair and chubby cheeks."
Remy sighed. "Nanny Clara: she was a nanny the way a... " He blinked a few times, appearing to have lost his train of thought. "She was a nanny the way audio books are still considered books..." Remy chuckled at his own joke.
Azzy nodded. “I remember."
"You and me, while our dads got laid and wasted, we stayed at the hotel arcade playing Street Fighter and Gauntlet Legends. When it got late, you snuck into the hotel kitchen and stole all the food you could fit in your backpack.”
“You picked the lock to the roof so we could sleep under the stars.” Azzy put both arms around Lucas, holding him like a teddy bear as she sobbed. “What happened to that sweet little boy?”
“Life happened; my father, my sexuality, my f-ed up choices.” Remy’s hand was trembling as he reached for her. “But you were always there for me. Azzy you were like a sister to me."
Azzy caressed his hand, stroking his palm like a fortune teller. “I don’t forgive you.”
Remy nodded weakly. “I know.”
“But I love you.”
There was a long silence. Remy started to weep as hard as Azzy was. “I’m so sorry.”
“I know.” Azzy pursed her lips, she rocked the baby in her arms as if to comfort herself. “But I don’t want you in my home. If you want me to give you back your portion of the money-”
“Of course not, I would never do that to you. Consider it a gift for your family.”
Azzy gave Remy's hand a firm squeeze. “You are my family.”
She turned the baby to face Remy, his sweet blue eyes looking at Remy with nothing but love.
“I want you in my son’s life. I want my son to know the person I knew.”
Lucas was reaching out to Remy; it was clear that he wanted to be in Remy’s arms. So I guided Azzy’s hands to place the baby on Remy’s chest.
Lucas giggled and cooed.
Remy patted his little back. “I love you too.”
From that day forward, time seemed to fly by. The next month Azzy, of course, ended up winning her bid for city council. During her downtime, she was a doting mother, but she never gave up her powers. And I never again broached the subject.
On little Lucas’s first birthday we celebrated in style at the Ho-Chunk Indian casino. The Ho-Chuck nation had been waiting nearly a decade to get a resort open in Beloit. The council always voted them down, saying things like “a casino in town will cause gambling addiction, split families- our town is too wholesome for that!”
Azzy knew the real reason: the Ho-Chunk were asking for use of land that they were not entitled to and the people who owned the land thought that a better, more wholesome option might come along. But like I said, it’d been over ten years. Now, thanks to Azzy the land was theirs and they would be breaking ground later that month.
I don’t know what she did, or what strings she pulled. I would like to think she simply baked the governor and other council members a vegan chocolate cake on par with the one she made today. But looking around at the array of armed men and women drinking at my son’s party, I can assume “non-violence” was not the chosen route.
I looked over and Remy and Jamie. Remy walked with a cane, struggling to maintain his balance. Jamie lifted his face and kissed Remy's lips before taking a sip of red wine. Their happiness was contagious or maybe that was just the benefit of being in a relationship with an angel.
After Remy was discharged he'd moved in with Jamie. His condition was not as debilitating as Olivia and I first thought; Remy could walk, feed himself, etc. He could even be trusted to babysit Lucas.
I learned that Jamie grew up in Atlanta, but his mother moved to Beloit as her ‘calling’. Apparently, she had been an elder spirit working as a social worker. But she passed away due to stage four ovarian cancer. Or “... called back to the home office,” as Jamie said with a chuckle the first time my family visited.
He inherited a house that he shared with Candy, his late mother’s Chipit. Chipit apparently stands for Chihuahua/Pitbull, which is as terrifying as it sounds. At least it was to me. The large-eared guard dog seemed to have the demeanor of an over-caffeinated Chihuahua with the roar of an angry pit bull. But Candy loved Lucas from the moment they first met.
Lucas had taken his first steps at around eight months (of course, he still preferred to be carried,) but at the sight of the dog, he squealed with glee practically begging Azzy to put him down. My chubby little toddler had waddled up to the dog, giving it a big hug.
That moment is seared into my mind because that was the first time I saw my son’s wings. His shirt lifted revealing plant-like appendages similar to Azzy’s. I watched as the thin green branch stroked the dog’s fur before quickly retracting. I dared not mention it to Azzy. Although, I'm pretty sure she knew.
Now, at his high-class casino party, Lucas was being carried around by Azzy, wearing a little blue suit with a jacket. I could see his shoulders quivering; his wings wanted to come out. His body wanted to show off who he really was.
I made my way to the open bar and ordered a shot of vodka on the rocks. Drink in hand, I faced the window looking out into the beautiful Wisconsin sky. Then I felt a tree branch stroke my lower back. “Hey, Azzy.”
“Hey,” she said sweetly, holding a glass of red wine. “So what do you think? Am I using my powers for good?”
I put my arm around her waist, I could feel her wings retracting. “I’m proud of you.”
“I’m proud of you too.” Her smile felt genuine. “I mean, with you starting your residency. You act like it’s no big deal.”
To me, it wasn’t a big deal. I was on my way to becoming a pediatrician. It would be a nice calm job, unlike my work as a nurse. I would not be on call 24/7, so I would have plenty of time to be a good husband and father.
Still looking out the window I could feel Azzy’s arm around my waist. She rested her head on my shoulder. “So when are you taking me to Alaska?”
“Huh? You remember that?" I had not thought about my promise or even my tattoo for a while. I discreetly looked at my reflection in the window, with the top part of my shirt unbuttoned down to my collar, I could see my upper-chest. The image, Azzy's mark, was gone.
I could feel my wife's wings touch my back, the branches moving under my shirt to caress my skin.
I flexed my shoulders, stretching my back. A warmth caressed my body as if I was pulling on a jacket.
Both Azzy and Lucas were looking at me with huge smiles. "I love your wings."
"You can see them?"
"So can Lucas." She untucked the baby's shirt allowing his little vine wings to flow from under the bottom of his shirt. Azzy put her arm around me, positioning the baby between us. I glanced at our reflection in the window. We were the ideal, stereotypical family photo. But there was something forming above our heads. At the spot where Azzy's wings touched mine, Lucas's wings seemed to come through the middle to create a rather cute five-petaled flower.
"A wood violet," Azzy said whispered. "The state flower of Wisconsin."
I didn't know what that meant. Was I standing next to the future governor or maybe even president? As the old saying goes, 'with great power comes great responsibility.' I found my calling. I would be responsible for keeping my family on the right path. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Johnny.”