|Sunday Afternoon Bridge Club Eternity
Author: pyrebi PM
Apparently there's an afterlife other than hell, and in that place--whatever it is--John gets his own gazebo.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance - John W. & Mary W. - Words: 2,147 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 25 - Published: 12-01-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4689780
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Apparently the impossible has happened and I've grown tired of writing bloody horror fics all the time. Time for me to revert back to something a bit more happy or romancey, I guess. And I finally wrote John fic! Three years of him being my favorite character and I was finally able to write him! So exciting.
Sunday-Afternoon Bridge-Club Eternity
(heaven isn't quite this sunny)
John's got the feeling that this isn't heaven. He thinks it may be something like heaven, but he's pretty certain it's not the real deal.
"Sure, sure," the man with the dark hair who drops by every other weekday says, when he brings it up over iced tea. "It's Heaven Lite—half the calories, but the flavor's just a bit off."
John thinks that might just fit. It's always golden afternoon here in endless manicured gardens, where bumblebees hum between flowers but never sting. It's the constant feeling of a day spent pleasantly but unproductively, of eternal contentment rather than eternal bliss.
He hadn't known what to expect when he'd flooded with the masses out of the gate—he only knew that the Demon and his boys were nearby and, one way or another, this was gonna be the end. So when he'd managed to help Dean kill the fucker for once and for all, he hadn't really thought about what that meant.
But apparently that meant he no longer had any ties with the mortal coil, what with his body a pile of salted ashes somewhere. And poof, off he goes in a show of white lights, winging his way through time, space, consciousness, and religion to Mrs. Baker's Tea Among the Roses.
He finds out rather quickly that he has his own "space," a pleasant enough little patch of land with a gazebo for shade and a collection of wicker furniture with smart green-and-yellow striped cushions. This disturbs him to no end. He doesn't particularly like stripes and he never had much use for gardens even before 1983, so he's not sure what the significance is. It's better than hell, of course (then again, everything is), but confining him eternally to a 100x100 piece of country-club castoff seems distinctly unheavenlike.
Then, one day (only there are no distinct days, since it's perpetually five o'clock on a cloudless June afternoon here), there's a smart rap against the side of the gazebo and a dark haired man in a white linen suit is standing outside.
"Hello!" he says, cheery. "You're definitely new!"
John just stares at him, defensive, as the man explains that John's plot is six squares up and four squares left of the man's own plot, and apparently John's got the privacy fence up but the neighbors were all starting to worry about him.
It takes several hours of explaining before John can wrap his mind around the fact that all he needs to do is tell the air that he wants to socialize, but when he finally does, the hazy indistinct borders of his little personal garden fall away and he can see endless lines of unique but equally neat and square plots in line with his in every direction. As soon as they become visible, a rousing cheer of "Hello!" comes from all sides.
He waves weakly, takes one look at the man's beaming face, and promptly sinks back onto the green-and-yellow striped cushion of one of his wicker chaises.
John, after a period of time wherein he was getting used to this whole idea, takes it upon himself generally to travel. He passes from garden to garden, taking tea with prim ladies and rum and cokes with guys who look just as bewildered as he feels himself. Sometimes he's given a scone by soft, doughy little women with warm smiles and the sort of personality that begs for a knitted sweater perpetually sprinkled with cat hair.
One day he wanders into a patch of land that's got a square of sand in the middle of the grass, where a tall girl is practicing her spiking over a net in the center. She stops when he untangles himself from her thornless gooseberry bush and smiles.
"Hello, John," she says. "You look a lot like your picture." She kisses his cheek as he tries to recall who she is. "How is Sam?"
And he remembers the silent nights outside an apartment in Palo Alto, when the longing to make sure his boy was okay outweighed even his stubbornness. He remembers Sam with his arm draped around a tall girl with love in her eyes, and suddenly he's very sad.
"Alive, the last I saw," is his gruff reply.
She smiles again, something unfathomable hiding in the corners of her face, and murmurs, "I'm glad to hear that."
He spends a long time with her, playing volleyball and losing every round, listening to her stories of Stanford and the boy she'd loved. He realizes now that man Sam had always wanted to be had existed—if only for a very short while—in the heart and mind of this girl. He wonders, for the millionth or so time, which one—he or his boy—was right in the debate that had started when Sammy was seventeen about whether the college life would bring happiness or heartbreak.
She lets him go when she can't talk any more without her eyes welling up, and she kisses his cheek again and asks him to come back some time. He gives her his most solemn promise and avoids the gooseberry bush on his way out.
He's not sure how many years, decades, or eons pass as he travels. He always finds his way back to his gazebo with the wicker furniture, and every other weekday (no visual difference, but everybody said they can feel the shift from one to the next) the man with the dark hair stops by. John now knows him as Anthony, and they play cards and drink iced beverages for hours at a time.
Still he goes wandering. He'd never really sat still for long—especially not for the last twenty-odd years of his human life. Over the course of his searchings, he meets plenty of familiar faces: Bridges, who'd had his fool head shot off in 'Nam; Aunt Alicia, who'd passed on when John was a little boy; Sierra, the young rawhead victim who didn't quite make it to the emergency room and died in Dean's arms when the boy was just seventeen.
He still doesn't know what he's looking for, if it's anything at all.
Then, of course, one day—he just happens to find it.
He's passing from garden to garden, thousands or hundreds of thousands from his own, when he hears a scream. It's a jarring sound in this lazy golden place, and every head for a dozen plots around turns towards the source. John squints against the sun and sees a woman running across a garden three squares to his right.
She leaps over a hedge of floribundas and ignores the startled owner's "oh my," heading straight for him. She shrieks again, a desperate sort of "John!" that throws him back to the late seventies so fast his head spins.
(When he'd served his time in the Marines and realized that life was shaping up for him to be a house in Lawrence and a job in an auto shop, he'd chosen to join the Reserves rather than reenlist proper. And he remembers pulling back into the driveway after his two weeks on-base every year, seeing the front door swing open and hearing that same call, that mixture of intense longing and assuaged worry.)
Mary, no older than twenty-eight, tumbles through the tulips that form the last border between them, and then he's got her. They're making a mess of the begonias but they don't care, they just don't care.
After a long time of quiet, John just holding her and breathing her in, the polite but mildly annoyed coughs of the owner of the plot they're standing in encourage them to move back to Mary's little garden.
It's funny how twenty-four years and seven hundred thousand miles had dimmed his memory of her. She'd had her own chambers in the back of his mind, porcelain-fragile and frozen-smiling, but like everything left sitting for too long, she'd grown sun-bleached and dusty. To have her again, warm and breathing and here, is like wiping the fog from a pane of glass.
He barely notices when the rest of the plots around Mary's disappear, shut out by the privacy fence. She's crying, her pretty face crumpling, and he cups her cheeks with hands that are too rough for something that delicate.
"I'm sorry," she gasps, running her fingers all over him, looking everywhere but at his face. "I'm so sorry." And she tells him, tells him of 1973 and holding his limp body while his head hung at an unnatural angle. Of selling a soul that wasn't her own, even though she knew better. Of realizing what she'd done when Sam was born, trying to stop the Demon and dying for it.
For a long time afterwards he sits silently at her white wrought-iron patio table. It doesn't take too long before she's all out of tears, and she sits across the garden in a patch of angelica and plays with her hands.
The thing about this place, John has found, is that when you have eternity almost anything can be forgiven.
So, a very long time later, he tells Mary about how he spent all the money he'd put away for the boys' college on shells. He tells her about fighting tooth and nail with Sam, trying to crush the kid's dream. He tells her about going and getting himself possessed by that same goddamned Demon, about how he nearly killed Dean. And he tells her about selling himself at the very last, condemning himself and the only chance they knew of to kill the sonuvabitch to eternal torture just to give his boy a few more years.
"Oh, John," she says from her place amidst the angelica. It's the quiet, sad realization that they've both fucked up bad.
But you can't be miserable forever, not in a place like this, John thinks. Not forever. It's Heaven Lite.
And, after another small eternity, he's able to come out of his own head enough to notice the nature of the plants in Mary's plot. The nursery rhyme forms on the tip of his tongue, and he smiles as he debates the wisdom of repeating it out loud. Angelica for the removing of hexes and the repelling of evil, fennel for protection, knotweed for binding, pennyroyal for consecrating, Solomon's Seal for exorcism. It's not the prettiest patch, but it's comforting.
"No witch hazel?" he finally decides upon, and she looks at him bewildered. Then a smile slowly forms, and she points behind him to a patch hiding behind the table.
Anthony stops by every other weekday and brings a deck of cards to the gazebo. Sometimes Marci from three up-left diagonal squares away joins them and they play bridge, sipping mimosas. Every now and again Jess will push her way through the fennel John had planted around the edge of his plot, but usually she and Mary simply sit quietly on the grass and hold hands, murmuring half-apologies that neither one really acknowledges. Jess is much happier in her own garden, where she occasionally lets one of them wins a volleyball match.
John and Mary recline on the green-and-yellow stripes of the wicker chaises most days and discuss the relative worth of salt lines versus goofer dust, of carved sigils versus painted ones, of hex bags with wormwood versus those without. Anthony usually tuts into his drink about interesting lives but he never asks questions.
It's not heaven, not with this many regrets. There's no audience with any sort of god, no angels strumming harps. Just green and blue and sunshine as far as the eye can see, with old gentlemen clipping hedges and teenagers playing a ball game spanning six squares.
And, John thinks, as Mary clambers on top of him with a wicked sort of smile that makes him put up the privacy fence, he may just be okay with that.