Hello, and welcome. This story is a prequel to my House/OMC story, Jam Sessions, which can be found on . It follows Johnny Rocket through his teen years and career up until just before he meets House. All the characters are mine (I love being able to say that after writing fan fic for so long!).
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"Everything alright, Johnny boy? You've been awfully quiet."
Johnny stared out the window at the endless Texas landscape. Even if everything weren't fine, he figured his mother wouldn't want to hear it anyway. "Yeah, Mom, everything's fine."
His mother let out a short sigh as she extinguished her cigarette in the car ashtray. "It's only for two weeks. Fred and I are going on our honeymoon, then we'll be right back for you. We're going to be a real family, Johnny. Won't that be nice?"
Johnny had heard this story before. He had no reason to believe that Fred would be any different from the other losers that had tried to pass themselves off as some father figure. The only difference was that his mother had decided to marry this one. God only knew why. Something about an auto dealership down by San Antonio and an almost-new house that would be a step up from the trailer Johnny and his mother had called home most of Johnny's life.
The fact that the man liked to drink and play poker with his cronies from the dealership until late into the night, then pick an argument with his mother didn't seem to factor into the decision. It was those nights that Johnny hid out in his new bedroom with his old guitar, blocking out the never ending arguments.
Now his mother was dumping Johnny at his grandmother's outside of Austin for two weeks while she and Fred honeymooned in Mexico. He was sure the old woman would have a lot to say about that.
"We're here, Johnny." His mother said brightly as they pulled into the driveway of the simple single-story house that sat on a neat residential street in this small town.
Johnny dragged himself out of the car and pulled his duffle bag out of the back seat before making his way to the door and knocking loudly. He could hear a TV blaring in the background, but no other response.
He knocked again. This time his grandmother's gravelly voice answered sharply. "Hold your damn horses. I'm coming."
Her face brightened when she saw Johnny. "Come here, boy. Been expecting you." She wrapped Johnny in a long hug before stepping back to inspect him with sharp eyes. "I swear you've grown a foot since I've seen you last. You're all arms and legs, just like your mom was."
Johnny tried not to roll his eyes as his grandmother swept his bangs out of his eyes. "Why your mom didn't get you a haircut before she brought you is beyond me. We'll have to get you to the barber shop before long."
"He won't get one, Mom." His mother spoke up behind him. "You know how stubborn the boy is."
His grandmother sighed. "Just like his mom. Come on in."
Johnny could feel himself relax the minute he stepped over the threshold. More than anywhere else, his grandmother's house always felt like home. If for some odd reason his mother and Fred didn't make it back from their honeymoon, Johnny would have no problem staying here. Matter of fact, even if they did come back…
"You hungry, boy?" His grandmother's sharp voice broke into his thoughts.
"Of course you are." His grandmother reached up to ruffle his hair. "You're a teenage boy now. Did you get the twenty bucks I sent you?"
"Sure did." Johnny smiled. "Thanks."
"Hope you didn't spend it all in one place."
"Of course he did." His mother broke in. "Blew it all at the record store."
"Not all of it." Johnny protested. "I only bought the one tape. Needed to save a little for some new strings."
"You're still playing that old guitar?" Johnny's grandmother was incredulous. "Goodness, and to think I almost used it for firewood."
Johnny merely rolled his eyes and sat down at the kitchen table while his grandmother dished him up a plate of goulash. "Carol, you want something to eat before you head back?"
"No, Mom." His mother responded absently. "Matter of fact, I should be getting back. Fred and I are leaving first thing in the morning." She leaned down to kiss the top of Johnny's head. "You be good for your grandma, got it?"
"Yes, Mom." Johnny mumbled.
His mother sighed and smoothed her hand over Johnny's head before wrapping her arms around his grandmother. "He's been a real handful lately. I don't know what's gotten into him." He heard her murmur to his grandmother.
"He's a teenager, Carol." His grandmother assured her. "Ain't nothing but growing pains."
His mother said her goodbyes, squeezing Johnny's shoulders on her way out. His grandmother eased her slender frame into a chair at the kitchen table across from Johnny, lighting a cigarette and taking a long drag before exhaling with a sharp huff.
"Your mother's a goddamn fool."
Johnny stopped with his spoon halfway to his mouth. His grandmother was an opinionated woman, but he had never heard her express an opinion about family.
She caught his expression and gave him a sharp glare. "Close your mouth before you trap a fly. And nothing I say goes back to your mother, got it?"
"Yes, ma'am." Johnny quietly continued eating as his grandmother smoked her cigarette down to the filter.
After she stubbed one out and lit another, she continued. "She thinks she's got to have a man in her life to make up for you not having a dad. Your mom would be better off just learning to be on her own. She'd be a better woman and a better mom if she did." She shook her head and sighed. "I'll be surprised if this marriage lasts six months."
Something stabbed at Johnny at that. If he and his mother ended up alone again, where would they stay? He wasn't so worried about school and friends. Johnny wasn't particularly interested in school, and he'd always been a loner, so he wasn't losing any friends if things didn't work out between his mother and Fred.
His grandmother reached across the table and patted Johnny's hand. "Don't you worry about a thing. Far as I'm concerned, you've always got a home with me. I don't believe in punishing children for the sins of the parents."
Johnny smiled a little. "Can I bring my girl with me?"
"You know, my guitar." Johnny explained. "My girl's my guitar."
His grandmother laughed. "I suppose that's better than bringing real girls into my house. No telling what kind of trouble that could lead to." She rose from the table and ruffled Johnny's hair as she went past. "Of course your girl's welcome, as long as y'all don't keep me up all night. I need my beauty sleep."
Johnny dipped his head and finished his dinner, rising from the table to rinse his plate in the sink. He stood side by side with his grandmother as they started washing dishes, casually chatting about school, girls, and life in general.
Things were so easy and comfortable here. Johnny's grandmother seemed to understand him like no one else in his life did, right down to his newfound passion for the guitar.
"I hear you're getting pretty good on that old thing, Johnny boy." His grandmother told him.
"Not as good as I could be." Johnny answered, wiping off plates and placing them in the cabinet. "I don't get to play a lot at home when Fred's around. He says it's just a big waste of time."
"Hmph." His grandmother snorted. "Tell that to any of those folks you hear on the radio. They'll tell you what a waste of time that guitar is."
"He threatened to bust it up last week." Johnny complained. "Said I was playing too loud. Hell, it's an acoustic. I can't play it that loud."
"Watch your mouth, boy." His grandmother scolded. "And I know you don't like the man, but it's his house. You've got to play by his rules. The day you turn eighteen, you're a free man. Until then…"
"Yeah, I know." Johnny grumbled. "Still sucks, though."
His grandmother gave him a solid smack to the back of his head. "What'd I say about that mouth? Nobody respects a potty mouth, boy."
Johnny rolled his eyes and wiped out the goulash pot before stacking it in the cabinet and rinsing out the sink. Suddenly his grandmother gathered him in a tight hug.
"I know this isn't easy, seeing your mom getting hitched. Just know that she's trying her best to do what's right for you."
"But you said…"
"I know what I said." His grandmother told him firmly. "It's just my opinion. That doesn't mean it's gospel."
She released him and stepped back, lightly squeezing his arms. "Now what say you play me a little of that guitar? Let's hear how you've been wasting your time."
Johnny could feel that familiar eagerness wash over him before realization dawned on him. "Shit…I mean, shoot. I left it at home. Mom was rushing me and I ran out without it."
"Well now, isn't that just a shame?" His grandmother clucked her tongue, a teasing glint in her eyes as she disappeared from the kitchen. She soon returned with a long box.
Johnny's heart pounded in his chest. It couldn't possibly be what he hoped it was.
His grandmother handed off the box. "Guess you'll just have to play this old thing instead."
Johnny carefully laid the box on the kitchen table and opened it. A brand new Epiphone electric guitar shone back at him, shiny and beautiful. He was rendered momentarily speechless.
Finally he found his voice again. "You…you got this for me?"
"Of course I did." His grandmother laughed. "Don't know any other axe men in the family, do you?"
Johnny leapt to his feet and threw his arms around the older woman, squeezing her hard. "Thank you, Grandma. You're the best."
"Happy birthday, Johnny boy." His grandmother answered. "Now let up a little. You're cutting off my breathing."
"Yes, ma'am." Johnny was slightly embarrassed at his own reaction. He wasn't a little kid anymore. He shouldn't be getting so excited, but he just couldn't help himself. "Man, this is, like, the coolest birthday present ever."
"Better than those G.I. Joe action figures I got you a few years ago?"
"Uh, yeah." Johnny couldn't stop grinning as he took it out of the box and sat down in a nearby chair.
"Now wait, there's more." His grandmother gestured for him to follow her to the back bedroom where he stayed whenever he visited.
Waiting there was a small amp and a guitar stand. It wasn't much, but it was better than the acoustic he'd been playing around with for the better part of a year. He immediately plugged in and started tuning up, before picking out the notes to a favorite song of his.
Soon he lost himself in the music, letting his fingers find the notes, even as he stumbled along a little. This was his escape from parents, from school, from classmates that didn't understand him. He and the music were in perfect tune with each other, and nothing else mattered.
He finished the song, startled to hear his grandmother break out into applause. "Eric Clapton you're not, but you're starting to sound pretty damn good, boy."
"I don't want to sound like Eric Clapton." Johnny answered a little defensively. "I'm working on my own thing."
"That's even better." His grandmother nodded in approval. "You should sound like yourself, and nobody else."
Johnny smiled a little and started playing something else, something he'd been fiddling around with. With the electric, it started to sound exactly as he'd been hearing it in his head.
His grandmother merely beamed and closed the bedroom door, shouting something about not staying up all night playing the thing. Johnny simply pretended not to hear, continuing to play until his grandmother banged on the door and all but forced him to put it aside.
"It'll still be there tomorrow, Johnny boy." She told him. "Lots of opportunity to give me private concerts yet."
Johnny reluctantly went to bed that night, occasionally getting up to touch the thing of beauty that now belonged to him. He only hoped that he'd be able to take it home with him when his mother and Fred returned from their honeymoon. The thought that he might have to leave it behind already pained him. He decided not to think about it anymore, instead choosing to string together the random notes that insisted on dancing through his head. Johnny couldn't wait to hear how they sounded on that Epiphone tomorrow.
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