"Yes, could I speak with Mr. Gerald Toroya, please?" The voice on the other end of the phone asked Tyleena. She woke her husband and handed him the phone. "Yes, are you familiar with Strange Music?" The caller asked, confusing Gerald. He knew of the label, though, so he answered the man's question. "Well, I'm with that label, and we'd like to offer you a recording contract and send you on tour." Gerald paused for a moment, processing the words that grazed his ears. Was he just offered a record deal?
"Strange Music… like, Tech N9ne's label?"
"The very same. Tech actually digs your music and wants the world to hear you!"
"Wow, that sounds amazing! So what do I need to do?" The two men discussed arrangements for Gerald to meet with label representatives and draw up a recording contract. Gerald couldn't believe that the incredible Tech N9ne had even heard his music, much less enjoyed it. This meant he might meet Tech or even be featured on a song with him, exciting him further.
"Dude, have you seen the news?" James asked him when he answered his phone.
"I haven't, why? Something happen?"
"The man who killed Aldric confessed to being contracted by Morasco, and then they found the killer murdered. Morasco was convicted instantly, or so the media is telling us. Sentencing is pending, but they got him, Gerald!" Toroya didn't respond for a moment as the new knowledge poured over him. The creature responsible for all his pain and stress, all the nightmares and the loss of his devices, would soon enough rot behind bars. He snatched up the remote control to his small TV and flipped it over to a news network, seeing the confirmation scroll across the screen. 'Boxing magnate Lorenzo Morasco has been convicted for a connection to the murder on Orange, Texas prizefighter Aldric Toroya' he read at the bottom of the screen. His phone beeped, and he thanked James before switching to the new call.
"Mr. Toroya, we have the man responsible for your brother's death in custody. Would you like to come speak with him?" A police receptionist asked him.
"Certainly, I'll be there soon. Thank you, ma'am." He hung up the phone and threw on clothes deemed suitable for his coming venture, before running out the door and snaking through the maze-like apartment complex to his truck. Driving to Lake Charles was an ordeal in itself, as it had rained through the night and the freeway was drenched.
"Five minutes." The guard told him as he sat before a Plexiglas window, the origin of his suffering seated on the other side. Morasco's long black hair was unkempt and scraggly, and he had overgrown and dread-locked facial hair to match. Tattoos covered his darkly tanned skin, and large, flashy rings adorned fingers on both his hands.
"So you are the monumentally brave brother of the incredible prizefighter, Black Toguro." The vile soul spoke as Gerald picked up the 'phone' they were to use to speak.
"Hello. My name is Gerald Toroya. You killed my brother. Tell me why."
"He cost me a great deal of revenue when he knocked out Shamus Maverick. No one would bet on my guy if your brother kept going, so he needed to be… shall I say 'contained'?" A sinister smile crept onto that miserable face. Gerald lost his temper at the remark.
"I hope you know that you have caused me great suffering, and I have nothing but pleasure in knowing you've received your comeuppance. I hope you die in that fucking cell." Gerald replied, tossing the phone on the desk in front of him and leaving the chamber. The guard escorted him out into the lobby. "I just want to thank all of you for your tireless efforts to help me, and I could never repay what you've given me. I have justice for my closest friend, and now he can rest easy. The man who took his life from him, from his loved ones, will decay inside a small room made of concrete and steel. I salute you, Lake Charles Police. You're good people, all of you, and don't let anyone tell you different." He told the officers and staff before leaving.
'YOU DID IT, BROTHER MAN!' Gerald heard, opening his eyes to see an ethereal area. This one sported different colors: vivid purples, solemn greens, and shining golds, almost like the streets of a Mardi Gras parade. He looked around for a moment before laying his eyes on Aldric. His subconscious mind's projection of his brother wore an ear-to-ear grin. Gerald rose to hug his brother, but his arms slipped through the apparition.
'Yeah, the bastard got GOT! Some other such incidents were uncovered during the trial, and he ended up with ten life sentences or something. Not even good behavior will save his ass!' He told his brother's ghost. 'This nightmare is finally over. I just hope Aldric can see it.'
'Really? Nigga, I'm right here!' Dream Aldric condescended, wounded at the comment. Can ghosts be wounded? Emotionally, perhaps… oh well.
'You're only a projection of my mind that represents him, dude. I can't even fist-bump you, man.'
'Hey, that ain't my fault! Us spooks got feelings too, you know!' The spirit told Gerald, making him grin widely and laugh. Even death could not stifle Aldric's sense of humor. 'Either way, it's over now. Rest easy, Rurouni. It's been real.'
'You too, Black Toguro! Go smash up the afterlife with them hot fists!' Gerald replied as his brother disappeared from his sight.
"I love you, brother man." He spoke aloud. He heard the door open, which would be Tyleena coming in from work. This told him that it was early in the morning. He had slept through the full night, astonishing as that was. He sprang up and went to meet his wife, hugging and kissing her. "This nightmare is finally over, baby."
"Welcome home, my dear." She told him with a peck on the forehead.
"James, meet the lovely Amethyst Stone and the incredible Spencer Nova!" Alexia told her lover, waving her right hand in front of the couple standing in his doorway. Spencer shook his hand as they entered, and Amethyst hugged him tightly. Her purple hair appeared to weigh more than she did, as it was thick and heavy and added a few inches to her height.
"I always loved the Murder Scene, no matter what anyone else said. Aside from Viridian and Southern Skies, you guys were the best band around here." She told him as she pushed her equipment into the room. He thanked her for the kind words. Spencer, a tall and thin man with wispy light brown hair and a loose build, spun a drumstick in one hand.
"So, we've been writing together, but our tunes could use a few extra ears." He told James and Lexxi.
"Same here, actually. We've been writing for a project called Fire Down South." James replied.
"Perhaps we could be just what each other needs?" Alexia encouraged. The four of them walked into Jimmy's music room. Nova spotted the drums James kept set up, jumping behind them to play a beat. His eyes turned to stars as he smashed away at the drums. The rest of them set up their equipment to begin their first jam.
"Alright, what say we warm up with some Coheed and Cambria?" Spencer asked. "You guys feel like 'Time Consumer'?" James nodded as Nova began playing a beat. The four of them surveyed their overall sound, together and individually. They did quite well for having just begun. James and Amy bounced riffs between one another, and Nova and Lexxi created rhythms together.
The four of them even began writing right then, having two songs fleshed out by the end of practice. They continued to play together, writing and recording under the name Fire Down South. The name came from a newspaper headline James saw about the Axiall fire the previous year. They recorded ten or so songs for what would eventually be an album, sending their recordings to local labels and scouting venues to play concerts in, trying to gain themselves some listeners.
"So things are looking up all around, aren't they?" James mentioned to Benito as he walked into the Shamrock Isle. He was counting money for a woman with bright orange hair and a tonne of freckles. James tripped out at the sight of her. "LADYBUG! You're alive!"
"I could say the same for you, my Sweet Baby James." Replied the redhead as she hugged him tightly. Kala Irn came up to James's chest, a short and rounded figure with a cute face and short, wispy hair. She had retained everything he remembered about her, aside from her miserable significant other. A tall and voluptuous brunette slipped one arm around the woman.
"Ooh, I haven't met this one!" James mentioned, pointing out how good-looking his friend's current squeeze was also.
"Cassandra Blake, the father of Kala's adopted babies. And you are?" The woman said with a sultry grin across her face, her amber eyes behind oval-shaped glasses. James shook her hand.
"James Arbuckle, Kala's one-time almost lover. We would have gone out if I'd been a girl or she wasn't a lesbian." He replied, the two women sharing a laugh as Cassandra remembered Kala mentioning him.
"So, Jimmy, when's the first Fire Down South show?" Fratelli asked, brushing his scraggly brown hair away from his eyes as he took a seat behind the bar.
"Fire Down South? I heard their song 'From Dasani' on the radio! That's you?" Cassandra asked him.
"Yep, my cohorts and I! Alexia Faretti, Amethyst Stone and Spencer Nova!" He answered her, returning his attention to Fratelli's question. "Our first gig is on August 12th at the Center Stage, on my mom's birthday! I'm so excited!"
"These new tunes are pretty great! Nova showed me a few the other day, and there was this one I fell in lust with… Lexxi was rapping on it."
James smiled at that. "That would be 'Mischief Managed'. You might recall her poem 'Up to No Good', yeah? Well, we turned that into a full song, and I think it might be our best one." He replied, hoping he didn't sound like a braggart.
"You guys are gonna be amazing, Jimmy!" Kala injected, sipping a soda. "So, how about 'Stina getting married? I dug up Ned's contact info to inform him, so if she wants it, let me know."
"I'm sure she'd love to see that wonderful creation again. Also, you know she's marrying our brother, right?" James told her, throwing one hand on the barkeep's shoulder as the front door opened and gave off its wretched triple-beep signal. Jakob appeared with a fast food bag. He marched over to James and hugged him forcefully. "Dude, your beard totally just hit on my face, and my face is rather offended by it."
"Beardo would like to extend his sincerest apologies, and would like for your face to know that he's sure she isn't that sort of lady."
"Yeah, Jakebeard, if you're gonna grab her ass, you should at least buy her dinner first!" Benny injected, killing off the string of beard jokes. James chuckled, smiling at the fact that Jakob and Benny seemed to be getting along okay. They would probably be related before too long, so they might as well get used to one another.
"Kala, are you coming to the wedding?" James asked, the redhead nodding. "I'm gonna be Kristi's Man of Honor, and Lexxi is supposed to be Coni's Best Woman."
"I hear Michael Britt is supposed to be the Flower Guy," Chelsea called from a machine. She was relaxing after her long shift with a drink. "I'm gonna be a bridesmaid!" She bragged.
"That sounds like one hell of a wedding." A customer condescended.
"Shut your face, Massey!" Chelsea snapped, as she couldn't stomach this particular asshat. "My best broad is gonna have the most badass wedding ever!" The customer said no more after that. Chelsea seemed to have stolen some of Kristina's attitude in her absence, spooking some of her regulars with her newfound spice.
"So they're having a handfasting, too?" Cassandra mentioned. "I love Pagans!"
"That was 'Tell Me I'm Wrong' by Baton Rouge's very own Ventruss! Next, straight out of Lake Charles, we have a new act featuring James Arbuckle of the Murder Scene and performance poet Alexia Faretti. They've teamed up with a couple new peoples and created an incredible act named Fire Down South. Listen to them if you don't already. In all of its shortly-shy-of-six-minute glory, I give you 'Mischief Managed' for your listening pleasures!" The voice of the radio deejay caused Constantine and Kristina to perk their ears up.
"Did that guy just say Jimmy's band is on the radio?" Kristina asked, Coni listening intently.
"That's definitely Lexxi's bass and Jimmy's guitar. I like this riff they have going!" He replied as they listened. The harmonized guitars, the volcanic bass, the drums cutting through the track, and the speed-rapping vocals mixed together to form a sonic masterpiece. "Those lyrics are Lexxi's, from the poem 'Up To No Good'." He fumbled for his phone once the song finished out. "DUDE YOU'RE ON THE RADIO!" He yelled into the receiver.
"I know, 'From Dasani' plays around here. Wait, over there, too?"
"Yeah, a local station just played 'Mischief Managed'!" As he spoke to his best friend, Kristina noticed something; she mashed the 'Stop' button on her stereo's tape deck and pulled the tape out. "Kristi caught it on tape, man! She was recording Ventruss and must have forgotten during the excitement of hearing the deejay call your name!"
"Awesome sausage! Oh, let me talk to Kristi for a minute, since I have y'all on the line. I just remembered I have contact info she might like to have." Coni passed his fiancee the phone at Jimmy's request. "I ran into Kala at the Shamrock, and she gave me Ned's address and such. You should invite him to the wedding!"
"Oh my gods, I haven't seen him since high school! I have to invite him! Also, now I really want Floppy Tacos. Damn Ned Hawkins and damn you also, James!" She joked, miffed that she could not acquire the glorious foods of Floppy Tacos in Lafayette.
"Dude, you know you guys are all over the radio in the Golden Triangle, right?" Gerald told James and Lexxi as the bistro. "Yeah, one of my dudes from Beaumont heard 'Dragonglass', and they've played y'all in here a little bit."
"Wow, that's amazing!" Was all James could muster, awestruck at the very idea. Fire Down South was blowing up, and they hadn't even played their first official concert yet.
"It's because we're so badass!" Lexxi assured her boyfriend, making him laugh.
"That reminds me, Phat Pat and Big Matt got us a gig at the Gator Lounge at Delta Downs!"
"Dude, the song you wrote for them is so great! It's one of the ones they play in here." Gerald complimented.
"Yep, 'The Patron Saints of the Good Time', working title 'Saint Padraig!" Alexia noted as Bobby appeared with their incredible dinner. "Bobby! Rose is bragging about you all the time lately, guy!" She told her most favorite waiter, who smiled widely at her words.
"Glad to hear it, seeing as I brag about her every five minutes!" He replied as he placed her order of eggplant Parmesan and his double order of House Pa'sghetti, the most delicious pasta in the world, onto the table. They thanked him and each flipped him a twenty.
"Gee's got his already, dude. Put that in your pocket." Lexxi assured him with a wink. "Speaking of you, I hear you got signed onto Strange Music. I hope you get to drop a verse for Tech N9ne." She encouraged Gerald.
"Hell, I just can't wait for the damn tour to start!" He mused.
"This last one here is dedicated to all my Service and Hospitality Industry folks! Specifically, my favorite line cooks, chefs, barkeeps and casino attendants from right here at Delta Downs! It's been fun putting on this little show at the Gator Lounge, and thank you all so much for having us!" James told their wonderful audience at Delta Downs' Gator Lounge, a small free concert venue in the main area of the establishment's first floor. Next to the food court and across from the monumental casino floor, the small room contained a stage, a dance floor, and a small bar. "Let me give a shout-out to the three people that recommended us to play and got us onto the bill, the ones I wrote this song about: behind the bar we got Phat Pat, the bartender from the future. Running around the food court with the speed of a man an eighth his size there's BIG MATT, and cooking up all this fine grub y'all are eating on is the legendary Sherwine! Give 'em some love, y'all!" Everyone cheered as James pointed out his three favorite Delta Downs employees. Patrick pointed at him from the bar and winked. Matt and Sherwine were nowhere to be seen at the moment, as he was running orders and she was cooking something glorious in the food court's kitchens. "When you three get off tonight, drinks on me, alright? Anyway, let's do this thing. This last one is called 'The Patron Saints of the Good Time.' ENJOY!" He announced, the band running into the last song of their set for the evening.
"Hello, my name's Montgomery Harmony, and I'm with the label After Dark Entertainment. I've been hearing your music lately since I heard 'From Dasani', and I tracked down your record. Your tunes are ambitious, and they sound exquisite." A dapper gentleman with pouffy brown hair told the band after their set. "Your live performance is energetic and powerful, and I think you would make an excellent addition to our label." James forced his mouth not to drop open at the man's words. His band had just finished with only their second show, and this man had just offered them a contract? This seemed surreal; surely Jimmy Switch must be dreaming.
"That's flattering, and After Dark is a lovely label, but could we look at the contract first?" James asked him politely. He preferred to know whether or not he was signing his life away for a deal. Record companies could be evil sometimes, he knew.
"Certainly, I'll have it drawn up by tomorrow. I'm staying at the hotel here tonight, so we could meet here." He passed the four of them business cards. Constantine and Kristina watched the scene unfold before them. They had managed to catch the show because Kristina had needed to attend a class there that evening, and Constantine was off from work.
"Dude, you guys are getting signed by After Dark!" Constantine squeaked, hugging James vigorously. "We're both gonna be famous!"
"I think they might actually cry!" Lexxi joked with Kristina.
"Vodka cranberry… hold the vodka, unfortunately." Alexia complained, cursing her age. Kristina tapped on the bar and flipped Patrick a bill, the barkeep sliding her two shots of vodka. She passed one to Lexxi, the younger woman smiling. She knocked back the shot so the barkeep wouldn't see and sipped her cranberry juice. "I love you, Kristina. I still want to steal you from Coni…"
"Too bad, sweetie, he sealed the deal with two cords and some cheap rings." Kristina retorted.
…and now, here's something we hope you'll really like!
"Seriously, I look goddamn sexy in this dress!" James told Alexia with sass as he garbed himself in his wedding attire: an orange dress matching those of the bridesmaids with a green sash used as a belt. He wore orange dress shoes and stockings to complete his look. Lexxi looked upon her lover as she fixed her orange necktie and grinned deviously. He gave her the up-and-down in her green tuxedo and white vest, shooting her a thumbs-up.
"Yes, I believe I'm a knockout in this tuxedo!" She bragged with equal sass. The two of them locked arms as they walked to the truck, leaving for the beach.
The weather was glorious on this lovely Halloween day, slightly overcast but with no threat of rain. The wedding party parked their vehicles at the nearby rest stop and walked down the beach to where the ceremony would take place. The couple separated to their designated areas: two different rest areas on opposite sides of the beach. James made for the one on the right, where Kristina and her maids would be waiting for him, and Alexia took to the left to meet with Constantine and his men.
"Kristina, you look breathtaking!" James told his best friend as he took in the sight of her soft orange dress flowing out from all sides, the dyed flowers adorning her auburn hair, and of course the freckles across her skin. Her hair was styled in her signature single braid, only today she pulled it in front of her right shoulder instead of falling down her back.
"Sure, with my freckles out for the world to see! Being a ginger is so irritating!"
"Hush your face, woman!" Kala mentioned, catching a laugh or two.
"They match your hair, sweetie, and Coni loves them anyhow." James consoled her. A knock came from the doorway. Kala answered the door and squeaked loudly at the sight of him.
"NED!" Kristina yelled as she saw him, dressed in a blue tuxedo. She ran over and hugged him, rubbing his shaved head with one hand. "You seem to have lost your hair."
"That happened a long time ago, dear. I forget that I've been away since high school, and you remember me being all shaggy and such. Congratulations, Kristina." As they spoke, Chelsea appeared from another room.
"Damn, James, you really did wear a dress…" She mentioned, causing all the women and Ned to laugh.
"You look pretty smoking for a cross-dresser, Jimmy." Ned nicked.
"Ned, hush! Chelsea, you're just mad 'cause I look so sharp!" James retorted, also catching some laughs and a few comments. "So, are Lexxi and I allowed in both camps?" He asked Kristina.
"Yes, James, go tell your brother he can do better than me… and send your girlfriend over so I can tell her how fine she is in her tux." She laughed. James left their room and walked down the beach to the other.
"What's the word, city bird?" He told his surrogate brother as they tightly embraced. "You actually look presentable. Good job." He noted the hunter green tuxedo.
"Your girlfriend dressed a hell of a lot better than you, James!" Benito announced in rebuke, making the other groomsmen laugh.
"Don't talk to my sexy man like that! He looks so wonderful in that dress!" Constantine defended, singing the latter sentence. "I love your hair like that!" He continued singing to James, who was now laughing hysterically.
"What can I say, Benny? I accept the fact that someone's gotta win 'Worst Dressed'!" James retorted, trying to keep the Ed Sheeran references going.
"The only one who will look better than you is the bride, James… and me!" He heard an all too familiar voice talking him up. The left-handed god himself, Michael Britt appeared in the doorway, not yet dressed for the occasion. His wedding garb rested in a bag in his left hand. James stole a hug from the glorious creation that stood before him. He finally spied Lexxi next.
"Oh, yeah, the bride would like to see how well you dressed, Lexxi." He told his girlfriend. She hugged Constantine and kissed James before leaving for the bride's camp.
People poured onto the beach and took their seats in anticipation. Beyond the rows of chairs and the aisle, they created rested a small, homemade dais constructed of foldout tables. Constantine, Alexia, and Benito stood off to one side of the dais, James and the bridesmaids on the opposite side. The guests chattered away as they waited. Constantine's mother hugged him tightly and congratulated him, but her monster was nowhere in sight. Just as well, as Constantine did not care to see him anyhow. Someone among the wedding party, likely James, would probably have smashed his face in for making some raw comment, and nobody wanted to taint the beach with monster blood.
The official got the witnesses' attention once the time came to begin. Michael Britt, clad in a green tuxedo with an orange sarong-type cloth around his waist, walked down the path tossing autumn leaves around. Soon the audience was seasoned with red, orange and yellow. He placed one red leaf, one yellow, and one orange on each of Constantine's shoulders. Kristina and her father came next, and as per usual, she mystified Coni. He now felt under-dressed, though he was wearing more than she was in his three-piece tuxedo. The woman presiding over the ceremony stepped forward. James and Alexia produced the couple's cords, Constantine's green and Kristina's orange. The two clasped their hands together, his right and her left, as the woman prayed, twisting the cords around in her hands while appealing to Constantine and Kristina's gods. She then tied the cords around the couples' hands in the shape of an infinity symbol.
"May these two hearts beat as one for the rest of their natural existence!" She announced, holding up the tied-together as the witnesses clapped and cheered. Next came the vows and the ring ceremony. They cared not for the rings or their symbols, but they invested in two cheap ones so that outsiders would know they were spoken for and not advance toward them. They each gave short vows, and the official presented their marriage license. The two of them signed the page with their free hands. "Well, that makes you two legally married! Would you like to do the I-Do's?"
"WE DO!" They answered simultaneously, earning laughter and cheers.
"Alright, then I now pronounce you as husband and wife! Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you all Constantine and Kristina Fratelli!" She announced as the newlyweds kissed, their families cheering raucously for them. The two pulled apart to look one another in the eyes.
"This is the best day ever." He told his new bride.
"I was just thinking the same thing. Now, let's go celebrate it!" She replied with a kiss on his forehead.
The Usual Spot was packed past the point of bursting for the reception. The families and friends were there eating the glorious food everyone had prepared and drinking up the bar's alcohol, as the owner and staff had thrown in money for a monumental bar tab as a wedding gift for Kristina. Alexia played deejay for their celebration, keeping the wonderful tunes flowing.
"So, yeah, Lexxi gave a wonderful toast, fulfilling her Best Woman duties more than proficiently," James announced, acoustic guitar in hand. He had changed into more comfortable garb for this; amazing as he looked in it, the dress had become a pain before too long. He joked that he didn't want anyone looking up it when he sang later. "But anyway, my two best friends just got married! That doesn't happen every day!" He continued, also listing the numerous things they all could be thankful for: the love of these two wonderful people, Benito's sobriety, the band's future, Gerald's success, Constantine's writings being published, his list went on.
"Anyway, the loverly couple asked me to play a few songs for their first dance and whatnot. They requested 'Who Watches the Watchmen' and 'Smile Bomb', and I'm also gonna play 'Shine' by Jeff Williams if they don't mind. Kala's gonna help me with the latter two, I think." He smiled as he began playing 'Watchmen' for the newlyweds' first dance. The two of them danced together for what seemed like ages, dipping, spinning, and twirling, their bodies as one just as their hearts.
Fire Down South and Rurouni were set to leave for the tour soon, so they spent as much time with their loved ones as they possibly could. James and Alexia married after the first tour finished, beginning their second tour as husband and wife. He actually proposed to her during a concert; while singing an acoustic song he took a knee, causing her to nearly faint in front of a crowd. Benito and Bridgette eventually jumped the broom also, once they decided that it couldn't be such a bad idea. Fire and Rurouni continued their hostile takeover, releasing collaborations and even playing shows together sometimes. Constantine's books increased in popularity, so he put on signings and other such events to meet his wonderful friends. The four young gentlemen of the Murder Scene had accomplished their goals of making names for themselves and their city, even though it had not come quite in the way they expected.
Epilogue: Ten Years Today
"So, you're coming in tonight and you'll be here tomorrow?" Constantine asked him nervously over the phone.
"Yes, brother. Lexxi, the kids and I are actually at the airport now, waiting for this damn flight. I can't wait to see everyone!" James replied, smiling widely at the thought of seeing them all. The members of the Murder Scene were having a sort of 'ten-year reunion' the next day, and James could hardly wait to see everyone and meet all the kids he hadn't met already.
"Hazel wants to talk to you," Coni told him, James cheering.
"Uncle Jimmy! You're coming to see me?" The girl questioned excitedly.
"Definitely, Demon Slayer! We'll be flying in tonight and will be at your house tomorrow! I can't wait!" A boarding announcement came over the PA, informing him that their flight was boarding now. "They're calling for us now, so I can't talk anymore."
"Aww." He could hear the face she made in her dismay.
"Tell your parents I love them, and I love you, too. See you tomorrow, Demon Slayer!"
"Good night, Uncle Jimmy!" His niece told him as she hung up the phone. Alexia and the twins beckoned him, and they made for the boarding area, the tiny humans trotting beside their parents.
"Hazel Jasmine, show your face right meow!" Constantine called to the child at the top of the stairs. Soon a tall, thin little girl appeared, brushing her wild brownish-red hair.
"What's wrong, Dad?" She asked as she turned into the living room, her eyes turning to stars as she saw the reason for her beckoning. "OH, MY GODS! UNCLE JIMMY!" She shrieked as she hopped into her uncle's arms, hugging tightly the man she missed so fervently. "You really need to shave, Jimmy." She told him, her face irritated by his overgrown beard.
"We just got off our tour! I'm lucky I've had time to use the bathroom, much less shave!" He replied, his niece chuckling at him. "How's life, Demon Slayer? God, you're huge! How old are you now, like, fifteen?"
"Uncle, I'm nine!" She rolled her namesake hazel eyes. Her nickname came from a lullaby Coni would sing to her when she was a baby. She grinned even more widely as she saw the twins.
"Cambria and Fratelli are getting really big!" Kristina noted as she appeared from the kitchen, smelling of baked goods and delicious foods. "It's cool that they can go on tour with y'all during the summer!"
"It's so much fun!" Spoke Cambria Belladonna Arbuckle, the dark-haired tiny human that was the spitting image of her mother, save her father's incredible hair. Fratelli Sheeran, the slightly younger of the twins, had his mother's jet black hair.
"Yeah, we catch all the tourist attractions we can," Alexia added. Her black hair fell to her shoulders, untrimmed and lacking dye.
"Well, I see you guys are busy as ever. A day off will be a welcome treat, I'm sure, especially since you get to hang with us and eat our glorious food." Constantine told them, hugging both of them before scooping up the twins. Another knock at the door came as they got settled, and who should enter but Tyleena and Gerald, a small mixture of the two following them nervously.
"So what's your name, sir?" James asked their son.
"That depends, what's your name?" He replied, his uncle laughing coarsely.
"You're certainly Gerald's kid. I'm James. I used to play music with your dad."
"So you're my Uncle Switch?" The adorable child asked. "Pleased to finally meet you. I'm Aldric James Toroya." James's eyes widened as the name crossed his ears.
"I love y'all so much!" He told Aldric's parents. Suddenly the last couple appeared in the doorway. Benito Fratelli looked healthier than ever, Bridgette looked just as stunning as always, and the child behind them took everyone's attention.
"Khaleesi Hazelle Fratelli…" Constantine told her as he hugged the small girl with the bright and bold red hair. His brother and sister-in-law hugged him next. The adults all sat around the living room as the kids played together in the next room, Kristina running back and forth to the kitchen to check the food. James prepared the food he would have brought with him, had he found the time to make it. Life on the road took up most of his time, not to mention it was difficult to cook on a bus. Benny and Bridge had brought some desserts along with them, and the Toroyas brought beverages.
"Alright, I think it might be time to eat, you guys! Fix for the kids first, then y'all go ahead. I just want to sit down for more than five seconds." Kristina joked. The parents fixed up small plates for their tiny humans, and James fixed up plates for the adults so Kristi could rest. He even fixed a dish for her so she could feast. They talked away their dinner about their lives: tours, work, the tiny humans, and whatnot. They spent the rest of the lazy Saturday spending quality time with one another.
"I think we all really needed a day like this…" Kristina mused, standing on the back porch with James and Coni. The rest of the guests had departed, and Hazel and the twins had passed out a few minutes ago. The latest tour, which would be the last for a while, had finally finished out. Well, there was a home show at the Center Stage, but they didn't have to travel anymore, a welcome relief for their tired bodies.
"I definitely needed it. The rough part of the tour's finally over. I've missed y'all so much. SLAYER IS HUGE NOW!"
"I know! We've all missed you, too. Now that y'all aren't touring for a while, we can catch up on all the things we've missed out on." The auburn mused. James smiled at the sentiment.
"Yeah, we're probably gonna be here every weekend once we get back to the Lake."
"I can't wait! I'm gonna spoil my niece and nephew so much!" Constantine remarked as Alexia appeared from the house. Something came to Jimmy's mind.
"I can't believe it's been ten years since we started the Murder Scene." He mused. "That makes nearly twenty since Jimmy and 'Stina!"
"And through it all, we're still here together," Kristi replied. "I can't believe I've known anyone that long." A tear came to her eye as she thought of all the two of them had been through together.
"I'm glad I've been around for most of it." Constantine mused. "You guys truly are my two best friends in the universe."
"You know, I've noticed something. It seems like you two are the beginning and end of this little family we have." Alexia mentioned to the two men. "You brought all of us together ten years ago, and you're both still bringing us together. You two plan the events, prepare the food, everything. So, thank you both for that." Her smile peeked through her thick black hair. James and Constantine smiled at her nice words.
"We do the best we can," Coni replied, throwing his arm around James. The four of them relaxed beneath the southern sky for a few minutes longer, enjoying the company of their surrogate family members. This day away from the stresses of life was absolutely what they all had needed. Their lives might have separated all those years ago, but they stayed connected through it all. Friends come and go through everything, but a few connections remain from start to finish. Friendships like these are a treasure.
Like murder, it's forever.