She stepped out of the airport terminal, squinting her eyes from the bright sun. It had been five years since she’d been back to Bayside, and now she was back home under the worst of circumstances. Jagger had face timed her the other day to tell her that Axle, their cousin, was picking her up. But as she glanced around, her cousin was nowhere to be seen. “I swear, my first time back to Bayside, and I get forgotten. Great.” She said with a sigh. She swung the backpack over her shoulder and made her way to one of the benches to wait.
She pulled out a pair of sunglasses from the pack and took off her sweatshirt and let the sunshine on her face. There was a slight breeze coming in, and sweat started to form on her brow. She couldn’t help but think it was strange how she had forgotten just how muggy Florida was even in April. It had been five years since she’d been back home. Well technically, it had been ten years since she’d begged her parents to go to the famous ballet school in Russia to become a professional ballet dancer. She had been eleven years old and could barely speak a word of Russian when she and her mom got on the plane that day. She could still see her father and big brother waving goodbye. It was so fresh in her mind like it happened only yesterday.
Her mother had come with her to Saint Petersburg. She had helped Jojo practice her Russian, and stayed with her for two weeks just to be sure that this was what she wanted. It was twenty minutes later; she pulled out her cell to see that it was nearly dead when she heard someone shouting at her. “Josephine, Joey, Jojo, over here!” a voice yelled. Then her cousin Vivian came into view with her short sundress, long brunette hair, and sun-kissed skin. “Hey, you!” She squealed, running over and squeezed her to death. “Oh my god, I’m so glad you’re finally here!”
“Vivi, let me breathe a little.” She laughed, patting her back.
Vivian pulled away and squealed, hugging her once more before taking her arm and starting to walk. “I’m so sorry that I’m late. Axle just called me, and then told me to pick you up. I had to tell my boss that I had to leave for a little bit, and he wasn’t happy. But, thank goodness Dave knows what an asshole Axle can be, so it wasn’t too bad at least. But I’m sorry to make you wait.”
“Don’t worry about it. Dad told me that Jagger was coming to pick me up, and then Jag called telling me Axle was coming, and when I didn’t see him, I thought it would be uncle Larry or something.” She laughed. “But I knew something was up, and someone would come and get me… sooner or later.”
“Oh, it’s so good to see you again!” Vivi squeaked.
“We facetime almost every day. You know what I look like.” She smiled.
“But that’s not the same as seeing you in person!” Vivi beamed as they walked to her car. “Have you, ah, talked to Uncle Frank lately?”
“Well, I talk to dad almost as much as I talk to you. But I did talk to him this morning before I left. Why?”
“No reason, I was just wondering is all.” They walked in silence for a couple more minutes. “Hey, did Jagger tell you about the band he and Axle have been playing in the last four years?”
“Well, yeah, I knew he was playing in a band.”
“Did he mention how big they’ve become around here?”
“Kind of. But you know how Jagger usually likes to talk about himself and only himself. So when he tells me that his band is taking off… I think he’s in full Jagger bragging mode.” She laughed.
“Well, I can understand that!” Vivi agreed with a wide smile. “But they are good Jojo; I mean like excellent. And do they have some hotties playing with them too!”
“Anyone I would know?”
“Well, Rocco, of course,” Vivi said with a roll of her eyes.
“Of course.” She nodded, remembering all too well Rocco always being over at her house and Vivian's place all the time. It was like he was apart of the family. He ate over, slept over, there were even times when he’d go on vacation with all of them.
They finally made it to the car, and she was drenched in sweat. When Vivi unlocked the door, she threw her backpack in the back and waited for her cousin to turn the air conditioning on maximum as Vivian continued to talk. “Then there’s this guy Ty. Axle and Jagger have known him for about six years now. He’s from Hawaii, and oh, my, gosh, Jo, he is so flipping hot!” Vivi gushed. “He’s got this long shaggy black hair, he’s super ripped, tattoos, a nipple piercing, plays the guitar, and he’s a surfer.”
“Well, you had me at super ripped and surfer… but the nipple piercing is what set the whole thing a flame for me!” She laughed.
“Oh, shut up! I know you like the clean-cut type, but come on, you have to try something new every once and a while. ” Vivi giggled, pulling out of the parking garage. “Then there’s Kevin. You should remember him from the fourth grade, he was the smartest kid in the class, A.K.A nerdy. Now he’s like Mr. super nerd, but who also looks like a football star.”
“Nice.” She murmured, looking out the window, then turned around. “Wait, Kevin, our Kevin from Mr. Ethan's class, you mean?”
“Yup, that’s the one.” Vivi winked. “Then there’s Owen, and oh my gosh Jojo, he is so drool-worthy, girl! He goes out surfing with Ty all the time. He’s tall, golden blond, and has a body so dame luscious he makes all the girls go crazy to have him. He’s also covered in tats, ripped, and he plays guitar… but he is kind of a man whore.”
“Well, from the way you’re talking, I can imagine why.” She smiled and then sat back, resting her head on the chair. “I’m not here to meet guys, Vivi; I’m here to see mom. Besides, having Jagger as a brother has kind of turned me off to those wannabe bad boys, and honestly, guys just suck on the whole right now.”
“Did something happen?” Vivi asked, her eyes glancing over.
“Yes, something happened. But I don’t want to get into it right now.” She sighed, turning to look back out the window.
Vivian was quiet when they pulled off the freeway. “Hey, I have an idea.”
“Why don’t you come to the club tomorrow night and see the guys play. I mean, the music is vibing, and we can go out and get ourselves a bite to eat before going to see them.” Vivian smiled, but Jojo just sighed, not wanting to answer. “Oh, come on. All you’ve had for the last five years is European food… yuck! I know your dying for some fajitas, or a chimichanga, maybe a big greasy pizza or something. Then after that, we can go to the club and have a margarita or two.” Vivi said with her eyebrows going up and down. “What do you say?”
They had pulled into her family’s housing development, and she didn’t say anything until they were close to her house. Her brain was so full that the last thing she wanted was to go out partying, but maybe she needed this to help make up her mind on what came next. So, turning her head, grinned at her cousin. “It might be fun to get out and live a little bit. Or at least just not live, eat, breathe, ballet for a little bit.”
“Great! The guys start playing at nine. I’ll pick you up at seven-thirty, so we can go out and get something to eat.” Vivian said, pulling up into the driveway.
“Sounds good, I’ll see you tomorrow night then.” She said, getting the backpack and getting out of the car. “You want to come in and say hi?”
“No, I know Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Frank have been waiting for you.” Was all Vivi answered, her eyes filling with water. “See you tomorrow.” She waved then drove off.
Jojo just stood there in the driveway with the blazing sun burning down on her and not knowing what to expect when she walked inside. She adjusted her backpack, looking at her childhood home and, with a deep breath, made her way to the front door. She stood there, wondering if she should knock or just walk in when her hand went to the door nob and turned it. “Hello, mom, dad, I’m home.” She called out.
Her dad turned the corner with a dish towel in his hands dressed in his jeans and vintage rock t-shirt. His big frame looked a lot thinner. His thick brown hair was grayer than it was before, and his beard was gone now, and instead, she saw a man who looked like he’d been through hell. “Jojo!” He said, hurrying down the hall and picking her up in a big bear hug. “I can’t believe you’re finally home. I missed you so much!”
“I’m glad I’m home to dad.” She laughed, then when she was back on her feet, she glanced down the hallway to her parents’ room. “So, where’s mom?”
Her father’s smile fell, and his hand ran through his hair. “She’s in the game room.”
“Oh, okay. Then I’ll go say hi.” She said, heading off in that direction.
“Wait.” A hand came out, taking her by the arm and pulling her over to the wall. “I want to prepare you, Jojo. You see mom, I mean, damn it. I knew this was going to be tough, but damn it not this tough.”
“Dad, what’s going on?” She asked, feeling her body start to shake.
“Well, you see, mom is sick again.” He said.
She waited for more, but nothing more came from him. “Dad, I already knew she was sick. So what’s this really about?”
“Well, peanut, she’s sicker than what I’ve told you.” He finally admitted.
“What? Well, how sick then?”
His eyes dropped to the floor before they met hers, and he reached out, caressing her arms. “She’s dying, baby.”
“What, dad, no. You would have told me something like that.” She snapped.
“I know you’re mad, and I will tell you everything. But first, go say hi to your mom. She’s been waiting for you all day. I just want you prepared for when you saw her.”
He turned around and walked back into the kitchen, and Jojo could feel her stomach twist and turn like she was just about to go on stage. She passed the dining room and family room and made her way to the converted garage that had become her dad’s man cave/ game room for as long as she could remember. The door was open and she could hear the TV. Slowly she walked up to the opening and looked in and held in the gasp that wanted to come out.
Her beautiful, bright, spontaneous mother who was always telling jokes and dressed in bright colored sundresses, was lying in a hospital-like bed sitting in the middle of the room dressed in a blue robe and scarf going around her head. She stepped down into the room, taking a good look at what her dad had just said. She saw that her mom was sleeping when she walked closer, then her mom opened her eyes. Hazel green eyes that matched her own stared at her in confusion, and then recognition. “Josephine, my baby.” A weak voice said, and reaching a hand out to her.
“Hi, mom.” She whispered, trying not to show how shocked she was at the sight, and took hold of her hand and held it tightly. “Aren’t you looking as gorgeous as ever.”
Her mom’s eyes brightened. “You know what I’ve always said about how a woman should keep themselves up for their man to stay faithful.”
“I remember.” Then she kissed her mom’s hand and put it up to her cheek. “I wish you would have told me how bad the cancer had gotten. I would have come home right away.”
“I know you would have. But you just got the lead in the Nutcracker. I didn’t want you to give that up, and it wouldn’t have made a difference… I was still going to be sick, whether you came home or not. And you’ve worked so hard to get where you are.”
Jojo didn’t say anything, because she couldn’t. The last thing that she wanted was to argue. But she did have something that she wanted to say when her father walked into the room. “Well, look at what I’ve got here. Two of the most beautiful women in the whole entire world.” He smiled, coming over and kissing her mom’s lips softly. “How did I ever get so lucky?”
“Oh, Larry, you charmer.” Her mom blushed.
“Glad to know I’ve still got it.” He winked and then glanced up at Jojo. “Hey peanut, you hungry?” He asked, but there was something more in that question.
“Ah, yeah, sure. I haven’t eaten since I left Saint Petersburg.” She smiled, getting up from her seat. “I’ll come back in a little bit, mom.”
“Take your time, sweetie; I’m really tired right now.” Her mom sighed, slowly drifting off, and her dad frowned and nodded his head for them to step out of the room. They were silent as they walked into the kitchen, but as soon as they were there, her dad sighed. “I’m sorry, Jojo.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that she was this sick dad? I would’ve rather be home with her then dancing.” She said, having her voice crack.
Her dad’s eyes started to get red and watery before he rubbed them. “I wanted to tell you peanut, I really did. But your mom said no. She wanted you to enjoy all your hard work. You finally got to be in a lead role.”
“That didn’t matter to me. I could always get another opportunity to dance in a lead role; I only have one mom!” She snapped, wiping tears from her face.
“I know, Jojo, and I do get it. But your mom, that’s the love of my life. If that woman tells me that she wants to wait after the tour was over, then damn it, that’s what I’m going to do.” He whispered, tears falling down his face. “But I did talk her into calling you sooner then she wanted to. She was hoping you would try out for the Black Swan.”
“Screw the dancing dad!” She snapped and then went over and hugged him. “I’m sorry, I’m not mad at you. I’m just scared. I know you just wanted to do what mom wanted, and she was just doing what she thought was best. I get it, I do. But I don’t think you two know just how much I missed both of you. So much so I’ve been thinking of leaving the company and staying home.”
He hugged her tightly. “I would love for you to stay home peanut, I really would. I’ve missed seeing my baby, but do me a favor.”
“Don’t say anything to your mom about it. She’ll end up blaming herself for that decision.”
“I was thinking the same thing.” She sighed.
“Are you planning on staying in Bayside?”
“I will until… well, I am.”
“I was thinking about maybe New York. They have a fantastic ballet company, and I’m only an hour and a half flight to come and see you and Jagger.” She murmured, not even holding back the tears that were falling onto her dad’s t-shirt.
“I like that idea.” He said, kissing the top of her head.
“Where’s Jagger? I thought that jerk would be here at least to say hi to me.”
“He’s at The Stone having band practice. He said he’d be by later on tonight to say hi.”
She pulled away and wiped her face off with her palms nodding. “Do you think mom would mind if I go over and say hi to him.”
“No, I think she’d be fine.”
“Good, I have a feeling I’m going to be going to bed pretty early tonight, and he won’t be over until after midnight. And I wanted to talk with him now.”
“Jojo, don’t go over there and start shit. I told him not to tell you.” He stated.
“Yeah, I know… but I still want to get out for a little bit and clear my mind before I come home and spend time with mom. And maybe get myself something to eat.” She offered.
“Hey, I could make you something.” Her dad smiled.
“No thanks, dad. Food poisoning isn’t on my to-do list.” She smiled
He picked up a dish towel and threw it at her making her laugh. “Smartass!”
Jojo walked into her old bedroom, seeing that one of her boxes had already arrived. She opened it up and pulled some clothing out. What she had told her dad about not going back to Russia was the truth; she just didn’t tell him that she wasn’t thinking about it; it was already a done deal. “A quick shower and change of clothing will feel good.” She sighed, walking to the bathroom and stopping at her parents’ bedroom leaning against the wall.
She could still remember her mom’s beautiful smile and the laugh she had when her dad told a joke. She remembered brushing her mom's long blond hair when she was little and learning to braid it. Then reached up taking ahold of her own long blond hair that matched her moms, and wanted to cry all over again. So much had changed in the last five years… and now she needed to get some answers from her pain in the ass older brother on why he didn't keep her in the loop like he promised he would do. “The asshole.”