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"J.J. Larue" by Nathan Pettigrew



Kelly called J.J. and Brooklyn her “kids” and fed them drugs. A mix of fox terrier and Jack Russell, J.J. Larue was an absolute cutie pie, and Brooklyn Helaire was the biggest Rottie I’d ever seen. Both suffered from severe allergies and ear infections, which Kelly treated with Benadryl. Frequently having to up their doses, she left J.J. and Brooklyn laid out in our house for most of her visit.

She’d driven into Terrebonne Parish from Texas on a Friday morning to see my wife Nadia who referred to “Kell Bell” as her sister, as the two were former roommates and offensive linemen for the Austin Outlaws.

I liked Kelly because she could hold her own. Even as a bayou boy raised on bourbon, I struggled to keep up.

Selling offshore equipment for Brady Oil used to require my attention in Austin at least twice a month, and some clients had taken me out to Moontower Saloon where Kelly and Nadia were slow dancing around a bonfire to a live rendition of “Tennessee Whiskey.”

From all the folks watching, Kelly picked me to join in.

I’d seen plenty of golden curls, but Nadia’s were natural looking, and shining brighter than the fire.

“Put your arm around her,” Kelly said.

I did, leaning into Nadia’s ear. “She’s a character.”

“Kell Bell’s not interested,” Nadia said.

“No, I figured as much,” I said.

“You paying rent for that or what?” she asked, eyeing my arm.

I ordered us a round and learned how strict Nadia was as a manager for Olive Garden.

She’d line up her staff, check their socks and ironed uniforms and couldn’t stand their utter lack of appreciation for customer service. Pickings were slim among the new generation, she explained. A smarter generation refusing to work like dogs for insulting pay.

Nadia went on to curse local traffic and the stupid number of tourists leaving poor Yelp reviews.

“Not a big fan, eh?” I asked.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she said. “This place used to be special, but the secret’s out, apparently.”

A few more trips to Austin, and Nadia and I had fallen into a reason for her to leave.

Kelly was able to go at it alone by securing a warehouse management gig for a media mogul.

Unfortunately for Kelly, her high-profile employer landed himself in a major lawsuit that left her with a severance package.

Nadia insisted she get out of town for a few days, and waking up to Brooklyn in my kitchen was like having to pet a horse while sipping coffee.

She had thick black fur but brown circles around her sleepy eyes, and the loudest, most endearing one-and-done bark.

ROO!

JJ.’s fur was mostly the color of caramel, the creamy white around his nose extending into a stripe between his sweet mahogany eyes.

Finding Brooklyn’s hair on our floors, I asked Nadia for a quick word in the bedroom.

“I know you see it,” I said.

“Be a good host and grab a broom if it bothers you,” Nadia said.

That first night, we brought Kelly to the corner store, and she insisted on paying for Nadia’s Pino Grigio, my eight-pack of Miller Light, and her case of Yuengling.

“Bucs aren’t looking the best this year,” she said on the way back home.

“They’ve only lost two,” Nadia said.

Kelly despised Tom Brady and called him “the cheater.” The ultimate insult to Nadia who’d dedicated her social media to TB12.

“Kell Bell’s just jealous like J.J. when it comes to Brady,” she said.

“How’s that?” I asked. “J.J.’s awesome.”

“Just wait,” Nadia said.

The dogs greeted us at the door, and Kelly gave her attention to J.J. first, rubbing his cheeks.

ROO!

“Oh, stop,” she said, massaging Brooklyn’s ears.

She brought J.J. and Brooklyn to the backyard and watched them take care of their business without cleaning up.

I asked Nadia for another word. “Think she could at least get the shit?”

“I’ll tell her later, but grab a bag for now,” Nadia said.

“Brooklyn shits eggs, Nadia. I’m not kidding. Shits the size of actual eggs.”

“Man up,” she said.

We joined Kelly in the living room, and I figured it was on like the ol’ days, but she was out by seven on the smaller couch despite the sixteen cans she had left.

“So much for competition,” I said, smiling at J.J. who was on top of Kelly while Brooklyn snored on the floor.

“She drove through the night,” Nadia said, “and don’t even think about touching J.J. while she’s sleeping.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked. I got up and J.J. brushed his forehead against my palm. “See?”

I tried rubbing his cheeks, and J.J. growled before snapping at me.

“Jesus,” I said.

“You were warned,” Nadia said.

“Hound from hell,” I said, sitting back down. “You ever see that movie? The Lost Boys?”

“To me,” Nadia said. “J.J.’s more like the square on Sesame Street that doesn’t fit in.”

She wasn’t wrong. Next morning, J.J. snapped at Brooklyn for no reason.

“No,” Kelly said, backing J.J. down with a stern finger.

She subdued him with raw meat bites and crushed-up Benadryl and gave Brooklyn the same.

“I want to see the Superdome,” she said. “Plus, I’ve never been to New Orleans.”

Kelly also loved the 49ers for some reason. If it wasn’t the Texans, she rooted for San Fran but hated Jimmy G. and called him “the devil’s sperm” due to his time as Brady’s backup in New England.

“Here we go,” Nadia said.

“I get you don’t like him, Kell Bell, but you seriously don’t think Brady’s the GOAT?”

“He’s the luckiest to ever play the game,” she said.

“Told you,” Nadia said. “J.J. Larue when it comes to Brady.”

Yeah. That damn J.J. Larue.

We finished our tour of the Dome and enjoyed oysters on Royal Street, but conversations between Nadia and Kelly had nothing to do with me.

“Want another beer?” Nadia asked, surprising me.

So, I wasn’t invisible after all or an odd man out like J.J. Larue.

It hit me on the Luling Bridge heading back to Terrebonne that Kelly had used a GPS to find the city and was using it again to bring us home. A bit odd considering I couldn’t count the times that Nadia and I had made the trip.

Kelly took Highway 90 and got off on 182 as instructed but came to a set of orange roadblocks.

“Yeah, this goes too far toward Raceland,” I said. “Bring her back to ninety, honey.”

“I’m following directions,” Kelly said.

“Nadia,” I said.

“Are you getting frustrated?” Kelly asked, her eyes meeting mine in the rearview.

“Yeah, with Nadia,” I said. “You’re acting like we don’t live here, honey. Seriously. What’s with all this robot shit?”

“It would’ve taken me a lot longer than eight hours to reach Terrebonne without it,” Kelly said.

“No, I get it, Kell Bell. GPS is great for when you don’t know bumfuck from wherever you’re going, but Nadia’s letting it confuse you when she knows the way.”

“She told me,” Kelly said. “I didn’t listen.”

A conversation I’d missed apparently.

Either way, GPS had become bible for some folks. Nadia even used one to shop in town, sounding ridiculous when trying to sell me on avoiding traffic. It was as if she’d forgotten the backroads.

Like New Year’s Eve when we’d taken an Uber to Bayou Blue. GPS had instructed the driver to take a left on 311 past Summerfield Plaza.

“Valhi’s coming up and gets you there faster,” I’d said.

“I’m just doing what this thing tells me,” the driver said.

But why? I didn’t know my own backyard?

The dogs greeted us at the door, and J.J. allowed Nadia to caress his backside while Kelly scratched Brooklyn’s ears.

Brooklyn barged in for Nadia’s affection, and J.J. snapped at her.

ROO!

“No,” Kelly said, backing J.J. down.

He looked into my eyes with that mahogany stare and growled.

Safe to say, I was all set with knowing J.J. Larue.

***

Sunday the sixteenth. Game day. Piss-poor Andy Dalton and the Saints were playing Big Dick Joey and the Bengals in the Superdome. A match-up that stung before it started. I fucking loved the Saints, but my father was an LSU alumnus and raised me on the Tigers.

Kelly got on her phone that morning after letting the dogs out.

“You talk to her about cleaning up?” I asked Nadia.

“She’s looking for places showing the game,” Nadia said.

“Cajun Sports,” I said. “You already knew that. The best gumbo, too. Get her off the phone, honey.”

Against my better judgment, I decided to wear my Burrow Tigers jersey.

“No robot shit this time,” Kelly said, reversing from the driveway.

I smiled, needing her joke. Locals were going to punish me hard for the Burrow jersey. I wasn’t sure if that meant some shit talk or a drunk picking a fight, but I didn’t feel great inside.

Dimly lit inside, Cajun Sports & Grill was jam-packed, but somehow plenty of tables were available.

The glittered bar on the left was long enough to host four flatscreens above, each showing a different game.

Kelly and Nadia picked a spot near the far-end wall between the bathrooms, and an elderly woman in a Thomas jersey tapped my shoulder before I could sit.

“Can I take a picture of your jersey?” she asked, holding up her phone.

“What? Yeah, sure,” I said.

She had me turn my back and snapped two pics.

“My family loves him,” she said. “We won’t ever forget what he’s done for this state.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“Who Dey!” a guy from a pub table yelled. He and his girl were in Bengals 9 jerseys.

“Who Dat!!” some Saints fans from the bar yelled.

“Who Dey!” the Bengals fan yelled back.

“Okay, then,” I said, taking my seat. “This might be fun.”

Nadia sipped her wine while Kelly and I shared a pail of Yuengling Light. Each of the eight iced bottles came open with a slice of lime wedged in.

Good thing I was interested in the pregame show. Kelly and Nadia had relaxed into sharing exclusive memories from the Outlaw days, and Kelly and I were on our third Yuengling when Nadia suggested she move in with us.

“Just until you find a new job,” she said.

“About that,” I said to Kelly. “I get your boss lost in court but hundreds of millions in damages? Who’d he offend? An entire country?”

“His own damn fault,” Kelly said. She downed her Yuengling and reached for a fourth. “He could’ve settled for a mil and been fine.”

I reached for my fourth. “Okay, but whatever happened to the First Amendment?”

“Slander,” Kelly said.

“Is it?” I asked. “You’re telling me the neighbors of those victims believed the rantings of some nut-job conspiracy theorist over the reality of their own community?”

Nadia stood. “I have to pee.”

“Use to be, if you didn’t like what someone was saying, you didn’t listen,” I said, “but you didn’t go after their jobs or their fucking bank accounts. Like, whatever happened to grown folks debating each other?”

“He was spinning bullshit and knew it,” Kelly said.

“So does every politician whenever those fuckers open their mouths,” I said. “We were the ones fighting for free speech when conservatives went after hip-hop in the nineties. Us. Liberals. Now all the sudden you’re a right-winger if you support the Constitution?”

“Geaux Burrow!!” the Benglals fans yelled.

Kick off time.

“Geaux Burrow!” I yelled, on my feet.

***

Fucking Saints were up by six at halftime and I stepped out to bum a smoke.

Scrolling through my phone, I was about done when Nadia joined me outside.

“Kell Bell was too proud when I brought it up in front of you but agreed to move in.”

“Yeah? And what did I agree to?” I asked. “Do y’all even care?”

“She’s family,” Nadia said.

“Sure it’s not more than that?” I asked.

“Wow,” she said. “That’s a new low for you. I’m not her type.”

“I’m—sorry, Nadia. I just—I don’t know.”

I stepped on my butt.

Kelly had waited for us before reaching for a fresh Yuengling.

I downed mine and slammed the bottle on the table. “Okay, Kell Bell. Nothing against you, but I’m not interested in a roommate situation right now.”

“Let’s forget it,” she said.

“Let’s not,” I said. “Finish this pail with me. Maybe another, and whoever wins?”

“Deal,” Kelly said.

A couple more in us, and Burrow was catching up, down by two.

I couldn’t sit. “Let’s Geaux! Come on, D!”

Defense showed up, but the gift from heaven was the punt return.

First and ten at Cincinnati’s forty, Burrow threw a sixty-yard Hail Mary to fellow Tiger Ja’Marr Chase.

Touchdown. The Bengals were up by four.

I high fived our friends at the pub table and finished the pail with Kelly.

The Saints unleashed Kamara for a gain of seven yards.

“Shit! Come on, D!”

I reached for a Yuengling when the new pail arrived.

Andy Dalton and Kamara did it again. Another first down.

“I can’t,” I said, about to go outside until Nadia stopped me.

“You’ve had your smoke,” she said.

She was right. Plus, that damn J.J. Larue would become a fixture in my home if I failed to keep up. The one who didn’t fit in. The one everyone counted out when it came to not being a crank, but he’d proven capable of showing affection and simply felt inferior to Brooklyn. An underdog not trying to be one.

Maybe I was wrong to have made a snap decision about him. Maybe he needed time to get to know me.

“Yeah!!” the Bengals fans yelled.

Andy Dalton had thrown to Kamara for an incomplete.

“That’s it, D!” I yelled.

Another incomplete.

Third down. The Bengals sacked Andy Dalton, and I shook my ass in the air.

As expected, the Saints were going for it on fourth, and another piss-poor throw was all she wrote.

Burrow took his knee.

“That’s it! Geaux Burrow!” I yelled. “Geaux Larue! J.J. Larue!”

My fellow Bengals fans were apparently so buzzed that they must’ve figured J.J. for one of Burrow’s teammates, joining in.

“J.J. Larue!! J.J. Larue!! J.J. Larue!!”

***

Nadia laughed when I stared into the empty pail.

“You were going on about J.J. and Kelly won,” she said.

“Damn,” I said. “That’s—that’s messed up, man. I mean—hey, whatever. Win some. Lose some. Right?”

Nadia had two glasses of wine before halftime and drove, and when she pulled into our driveway, we caught Blanca on our neighbor’s décor bench.

“My God,” Kelly said from the backseat. “That’s your neighbor’s cat?”

Aside from Blanca’s bright orange nose, ears and tail, the fur covering her body was ghost-white, and her ice-blue eyes were always stunning.

“She’s no one’s,” Nadia said, taking the key from the ignition. “She’s feral. Here and there for food.”

“So, get her some,” Kelly said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Since we’re expanding the fam and all.”

The dogs greeted us at the door.

“J.J.!” I yelled.

He stayed friendly when I rubbed his cheeks.

“Victory!” I yelled.

Brooklyn barged in and J.J. bit my thumb before snapping at her.

ROO!

“You’re bleeding,” Kelly said.

And fast. Shit. After all I’d just pulled off in honor of his name.

That damn J.J. Larue.



Nathan Pettigrew was born and raised an hour south of New Orleans and lives in the Tampa area with his loving wife. His story “Yemma” was recently awarded 2nd Place in the 22nd Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition and appeared in the winnow. Other stories have appeared in Deep South Magazine, Penumbra Online, The “Year”Anthology from Crack the Spine, Roi Fainéant Press, Cowboy Jamboree, and the Nasty: Fetish Fights Back anthology from Anna Yeatts of Flash Fiction Online, which was spotlighted in a 2017 Rolling Stone article.

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