They told me not to look, but I did anyway.
Muhammad Avdol’s body was nowhere to be found. All that was left of him were his arms. And Polnareff swore the man was dead, there was no question. He claimed he’d seen Avdol's soul passing, along with Iggy's, with his own two eyes. No one besides me really believed him, but no one could argue.
Iggy's body was a horrendous sight, really. The once rambunctious little terrier looked more like a bloody hand towel by the time his corpse was recovered. I couldn't stand the sight of it for too long.
Joseph couldn't look at Iggy's corpse. He couldn't look at what remained of Avdol. It was all too much for him. And he didn’t even consider looking at Kakyoin's body. He told me DIO's attack had been as quick as blinking. Kakyoin was gone before he even knew it.
The moment they rolled Kakyoin’s body out of the ambulance, Joseph threw his fake hand up and turned away. "No, please,” he said, “Don't show me.”
But I wanted to see. Not out of morbid curiosity, or because I couldn't believe he was gone, but because I needed the sight of it to be burned into my memory. I needed to see him whenever I closed my eyes at night, so I'd never forget what he and the others sacrificed to save my mother—and humanity, for that matter.
I sort of regret it, though. They pulled back the sheet covering his corpse and I immediately felt a sharp pain in my gut. Joseph hadn't lied: it was right through the middle of his torso. It looked like a damn hole punch. The rest of his body was covered in awful bruises and cuts. All this for a woman he barely knew and a world that had been indifferent to his existence. If I hadn't felt nauseous before, I was certainly ready to hurl then.
And I can't remember the hours after that, if I’m honest. I saw Avdol’s arms after Kakyoin and it only worsened my state. My head spun imagining how quick that bastard Vanilla Ice had to be, to take out such a gifted Stand User like Avdol.
"Noriyaki Kakyoin is dead", they announced over the radio, “Iggy is dead. Muhammad Avdol’s body could not be recovered, he is presumed dead.”
On our flight to a hospital in Nepal, Polnareff couldn't even speak, which I thought was far worse than hearing him moan or weep over our late friends. Joseph tried to break the silence at one point by cracking a joke about vampires. He really had awful timing. If wasn't like pranks and shit were going to make us feel better about what we’d seen. Polnareff managed to force a smile for him. I couldn't.
We spent a handful of nights in that hospital, monitored around the clock by the Speedwagon Foundation and a group of approved doctors and nurses. The three of us had all sustained serious injuries, but thankfully, nothing fatal with proper treatment. I thought I looked like a mental patient walking around in a hospital gown under my school jacket and hat, but it was too damn cold in there not to. They wouldn't even let me smoke in my room, not that I could always bring myself to. Sometimes the fire from the lighter would make me think of Avdol. And how there wasn't even a body.
I don’t think I’d ever asked him if he had any family back home.
I rarely slept the whole stay. Whenever my eyes closed, I was far away from the shitty bed with its papery sheets. I was lounging in a hotel in Singapore, or walking the streets of Calcutta, or flying past rooftops in Cairo.
Just to ease my racing mind, I’d walk the aisles of the hospital in the middle of the night. No one ever stopped me, but I did get gawked at by the nurses. I was starting to go crazy there. Those nurses were annoying, and the doctors were no better. The old me might have told them all to just piss off, but I never cared to say a word against them. They were just trying to help, even when they brought me food that made me want to vomit, like pudding doused with whipped cream. They just had to put a damn cherry on top every time.
“JoJo—I tied a knot in a cherry stem with my tongue. Look!”
“Bullshit, Hierophant Green did that.”
“Don't call bullshit if you can't prove it!”
“It's cheating if your Stand uses its fingers, you know.”
“Tch, well I guess nothing gets past a Joestar, huh?”
I usually threw dessert away.
One of the few nights I’d been lucky enough able to fall asleep, I was awoken soon after by the sound of a dog barking. My heart practically stopped. There really shouldn't have been anyone or anything near the hospital at night with the Speedwagon people on patrol, but perhaps a stray had wandered onto the premises? Out of bed before I knew it, I checked out the window, but there wasn’t a soul outside. Then I realized I was hearing dogs, again.
Unable to relax after that, I decided to go for another one of my walks through the hospital, and along the way I saw Joseph sitting by a window in one of the waiting areas on our floor. It felt like the first I’d seen him in a while, despite staying just down the hall from each other. This particular waiting area wasn't open to the public that late, so it was just him.
"Ah, Jotaro," the old man rumbled when he saw me, "Taking a moonlit stroll?"
I decided to sit across from him and join him in his stargazing. It was better than anything I had planned for the evening. We did this in silence for a while, until he cleared his throat.
"I haven't had the chance to ask you..." He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "...That is… how’re you feeling?"
That question took me by surprise. There had hardly been any "how are you"s over our journey. There hadn't been time or reason to ask, at least in my mind. It didn't matter how anyone was feeling on their way to defeat some immortal vampiric overlord. I couldn't think of an answer for him. However, in that moment I became aware of the weariness throughout my body: the tension in my core, the numbness in my hands. I suppose it showed.
"It's getting to you, too, isn't it? The weight of it all?” he queried.
I met his attentive gaze.
"I know you cared about them,” he said, “It was hard not to. Our brothers-in-arms, or however you wanna’ say it…”
Joseph proceeded to stare sadly out the window, and it was hard not to feel a twinge of sadness myself. The first I'd really recognized within me since we’d left Egypt. I guessed I’d spent my days in shock, until then.
"I've seen far too much death in my time, grandson,” he confessed, “I've lost so many. I find myself unable to sleep because of it, most nights... I'll do anything to forget the pain. Even for just a little while.”
He swallowed hard as if there was more he couldn't admit to me. I wasn't in the mood to pry.
"Avdol was a good friend to me. Iggy too, in his own unique way. And Kakyoin... well. Don't take this the wrong way, but he felt like he could be my other grandson. I know the three of them held you in high esteem.”
He tried to look me in the eye again. "You were close to him, weren't you? Kakyoin? It was sometimes hard for Polnareff and Avdol to relate to you, since you're just a high-schooler, but you boys seemed to get along pretty well."
I couldn't answer him.
“Friendship is nothing but heartache, Jotaro. Any relationship is. It's all just to keep us in-line morally, until one person breaks the other’s heart—in life or death...” I felt myself wanting to tune his nihilistic drabble out. “...But mostly it's worth the trouble.”
Joseph then looked to the stars.
“How?” I asked, following suit.
“It’s about the memories you make, in my opinion. Being able to look back on all the times when everything was in shambles, and then being able to say ‘well, someone I loved was there, so it wasn't all bad’,” he explained.
After that, I wanted him to stop talking. He was making too much sense for an old geezer. "I’d rather just block it out. It’s like they’re all going to haunt me forever,” I admitted.
"I hate to say it. But yes, they will.”
Our talk that night hardly made me feel better. I wasn’t interested in hearing any of Joseph’s stories, knowing it would just bring him lower than he already felt. Seeing him so down, when I’d always known him to be such a clown, was strange. I could never fathom how broken he must be, underneath it all.
The hospital bed that night was as uncomfortable as ever. I was awake for hours, staring at the ceiling, and there was a sort of screaming in my head. Tossing and turning, I ended up facing the window and saw Star Platinum hovering before me. It wasn’t looking at me, but the sky outside. I think it was getting to be dawn.
Despite its newfound power after the fight with DIO, it didn't seem any bigger or tougher. Rather, something seemed wrong. Normally when I looked at my Stand, I saw something I couldn’t help but think of as a separate entity from me. It acted on its own in the beginning, and I called it my demon. Over those first months I had it, I came up with the theory that it could act on behalf of my subconscious, even if I didn’t specifically will it to do anything. But it still never felt like any sort of reflection of me, much less “my fighting spirit”, as they said.
That night in the hospital room changed things, though.
I remembered something Avdol had told me one evening in the desert, by the light of the campfire.
“I find that our Stands are manifestations of ourselves AND their own beings. Your Stand reflects you and your ideals, though it might have a personality of its own. The lines between a physical being and their Stand are sort of blurred. It can be used for good or evil, but it may also act independently based on the thoughts in the back of your mind. You really must discover how you work and fight with Star Platinum by yourself, Jotaro. What can it do? Some Stands are more like objects, others act more like pets. Yours may even be like a friend, but nevertheless it is an undeniable reflection of who you are as a human being, and you must view it and use its power as such.”
Star Platinum’s posture was off as it stared into the distance. Normally standing proud, I noticed it was hunched over a bit, arms limp at its sides, with its legs just sort of dangling in the air. And the face. The stupid thing emoted a hell of a lot more than I did. Watching those first colors of sunrise, it looked sullen. Depressed, even. I realized that my “fighting spirit” didn’t have any fight left in it.
Eventually we were admitted from the hospital. Polnareff was doing fairly well; he was dealing with some bad soreness and migraines, but he could walk and function fine enough. Joseph was very stiff and had a hard time standing for prolonged periods. He really wasn’t getting around as well as before, but he was set on going without a cane for as long as he could. As for me, my body still felt much heavier than usual.
I would’ve hated to admit it, but I’d been thinking Joseph had a point that night in the waiting room. The more time that passed, the more I came to terms with the fact that I would be haunted by my memories of my friends until I died.
After Joseph and my grandmother went home to New York, I kept an eye on my mom for the remainder of the year. She was as chipper as ever, despite her traumatic experience. She still fawned all over me every chance she got. But I couldn’t be irritated with her, I was just thankful for her safety. All the teasing was worth eating her cooking again and seeing her be herself.
Too much time had passed for me to apologize for how I acted before Joseph came. But what I’ve always liked about my mom was her ability to understand what was in someone's heart without them having to say a word.
She and I would get a call from my grandparents weekly. Sometimes she would talk to Joseph, or her mom. Sometimes Joseph would request to speak to me alone, and check if I’d encountered anyone suspicious lately, if things were really alright with Mom, if I was holding up okay. One day I was on the phone with my grandmother, which didn't happen often, and she spoke to me with a seriousness in her voice I’d never heard before.
“I know some of the things your grandfather has seen. I’m not oblivious to it. He tries his best to keep me out of the loop, but I know by now he's gone and seen some more.” She paused and took a deep breath. “I know he can be a pain, at times, but please be gentle with him if you can.”
“He’s so proud of the man you’re becoming, Jotaro. And I am, too. We love you.”
Sometimes I would get letters from Polnareff, and at one point he included his phone number, so I could give him a call. I think it took a while before I finally got around to doing that.
And he nearly blew out my ear drums for it when he answered:
“What?! Jotaro?! It's about time you use my number, bastard! How are you?! How’s your mother? And Joseph? He hasn't contacted me in a while, I was beginning to think you guys forgot about me!”
He gave me a hard time as expected, but I knew he was happy to hear from me. And it was oddly soothing to hear his voice again.
“For the past few weeks I haven't been doing well. It's still hard trying to be… normal, again. Do you get that?” Polnareff inquired.
“Since I first saw Star Platinum, I’ve hardly felt 'normal’,” I replied.
“Mm, I suppose I understand that, given you weren’t born with it,” he tittered, “But, you know, I took a walk just the other day, to clear my head. You ever do that? And get this, I bought a pack of coffee-flavored chewing gum when I was out.”
“Really?” I felt a lump form in my throat.
“Oh, yeah, yeah.” His tone softened a bit. “Just like Iggy used to like. And I stuffed it in my pocket, walked to the park, and just sat down on a bench and chewed some gum. In honor of him. I watched the people going by and thought about how lucky I am to get to enjoy fresh air again. The sun on my skin. A cool breeze. Stuff like that.”
“I only get to because of those guys, you know?” he continued, “I figured… I need to keep living since I’m still here.”
I stifled a sigh. “That easy, huh?”
“Hah, no, of course not. It was just one of those epiphany moments that kind of fades by the time you wake up the next morning. But hey, maybe you should do that.”
“Go out! Be with people, again! Real people! It might help you feel more normal. Or reinvigorate you? Something like that.”
“Good grief. I’ll try it, just for you.”
“Hah! Jotaro, you're so full of shit. Now you’ll be in trouble if you just sit on your ass at home and smoke, cos I’m holding you to that!” Polnareff let out a genuine laugh. “Oh, and speaking of which, do you still do that crazy cigarette trick you used to do...?”
Despite his disbelief in me, I took Polnareff’s advice the following weekend. I told Mom I'd give her a phone call if I was gone for more than four hours, just to check on her. She told me I fretted over her too much, but she liked it.
I took a trip down to the beach. I don't know why I decided to go that way, besides the fact that it was the only place I could think to visit on the weekend that wouldn't give me a massive headache. Since it was raining on and off that day, it shouldn’t have been too crowded.
I walked up and down the pier in the light drizzle. There weren't many others around, just as I expected, and that was preferable. I wasn't an extrovert like Polnareff. I liked open space, without people. Especially the ocean. Space couldn't get any more “open” than that. But I still felt like I should be doing something else. I remembered what Polnareff said about the chewing gum, and I thought I could do something similar. Get something that reminded me of one of them.
No coffee-flavored chewing gum, I decided. I couldn't stand the stuff anymore. I’d found a leftover stick in my wallet the day before and got light-headed from the smell. So, I wandered around for a while, trying to decide what kind of pointlessly sentimental thing I could do.
Finally, I happened across an ice cream stand. The rain had started pouring a bit harder, but I was able to take shelter under an umbrella in front of the shop. The owner told me I’d have to get lost if I was going to stand around looking like a delinquent and not buy anything. Then I felt that sentimental thing hit me.
“Alright, a vanilla soft-serve, please. Just the one.”
It didn't taste as good as it did in Singapore, but I ate it anyway. It made me wonder how that stowaway girl Anne was doing. She must have had a hard time processing all the things she’d seen when she was with us.
I took my ice cream down to the beach, even as the rain kept on pouring. It was probably getting ruined, but I didn't care. I was waiting for my epiphany.
The sun went down between the rain clouds and my ice cream was nearly gone. I’d been mindlessly licking at it for a while, not really tasting anything anymore. But then my tongue hit something solid.
I looked down inside the cone.
A fucking cherry.
I stood holding the cone for a while, wondering why the hell anyone would drop a cherry at the bottom of an ice cream cone rather than putting it on top. The stupid guy must have done it to spite me.
I don't think I noticed that the rain had lightened up. All that wet sand was getting in my shoes, too, but I just stood there like a regular old moron, staring into my cone.
“JoJo, are you going to eat that cherry?”
Kakyoin was a weird guy, but I really did get along with him. As a matter of fact, I don't know if I’d ever gotten along that well with someone my age. It was strange how much I had in-common with a person who was nothing like me. He transferred to my school and I’d never even noticed him before.
And now he was dead. Murdered. Iggy, too. And Avdol. None of them ever got to go home.
I never would have met them if it wasn't for the whole family curse thing. And even if I had, my head would’ve been too far up my ass to get to know anybody.
“I don't mean to be greedy, but they're my favorite.”
Kakyoin’s parents would never see him, again. And I wouldn't get to, either. We hadn’t known each other long, but I really cared about him. I cared about all of them. To me, it shouldn't have happened the way it did. I should have died protecting Holly Kujo. It would have been my duty as her son. But I was still breathing, despite everything.
I dumped the cherry into the palm of my hand. It was sort of a wasteful thing to do, and sticky and gross, but I whipped it into the ocean. It ended up flying much further than I expected. I noticed a hand I hadn't seen in a while hovering just over mine. Star Platinum.
“Star Platinum,” I whispered, “The World.”
We could still do it. The waves froze in front of me. Raindrops suspended in air. It was only a few seconds, but I took the chance to just let the world stop turning. Even when it felt I’d lost my soul, life was going on all around me. It had to. Time stops for no one, but for me it's not enough to catch up with everyone else that leads a normal life. It was a cruel and jarring realization. And then the waves swept across the shore, once again.
Not much of an epiphany, but I guess I did think of something relevant that day.