Disclaimers: Nope. The characters are mine. I don't really want them, so perhaps I'll just let them have each other. That way everyone's happy. If you haven't read Alix and Valerie then you'll probably be lost. If you're lost anyway.. then... you'll have to see Bertha about that. I'm not responsible for anything I write. Unless.. of course... you like it :)

 

Sex/Violence/Naughty language: Yes/No/Maybe so.

 

Special Thanks: to my best friend Christy, who makes me appear far more creative than I am. And as always, to Cindy, for everything. 

 

Feedback: Feel free to direct all comments, questions, rantings, ravings, roommate stories, bad hair days, radioactive rock information, UFO sightings, and amusing anecdotes to amazonkiwi@aol.com


Chapter Five ā Valerie

 

So my plan to leave everything behind went full-circle and landed me right back where I started and I wasn't entirely certain how that had occurred. There were many things over the past few weeks that I couldn't quite explain. Like when did awkward silences give way to endless conversations? And how did 'I had a nice time' suddenly start meaning 'I love you'? I couldn't pinpoint the exact moment where dull aches turned into a searing pain at the thought of never being with her, yet looking back I can't recall what it was like when I didn't know her. Strange, that.

 

The clouds outside of the airplane window stretched out endlessly in a playground of possibilities. I wondered what it was about the sky that made everything seem possible. Perhaps the lack of boundaries, the presence of illusion that made the clouds appear more solid than they were.  That's how I'd once imagined love to be, an illusion.

 

I glanced over at the slumbering form beside me and felt the skip of my heart at the mere sight of her. It was unnerving yet exciting and I thought again of the tattoo on my skin and how I'd failed at living by its example. I'd thought myself strong for avoiding the weakening grasp love always seemed to have on those unlucky enough to fall for it s deceiving allure. But now I saw myself as far more of a coward for running from the fear of heartbreak. Facing it was, by far, the greater challenge. I just hoped I was a strong enough candidate for the job. 

 

Alix stirred in the seat, her green eyes slowly opening. "Was I snoring?" she asked with concern.

 

"Yes, " I lied. "For a while I thought it was the engine. I thought for sure we were going to crash."

 

She slapped my arm. "Not funny."

 

I rubbed away the tingle her touch had left on my arm, pretending instead that she had hurt me with her sad attempt at inflicting pain. "Sleep well?"

 

"I always sleep like a baby on planes," she responded with a yawn. "I don't know why I'm so sleepy."

 

"Perhaps because you were up all night watching movies?" I suggested casually.

 

"Perhaps. But I think it had more to do with the fact that you kept kicking me."

 

"Me kick you?" I cried, shocked that she would have the audacity to suggest such a thing. "Do you want to see the bruises on my leg? You were probably a donkey in another life."

 

"Do donkeys kick?" she asked, the original argument momentarily forgotten.

 

Jade leaned forward in her seat beside Alix. "Rabbits kick hard."

 

I sent her a questioning glance, that was voiced when Alix said, "What the hell?"

 

"A rabbit kicked me really hard once!" Jade argued, rubbing a spot on her chin.

 

Alix frowned. "I don't want to know why the rabbit was close enough to kick you in the chin."

 

"It's a complicated story," Jade stated simply. "Your simple minds would never comprehend."

 

"Thank God," Alix mumbled.

 

"I finished my Booty Bird poem last night," Jade remarked proudly. "Want to hear it?"

 

"Dear God no," Alix said quickly.

 

Jade leaned forward so she could see me. "Val?"

 

Alix sent me a pleading look which was far too cute to refuse. "Ah, maybe later, Jade," I told her.

 

Jade sat back, resigned. "Well fine. But when it becomes a hit song and I'm rich and famous you'll both be sorry."

 

"I'll take my chances." Alix put on her headphones and started pressing buttons on her Discman. I guessed she was listening to the new Aerosmith CD she'd picked up at the last minute. I was surprised there was one she hadn't yet owned.

 

Jade followed Alix's example and put on her headphones as well.

 

Bored, I turned once again to the view from my window. Such pretty patterns hovering over nothingness, breaking apart, breaking free of themselves and drifting nowhere. I contemplated the designs, attempting to find meaning in the meaningless forms floating with slow progression.  I wondered briefly if clouds had any sense of self and if, like us, they basked in overrated self-glory. Did they realize they were going in circles? Did we?

 

I took Alix's hand in mine, amazed as always by the softness of her skin. Then I settled back in the seat and closed my eyes, succumbing to the safety and comfort her touch provided.

 

***

 

We arrived at MIA shortly thereafter, and I was surprised to find Jessica waiting for us at the gate. Her presence made me feel terribly uneasy. I felt better when I saw that she looked equally surprised to see me walk out behind Alix.

 

The two of them hugged, and I stood by awkwardly, looking around as though strangers walking about were the most interesting thing in the world.

 

"I guess the mission was a success," Jessica commented, glancing at me. I couldn't determine how she felt about the fact, but she seemed pleased that Alix was back.

 

It was then I remembered my hair, and felt suddenly self-conscious. It was an irritating feeling, one that left me feeling more angry than annoyed. Why should I feel embarrassed? But the feeling remained even after we left the gate and stood by the carousel awaiting our bags. If this persisted, I was going to be forced to do something drastic. I could shave it all off, for instance. I was sure that  at least Jade would support my decision.

 

"Catch my bag if it comes around," Alix said to me. "I've gotta run to the little nun's room."

 

Jade followed suit, leaving Jessica and I alone.

 

I tried not to clear my throat or make any other sound that would give away my discomfort. I tried instead to busy my head with plans of action. Like how I was going to get a car now that I'd sold the other one, for instance. I stared pleadingly at the line of bags cruising by, hoping one of them would turn into one of ours so that I would have something else to do besides stand there in unbearable silence.

 

"So," Jessica said, "What made you come back?"

 

"I'm sure you know the answer to that," I replied.

 

She nodded. "Good reason."

 

"Yes, she is," I agreed, wondering if this was going anywhere or if she just wanted to kill time until Alix and Jade returned.

 

"They left on purpose," Jessica informed me, looking over at me with her usual cool expression.

 

Reflexively, I glanced in the direction they had left. "How do you know?"

 

"Because Alix only says 'little nun's room' when she's up to something."

 

"Good to know," I replied, slightly jealous that Jessica should know something about Alix that I didn't. Reminding myself that they'd been best friends for years didn't make me feel any better. I had to get over this. "So what do you suppose she's up to?"

 

"This," Jessica answered simply. "Us talking."

 

"Oh," I said, not knowing what else to say.

 

Jessica turned to me, regarding me with a serious expression. "What would you be willing to give for Alix?"

 

"I'm sorry?" I asked. Did she want me to trade her for something? I was confused.

 

"Alix's happiness, how much is that worth to you?"

 

"Are you trying to buy me off again?" I asked, feeling my rage rising.

 

To my surprise, Jessica laughed. "Calm down," she said and her voice wasn't mocking so I did. A little. "I'm asking you if Alix's happiness is enough to make you forsake your pride?"

 

I wasn't entirely sure where she was going with this, but I knew the answer to the question. "I would give anything to ensure Alix's happiness."

 

Jessica nodded, seemingly pleased. "So would I."

 

"I know," I told her, knowing it to be so.

 

She studied me quietly for a moment, then asked, "Will you join me for lunch tomorrow?"

 

Her invitation shocked me, but I willed it not to show. "Will Alix be there?"

 

"No. Just  the two of us."

 

I mauled the idea over in my head. Then I thought of her question about me forsaking my pride and I instantly knew why she asked. "What time?"

 

"One. Is Chili's okay with you?"

 

"Fine. If I can get there. I sold my car before I left." I have no idea why I told her that.

 

"I'll pick you up then." She seemed to debate something over in her head, then asked, "Do you have a place to stay?"

 

"I'll be at the same apartment," I replied, thankful that I didn't have to lie. I'd never needed anyone before and I wasn't about to start asking Jessica Heart for favors.

 

She nodded and said, "I'll pick you up at one then. Here they come. Act as if we've been standing here in silence the whole time."

 

I resumed my award winning brooding look just in time to see Alix and Jade round the corner. Jade carried a bag in one hand from a recent purchase. Alix carried a matching one.

 

"Bathroom having a sale?" I asked.

 

"Yes," Alix responded. "Toilet paper  ÷ hand soap ÷ you name it. Quite the bargains too."

 

"Sorry I missed it." I smiled at her.

 

She smiled back, instantly making me forget that Jessica and Jade were both there, watching our interplay with disguised interest. "I'm sure you can still catch it," she replied.

 

I nodded to the bag. "So what'd you buy me? Toilet paper or hand soap?"

 

"Neither." She handed the bag over. "Enjoy."

 

Inside was a magazine with Catherine Zeta Jones on the cover. "Oooh÷. Purdy," I said, petting the picture.

 

That's when I remembered that Jessica and Jade were still there.

 

***

 

I never thought I would miss Florida but the moment I caught sight of the ocean, I knew it felt good to be back. So far it had been an overly productive day. I'd returned from New York, gotten my apartment back, gotten my old job back, and last but not least ÷ I'd made a lunch date with Jessica.

 

Who knew one could accomplish so many things in the course of a few hours? I still didn't have a car but that was something better left until tomorrow. For now I was content to sit on the sand and stare at the rapidly darkening waters of the Atlantic.

 

"Guess I'll have to add this to my list of places to find you."

 

I smiled at the voice and turned to find Alix walking toward me. "How did you know I would be here?" I asked, pleasantly surprised. We'd parted ways a few hours prior with no plans for the remainder of the night.

 

She took a seat beside me and stared straight ahead. "I didn't. I was on my way back to my car when I saw you sitting here. Lucky for me you're pretty easy to spot."

 

"Lucky for me too," I said, feeling happy all of a sudden. We sat there quietly for a few minutes, enjoying the cool breeze blowing in from the ocean and reveling in the beauty of sunsets. But I was curious, so I broke the silence. "So, what brings you by?"

 

"Few things," Alix said. "First of all, I wanted to know if you were okay÷ being back and all?"

 

I shrugged, then leaned back on my elbows. "Aside from not having a car, everything's good. I got my job back at Whispers."

 

"I was worried about how much you gave up before you left here," she said, a bit shyly. "I didn't want you to be homeless or something."

 

Her concern made me smile. "I wouldn't have returned then."

 

She nodded. "What are you going to do about getting a car?"

 

"Don't know yet," I admitted. "I suppose I can buy one. I'll be working more hours at Whispers now that I won't be going to school part-time."

 

This caught her attention and she looked at me with concern. "You dropped out?"

 

"I don't really have the time right now."

 

She frowned at this. "You should always make time to do something you love."

 

"I'll still be painting," I assured her. "Just can't deal with school right now. Maybe next semester."

 

Alix nodded and absently played with the sand. I could tell she was attempting to find the courage to say something. Finally, she asked, "Are you still considering Baldwin?"

 

Her question surprised me. I hadn't thought about it in a while. It had been a nice thought ÷ but it had never been one I'd honestly expected to go through with. "I don't know," I told her. It was my turn to hesitate. "I suppose it would be up to you."

 

"Up to me?" she asked in confusion, the sand momentarily forgotten. "Why up to me?"

 

"Because I don't know if you would still want me to go there," I explained. The last thing I wanted was for Alix to think I was trying to suffocate her. I didn't want to seem clingy.

 

"I would love for you to go there!" she said, and her voice carried with it such resolve that I found myself smiling.

 

"Then I guess IŪm still considering it," I told her.

 

"Good," she replied, then resumed playing with the sand. After a few moments of silence she said, "The other reason I came by was to ask a strange favor of you."

 

My eyebrows rose at the comment. "Alright?"

 

She appeared a bit embarrassed as she turned to address me directly, but her embarrassment was not enough to conceal her excitement. "I got a call from my agent about this audition that's coming up in a few weeks. It's for a film set in Miami. Anyway, the lead role is a girl who's a martial artist and they are looking for someone who already has some knowledge in the area. So I was wondering if ÷ uh ÷" She trailed off momentarily. "If you could help train me," she finished quickly.

 

That was probably the last thing I'd expected to hear, but I welcomed the surprise. "Sounds like a great opportunity," I told her.

 

She stared at me expectantly.

 

I almost laugh at the look on her face. "Of course I'll help you," I told her. "I'd be honored to. Just remember to thank me when you're accepting your first Academy Award."

 

She laughed and hugged me tightly. And I knew at that moment that she could've asked for my left arm and I would've gladly given it to her.

 

***

 

"So what's good here?" I asked, looking down at the Chili's menu.  True to her word, Jessica had picked me up at precisely one o'clock. I'd been surprised to see that she drove a red Camaro. For some reason I'd expected a Ferrari or Lamborghini or even a limousine. I doubted I'd ever understand this woman.

 

"I always get the chicken fajitas," Jessica answered. "But besides that, I have no idea."

 

"Alrighty then," I said, scanning the contents on the menu for something that looked appealing. Truth be told, my stomach was in so many knots I doubted very much I'd be able to eat anything I ordered. After much debating, I finally settled on a salad. I wasn't sure which one. I just pointed to something on the list when the waitress came to take the order. It was only when she asked what kind of dressing I wanted that I realized it was a salad.

 

When we were once again alone, I struggled to think of something to say. Finally, I settled on speaking what was on my mind. "Why did you ask me to lunch?"

 

Jessica sat back in the chair, as if my question required deep contemplation. After a few seconds she said, "I'm not sure," she said. The way she said it made it seem like a confession. And I supposed it was on some level.

 

"Jade spoke to me already about hurting Alix, if that's what you wanted to talk about," I told her.

 

Jessica shook her head. "I know you won't hurt her."

 

"Oh?" I asked, surprised that she could sound so certain of something that even I wasn't altogether sure of.

 

"You came back," she said simply. "I didn't think you would."

 

"Alix is hard to resist," I told her with a shrug. I looked down, feigning interest in the pattern of the tiles. "I only left becauseů" I stopped abruptly, remembering who I was talking to. I had no intention of opening up to her.

 

"It's hard for you, isn't it?" Jessica inquired.

 

"What is?" I asked, avoiding her gaze.

 

"Seeing me as a human being," Jessica replied sadly.

 

Her tone forced me to look up at her. "No," I said. "What's hard is wanting to hate you and not being sure why."

 

"It wasn't my fault," she stated, and the way she halted slightly between words made me realize that it had taken her a long time to come to terms with that fact.

 

I suddenly felt ashamed to realize that I hadn't made that much progress. I blamed her for something that had been completely out of her control. What was I jealous of exactly? "I know," I said, surprised that I found myself speaking. "Maybe I have trouble accepting that sometimes÷ but I do know it."

 

She nodded, suddenly at a loss. "I'm not entirely sure where to go on from here," she admitted. "When Alix told me you'd left, I was selfishly glad that I wouldn't have to deal with this issue. I could just pretend it had never happened. Denial is easier."

 

I nodded, not wanting to interrupt incase there was more she wanted to say.

 

"But then I saw how sad Alix looked and how determined she was to find you and I was torn between wishing to never see you again and hoping you'd change your mind and come bursting through the door." She sighed. "I'm glad you came back."

 

"For Alix?" I guessed.

 

She nodded. "Mostly," she agreed. Then she shrugged. "But I think for me, too."

 

I absorbed this information quietly, unsure of what it meant exactly, but willing to give whatever it was a try. "Can I ask you something? And you don't have to answer if you don't want to."

 

"Go ahead."

 

"You said at the airport that you would give anything for Alix's happiness. You knew she was in love with you. Why didn't you ÷" I left the rest hang in the air. I hoped she got my meaning.

 

"Because I'm not good enough for her," she responded easily.

 

"So you do love her," I said, my heart sinking slightly.

 

"Very much so," she admitted. "But some things are just not meant to be."

 

I sat back in the chair, feeling defeated. If Jessica didn't find herself worthy of Alix, then why should I? Perhaps I should've stayed in New York after all. Allowed Alix to get on with her life, find someone who deserved her love.

 

"Whatever you're thinking, please stop," Jessica commented. "You look seriously pained at the moment. Look, I wasn't trying to imply that you're not good enough for her. That's not why I said that."

 

"So, do you think I'm good enough for her?" I asked, locking our gazes.

 

She smiled. "I don't think I'll ever think anyone is good enough for her," she said. "But she seems to think you're worth dropping everything for÷ and that's good enough for me."

 

Our food arrived then, interrupting the flow of conversation. I was pleased to note that my appetite had returned and the salad before me looked mighty tasty. I glanced at Jessica who was busy assembling her fajita. It looked like quite the process.

 

At some point during the course of our meal, I found myself asking, "Were you surprised that she forgave me?"

 

Jessica looked up from her food, an amused expression on her face. "Frustrated, yes. But not surprised. I knew she'd forgive you."

 

"How did you know that?"

 

"Because she forgave me."

 

I was starting to feel like a conversation with Jessica was a game of twenty questions. Why couldn't she answer something directly? "What did you do that required her forgiveness?"

 

A sad expression fell over her features. "You can ask her to tell you the story. I don't want to get into it."

 

I left it at that, returning to my salad.

 

"Halloween is coming up next week," Jessica said casually.

 

I realized then that she was testing me. "So what are you getting her?"

 

"What am I getting whom?" she asked innocently.

 

"Alix for her birthday," I clarified, though she knew exactly what I meant.

 

Jessica smiled. "Good. You know when her birthday is. That's always a good sign."

 

For a moment I thought she was patronizing me, but then I realized she was merely joking around. I relaxed a bit.

 

"I'm throwing her a surprise birthday party this weekend, if you're interested in assisting me."

 

"Count me in." If it involved Alix, I was gladly there.

 

"Cool," Jessica said.

 

The word seemed so strange coming from her lips that I found myself laughing. I almost stopped myself ÷ but didn't. From here on end everything would be different. I would be different. And change would start here. Right now.

 

 

Continued


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