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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Six - Alix
My fingers played absently with the ring in my hands. The maze design stared up at me in a mocking fashion, reminding me of all the twists and turns my life had taken recently. I wondered if perhaps that was why Valerie liked the movie so much. Maybe she sometimes felt trapped in a labyrinth she couldn't escape from.
Or maybe she just had the hots for Jennifer Connelly. One or the other.
I lifted my head and stared straight ahead at the ocean beyond the balcony of Jessica's bedroom. I'd been waiting for her for over an hour and no one seemed to know where she was. Or at least, whom she was with.
I turned around, quickly placing the ring in my pocket. I don't know why it was that I didn't want Jessica to see it. "Hey, Jess," I greeted her, stepping into the room. "I came to see if you wanted to get lunch."
Jessica looked uncomfortable for whatever reason. "Ah, no thanks. I just ate."
"Yeah, they told me you were out to lunch."
"Oh. So why are you still here?" For some reason she kept staring at the floor.
"Since when do I need a reason to be here?" I asked, feeling slightly hurt.
Jessica looked up at that moment and her eyes softened. "I'm sorry," she said. "Were you waiting long?" She walked over to the closet and turned on the light. Then disappeared inside.
I leaned against the back of the couch. "About an hour or so," I called after her. "Where were you, anyway? No one would tell me."
"Lunch," she answered, from somewhere in the closet.
"I believe we established that," I reminded her. "With whom were you dining?"
There was a long pause, then, "Uh, Mathew."
I frowned at the answer, knowing it to be a lie. Mathew had been the one to tell me that Jessica was out to lunch. Then he'd left for class. Now why would Jessica lie? "Oh really?" I asked, playing along. "Where did you guys go?"
Jessica reappeared at the doorway and turned the light off. She'd changed into a pair of light blue jeans and a white shirt. "We went to Chili's."
"Ah. That's nice that after all of these years of marriage you guys still take time to eat lunch together," I told her.
She smiled, but I could tell she seemed trouble. Jessica was a horrible liar. Even if I hadn't spoken to Mathew earlier, I would've known there was something terribly wrong with this picture. I sincerely hoped Jessica wasn't having an affair already. It had only been a few weeks. "Yeah," she agreed, walking past me on her way to the balcony.
I followed close behind. "Especially since Mathew would've had to skip one of his classes to join you," I continued. "That was mighty sweet of him."
Jessica avoided my gaze at all costs as she took a seat on one of the lounge chairs. "Yeah," she said, then must have realized she'd already used that one and added, "It was."
I didn't say anything for a few seconds, hoping she'd come to her senses or at least come up with a better lie than that. But she didn't say anything. I rolled my eyes as I sat across from her. "Oh come on, Jessica," I told her. "I know you weren't out to lunch with Mathew because he was the one that told me where you were in the first place. And then he scampered off to class."
Jessica nodded, resigned. "Valerie," she said.
I looked around. "Where?" Then I realized. "You had lunch with Valerie?"
"Huh," I said, sitting back. "That's interesting. She didn't tell me." Then I remembered how Jessica had lied about it and I figured that neither of them wanted to admit they didn't completely hate each other. I kept myself from smiling somehow. "Well thanks for telling me. For a moment I was starting to think you were cheating on Mathew."
Jessica laughed at that. "It's nice to know you think so highly of me," she said. "I would never do that."
She said the last part more seriously than she probably intended. "Well I don't know, Jess," I said. "Maybe married life was finally getting to you. The pressures of living with the same person day in and day out, waking up next to them every morning ÷" Actually, that didn't sound particularly bad. I wouldn't mind waking up to Valerie every morning.
"Al, you trailed off there," Jessica informed me. "You okay?"
I attempted to backtrack through my thoughts. What the hell had I been talking about? "Uh, yeah I'm fine," I assured her. "Perhaps I'm getting Alzheimer's at the age of twenty."
"Almost twenty-one," she reminded me.
Oh, right. It was a good thing there were people around who remembered such things as my birthday. I could always remember everyone else's but mine always seemed to slip my mind. Perhaps I was still in denial that I'd been born at all. "I'm going to have a burial service for my fake ID."
"I'll make the invitations."
"Thanks. So, what are you doing for dinner?" I asked.
"Eating most likely," Jessica answered.
"Wanna double?" Actually, I wasn't entirely sure I could double, seeing as I hadn't spoken to Valerie since the day before. But I was pretty sure she was off work and anyway the girl had to eat.
Jessica thought it over, probably trying to decide whether or not she felt like spending two consecutive meals with Valerie. Finally, she shrugged. "I'll run it by Mathew."
I stood. "Very well then. I'll go run it by Valerie."
"Well, the first thing we gotta do," Valerie was saying, "is get you to start running." We were in her apartment, sitting on the couch, flipping through the channels on the TV. Since there was nothing on, we'd started talking about the training.
I stared at her, mouth agape. "Run? Me, run? Uh-uh. No way, Jose. I'll do those things where you jump around flailing your arms in the air-"
"Whatever. And I'll do the push-up thingies. I'll even lift a weight or two. But I will not run." I crossed my arms against my chest to further prove my point.
Valerie studied me for a moment as if trying to evaluate how serious I was. "Do you want this part or not?" she asked me, quite seriously.
"Yes," I admitted, guessing what was coming.
"Then you've gotta run," she told me. "But if it makes you feel better, I'm running with you."
This could be interesting. "Really?"
"Yeah, I should start exercising again," she said simply. "I can't let myself get out of shape. Especially if I want to start teaching again."
I looked at her in surprise. "Teach?"
She nodded and smiled. "Yeah, ever since you asked me to train you I started thinking about maybe going back to teaching Karate or Tae Kwon Do. I did it for a while in New York when I lived there and it was great."
"Sounds excellent," I told her, thinking it a great idea. "You must be really good, then." We'd never really talked about her martial arts abilities. It somehow seemed interconnected with a past she appeared more than a little hesitant to talk about. But I was so incredibly curious to know everything about her.
Valerie didn't say anything, she simply shrugged and let the comment slide.
I decided to press on. "So, you could like, kick someone's ass, right?"
She grinned crookedly as she turned her head to look at me. Her blue eyes shone with amusement. "Yes, I can."
I nodded. "Could you kill someone?"
Her amusement vanished instantly and she turned her head away. Her gaze was focused on the TV but she seemed to be looking through it. "Yeah," she replied softly.
Uh-oh. I had stumbled upon a soft spot apparently. Common sense told me to drop the subject. That she would reveal things at her own pace. But at the rate we were going, I didn't see it happening any time soon. Curiosity killed the cat, I told myself. I hoped I had an extra eight lives to spare. "Have you ever killed someone?" It seemed surreal that I should be asking someone that question, least of all my girlfriend. But with Valerie, nothing really seemed out of the realm of possibility.
Valerie froze beside me. Slowly, she turned to face me. Her eyes were sad and distant. She wore an expression I don't remember seeing on her before and it tore my heart to shreds. I instantly regretted asking the question. Not because I feared the answer, but because the look of pain on her face was unbearable.
I took her hand in mine, just so she'd know I wasn't going to bolt on her.
She seemed momentarily thrown by the gesture and she stared down at our hands for a long moment before responding. When her gaze finally met with mine, she looked more like herself, though there was a tinge of regret in her tone. "Yes," she finally replied. "I have."
I simply nodded, not knowing how else to respond.
Valerie let go of my hand and sighed. "You can go if you want."
"Go?" I asked, not sure what she meant.
"Who wants a murderer for a girlfriend," she responded sadly.
Phrasing it that way sure put things in perspective. I wasn't entirely sure how to feel about the revelation. I couldn't say I was particularly surprised. Nothing shocked me anymore. "We are not defined by our past mistakes," I told her.
"Sometime we should be," Valerie said sadly.
"Want to tell me what happened?"
"Not really," she answered. "But I will anyway. You deserve to know who you're with."
She paused as if to collect her thoughts, then continued. "Well like I told you before, my mom left when I was thirteen and that sealed my fate. My dad went off the deep end of misery. I always came home expecting to find him dead. He decided to drag out suicide, though, I suppose, and just started drinking constantly. So he was pretty much useless as a father. Aaron was ten at the time and he was already mixing with the wrong crowd. We didn't live in the best of neighborhoods, so you were either in with the wrong crowd, or dead somewhere. Sometimes there are no in-betweens. By then all the money my parents had gotten from Jessica's was gone.
"When I was fourteen I met Chris. She adopted me in a way. Aaron too. So I worked for her, selling drugs at the schools. My dad had me enrolled me in a martial arts school when I was four. I think that was the only 'fatherly' duty he ever really performed. Anyway, I got into a fight with some kids who didn't want to pay, and Chris watched me beat them all to the ground. She was impressed and hooked me up with a friend of hers who gave me private lessons. I didn't realize it then, but she wanted to use my skills to her advantage.
"There was this man, he went by the name of Jake, but I doubt that was his real name. Anyway, this Jake guy owed Chris a lot of money. And he had it, too, which is what pissed Chris off the most. She hated being taken advantage of. So she sent me after him. I beat him until he told me where the money was. I got the money, and brought it back to Chris. But she wasn't satisfied. She wanted to teach him a lesson. So she sent me back to him, this time to kill him." She paused in her tale, her eyes watering. She shut her eyes, pushing the tears away. When she opened them again, she sighed.
"I was only sixteen. I didn't know what I was doing. Jake learned his lesson the first time and had a bunch of his men standing around with guns, protecting him. I couldn't bare the thought of disappointing Chris, though. I owed her everything. She took care of both Aaron and I. So, I knocked down all the guys. They were just a bunch of idiots with guns. I shot them all. Jake was the last one. He never saw it coming." She fell silent for a moment, then said, "That was the abridged version."
I listened to the entire story, picturing it all in my mind like a movie. Sometimes I felt like Valerie's life seemed more fictional when she told the truth than when she lied about it. "So what happened then?" I was curious to know what caused her to get from there to here. Clearly she wasn't the same person she was then. I couldn't imagine this Valerie killing people in cold blood.
"Well, Chris was so pleased with my work that she started sending me off in more and more adventures. By the time I was seventeen it all got to me. I found myself with a gun pointed at a girl, not much older than myself and I couldn't pull the trigger. I saw myself in her eyes. The fear and the repulsion. I dropped the gun at her feet, daring her to use it on me instead. She just turned at ran. And I went back to Chris and announced my resignation. Aaron refused to leave, though. He was fourteen and had already found his niche dealing with computers."
"Chris let you go that easily?" I asked, unable to keep my mouth shut.
Valerie smiled bitterly. "She didn't have a choice. I'd gone a bit mad at this point. I was on the verge of losing it. I threatened to go to the police. I threatened to kill her and anyone else who dared cross my path. She knew I would, too. In that frame of mind, I would've done many crazy things. Not that I hadn't already. I let her keep Aaron, one of my many mistakes. I will never forgive myself for leaving him there. But I was mad at him, too, for not wanting to leave with me. So I walked off. I ended up in New York City."
"Interesting," I found myself saying. Well, it was.
"You make it seem like I just told you a story from a book or something."
"Kind of seems that way," I admitted. "I believe you, of course," I assured her quickly. "It's just a reality so far from my own that it somehow seems like fiction."
Valerie nodded sadly. "I'm guessing once it dawns on you that all of that was real, you'll never want to see me again."
"No," I said sternly, frowning slightly. "I promise you that won't happen." I hoped she believed me. "So how long has it been since you spoke to your father?"
Valerie smiled, the first real smile I'd seen on her since we'd started this conversation. "I talk to him all the time. After I got my act together I went back to Boston for a month to see how he was doing. I was shocked to find he'd pulled himself together and was doing fine. We keep in touch. Email .. or sometimes I call him, or he calls me."
This news made me happy and I smiled back at her. "That's really good to know," I told her, taking her hand once again. "Thank you for telling me everything."
"I promised you I would answer all of your questions," Valerie replied. "My fear is that one of these days you'll here an answer you can't handle."
I laughed. "I can handle anything."
"I hope so," Valerie said seriously and seemed to relax. "My turn to ask you something."
"Shoot," I said, wondering what she could possibly be wondering about me.
Valerie played with her tongue ring for a moment. "I went to lunch with Jessica today."
"That's your question?" I asked.
Valerie laughed. "No. But it's relevant."
"She said that she knew that you were going to forgive me because you'd forgiven her. She told me to ask you if I wanted to know that story." She smiled sheepishly. "I guess I'm curious to know what Jessica could've possibly done to you. Is it because she wouldn't go out with you?"
Her question surprised me. I hadn't expected that topic to ever come up. I was surprised that Jessica had even thought to mention it. It was so long ago. "Um, no. It happened long before Jessica and I were friends."
Valerie arched an eyebrow, interested.
"Well it's not quite as compelling as your story, but I'll tell it," I said. I started thinking over the details of the tale and suddenly felt embarrassed. "It's such a dorky story."
Valerie waited patiently for me to continue, regardless of my warning. Here went nothing.
"I first met Jessica in middle school and at that point she was a really big snob. In other words, she was a total bitch. But I was a total nerd, and the moment I laid eyes on her I was a gonner. Love and first sight and all that jazz. I was thirteen, she was fifteen. And I, in all my dorkyness, went up to her and asked her if I could be her friend." I rolled my eyes at myself. I was so glad I'd grown up into a much cooler person.
"Anyway, she laughed at me of course. Her posse of friends laughed along with her at the sheer stupidity of my question. But a few weeks later, Jessica was throwing a party. I heard about it through the grapevine, cause in spite of her rejection I was still majorly obsessed with her. You can imagine my surprise when Jessica walked up to me one day and invited me to her party. She apologized for laughing at me and said she wanted to be friends. I was elated. I was walking on air the rest of the week, counting the hours until the party.
"So the fateful day arrived and the party was going wonderfully. I'd never been in a mansion before, and my jaw remained glued to the floor for most of the night. All of her friends welcomed me into their circle with open arms and I couldn't imagine ever being happier. I didn't want the night to end." I took a deep breath, then continued. "Then Jessica suggested we all go skinny dipping in the pool. Every one thought it was a grand idea and I wasn't about to argue with my new friends. So Jessica led me to this room where I could take my clothes off and handed me a towel. Then she told me everyone was meeting in the living room.
"So I stripped and put the towel around my body and walked out into the living room, where I was surprised to find everyone else, fully dressed and standing around ready to sing Happy Birthday. When they saw me they started laughing hysterically. Jessica ran over and snapped the towel off of me so I was completely exposed. That's when her mom came wandering into the room, carrying the birthday cake. She dropped it on the floor when she saw me and cried out, asking what I thought I was doing.
"I was too petrified to speak. Jessica had dropped the towel at my feet and I quickly picked it up and tried to cover myself up. I was too scared to even cry. Her mom walked over and grabbed my hand and then told the butler to escort me to the outside gates of the mansion. I waited out there naked until my mom came and picked me up." I truly hated that story.
Valerie stared at me quietly. "Wow," she said.
"It's okay, you can laugh," I told her, shrugging.
"It's not funny," Valerie said, to my surprise. Everyone else found it hilarious. Jade had nearly fallen off the chair. "That must've been horrifying."
"Not quite as much as getting my diary posted all over school, but yes, I was quite mortified," I agreed. When she arched an eyebrow at the mention of my diary, I sighed. "This really evil girl found my diary and made copies and put them all over school. That's how Jessica found out I was in love with her. Yadda yadda."
"You could write a book of all your embarrassing stories," Valerie commented.
"Yes, so that I can immortalize the worst experiences of my life," I agreed. "I'll get right on that."
Valerie laughed and kissed my cheek. "Sorry."
"So how do you feel about having dinner with Jessica and Mathew?" I asked carefully. Better to ask when she was apologizing for something. It fared better for the chances of a positive response.
"Sure, when?" Valerie responded.
"Tonight," I answered. "I'll let you drive."
"Excellent! I'm there."
I smiled, mighty pleased with myself. Some girls were just way too easy to please.
We ended up at Friday's for dinner. It seemed to be the restaurant of choice for double dates. This time, however, I was surprised to see that it would indeed be just the four of us. I wanted to go to Wendy's but apparently Jessica and Mathew didn't think that would be an appropriate place for a double date. In stead of arguing, I simply expressed my disapproval by wearing all black. I tended to express my disapproval a lot.
"Cute shirt," Jessica mentioned, as Valerie and I took our spot across from her and Mathew on the booth. We'd all agreed to meet there at seven. This time we hadn't been as late as the last time.
I smiled proudly at my recent purchase. It was a black shirt that read 'I'm only wearing black until they make something darker.' "Thank you, I like it."
"She was torn between that one and the one about the penguins," Valerie told them. "That's why we're late."
"Penguins?" Mathew inquired.
"'One by one the penguins take my sanity,'" I said solemnly. "I live by its wisdom."
"She's your friend," Valerie said to Jessica.
"Your girlfriend," she countered.
"Ladies, ladies," I said, holding up my hands. "There's plenty of me to go around." I regarded Mathew with mock seriousness. "You've only been married to her for a few weeks and already she's fighting over me. You must be doing something wrong. Are you making her wear that leash I gave you?"
Mathew laughed and blushed. "Well .. uh ÷"
"Whoa! I don't want to know!" I said, catching his meaning. "You're both sick. Sick, sick, sick."
Thankfully, for all our sakes, the waitress appeared. I ordered a salad, because according to Valerie's new training mission, I had to eat healthier. Apparently, Frosties and French fries weren't doing anything for me.
"Since when do you eat salads?" Jessica asked, when the waitress had gone.
"Since Valerie called me fat and demanded I go on a diet."
Mathew and Jessica glanced sharply at Valerie.
Valerie gave me an evil look. "I'm training her for this role she wants to audition for. She needs to eat healthier. Not less. And I did not call her fat." The last part she directed at me.
Mathew and Jessica looked at me for confirmation, and I nodded, letting Valerie off the hook.
Valerie sent me another warning look which I found more adorable than intimidating.
"So, Mathew," I said, staring straight ahead at him. "How's med school treating you?"
"I love it," he replied, lighting up at the mention of it.
"You're a big dork," I informed him, in case he didn't already know. "When are you transferring to fashion design?"
"Are you trying to turn me gay?" he inquired.
"Dominique slipped me a twenty at the wedding so I'd suggest the idea," I replied. "And I think it's a lot cooler than med school. I mean, anyone can save a life. But to save a person from the evil claws of bad fashion sense ÷" I nodded gravely as I let the rest hang in the air.
"I'll consider it," Mathew replied with a wink.
"Oh, Alix," Jessica said suddenly, "Do you think we could celebrate your birthday a week late?"
"Mathew has a conference and I promised I'd go with him," Jessica said regretfully. "I didn't realize it would be the same weekend as your birthday. But it's too late to change the plans now."
I tired to hide my disappointment. "Yeah, sure. No problem." Who'd schedule a medical conference on the weekend of Halloween? Did these people have no sense of decency?
"We'll make it up to you," Mathew assured me.
Sure they would. I suddenly felt depressed, but tried to snap out of it. It was only my birthday. Jessica didn't have to always be present for me to turn a year older. It would happen regardless. But it suddenly felt like the start of a trend. What else would she be willing to miss? First my birthday ÷ what next? My wedding? Maybe she wouldn't be able to make it to Vermont in time. And I couldn't delay the wedding cause the priest person would have another wedding to go to. And by the time she got there I'd already be on my way to my honeymoon at an Aerosmith concert÷
Hmm÷ I was starting to notice my slight tendency to blow things out of proportion.
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