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 Seven - Valerie

I arrived at Jessica's mansion shortly after one the next afternoon. I'd received an "urgent" message from her stating, and I quote, "Valerie, this is Jessica. You must be at my house tomorrow at 1:30. It's urgent. Oh and don't tell Alix. Bye." 

And so I went, wondering what could possibly be so urgent. 

"Master Collins is by the pool," Maurice informed me. 

Master? "And Jessica?" I inquired. Surely he didn't think I was here to see Mathew. 

"She'll be down shortly," Maurice responded. "She'll join you outside."

"Thank you," I told him. I was a bit hesitant, knowing it was Mathew that awaited there. He seemed nice enough, but I'd never been left alone with him and wasn't sure I'd know what to say. Still, I couldn't very well stand in the foyer like an idiot waiting for Jessica to appear. 

I found my ÷ brother-in-law? The title sounded extremely awkward. In spite of the recent advances in my relationship with Jessica, we were still far from being friends. Even further still from being sisters. The entire concept felt foreign to me as I'm sure it felt to her. I wasn't entirely sure we'd ever reach a point where we'd feel comfortable regarding each other as such. Being sisters implied a bond that mere blood couldn't form. It saddened me in a way. Yet I had to accept it. 

So÷

I found Mathew sitting on a lounge chair, dressed in jeans and a sleeveless tee shirt and surrounded by books. He was staring intently into a thick text book whose cover was obscured from my view. But going by the other titles piled around him, I guessed the content of the book to be medicine-related. 

Unsure of how to proceed, I stood still, studying him quietly. He was attractive in a boy-next-door sort of way. In a lot of ways he reminded me of Alix. Light hair. Green eyes. Soft skin ÷ a beautiful smile that÷ 

Er. Sorry. Back to Mathew. 

"Having fun?" I found myself asking. 

He looked up from the book in his hands and smiled. "As fun as Biochemistry can be," he replied. "Although, I think the entertainment factor is relative."

"So you are having fun?" I guessed, taking the liberty of sitting on the lounge chair beside his. 

A lopsided grin was reply enough. He shut the book, placing it with the others. "Would you like something to drink?" 

I had to admit that I was thirsty. But I did not like the idea of calling upon servants to perform duties I was perfectly capable of doing on my own. 

Mathew stood. "What would you like?" he asked to my amazement. "I think we've got soda, juice, water. Milk probably. I'd fix you a drink but I don't know how." 

I laughed at the sheer absurdity of the situation. Surely he wasn't serious. "I'll take a Pepsi," I told him, out of morbid curiosity. Would he yell the order into the house? Perhaps he had an earpiece with direct communication to the staff. 

"Be back in a jiffy," he said, then disappeared into the house. 

Strange. Billions of dollars. A mansion by the sea. And the master of the household was studying medicine and fetching his own drinks. I'd wondered briefly how much of this marriage was based on love and how much was based on money. I distrusted people by default, having learned by experience not to set my expectations too high. So I'd written Mathew off as someone who'd married Jessica for the money. I'm sure it didn't hurt that she was beautiful. But I was starting to think that perhaps the boy deserved a chance. 

Mathew returned shortly with a can of Pepsi. "Jessica's on the phone with her grandparents," he told me as he handed me the can. "In case you wondered why you're stuck with me." 

I thanked him for the drink. "Is she close with her family?" I found myself asking. Since when did I care?

Mathew shrugged a shoulder. "Not particularly," he informed me, with a tinge of sadness in his voice. "They don't like the way she runs the business."

"What way is that?" I asked, suddenly curious. 

He hesitated, unsure of whether or not to proceed. "She's kind and unselfish," he stated simply. "They wish she were more like them."

I nodded, absorbing the information. It had never occurred to me that there would be a rift between Jessica and the rest of the family. I wanted to know more, but I knew that Mathew would not go into detail. I admired his respect for Jessica's privacy.

"May I speak frankly for a moment?" he asked.

"What were you doing before?" 

He smiled at my question, but quickly turned serious once again. 

"Is this where you warn me about Alix and Jessica, and threaten to come after me if I ever hurt them again?" I asked, wishing to evade the blow. I couldn't deal with another lecture. Especially from someone just a year older than myself. 

"No," he responded, shaking his head. "It's not in my place to accuse or threaten. Neither is it in my nature. I trust that Jessica, Alix and yourself have settled matters on your own." He paused as if to reconsider his words. "Please don't get me wrong. I love them more than anything. Alix is like a sister to me. And Jessica ÷ she's my entire life." For some reason, I didn't doubt his sincerity. "But they're also fiercely independent and I've learned with time to step out of their way and let them handle things."

"So what do you wish to speak to me about?" I asked, now truly at a loss. 

He leaned forward. "I want to thank you." 

I stared at him in surprise. "What for?" 

"For coming into both of their lives," he told me. "I don't think you realize the effect your presence has had on both of them. For entirely different reasons, of course."

"I'm not sure I understand," I admitted. How much could I possibly affect another person? Positively, anyway. I was sure pain I'd caused plenty of. For a moment I worried that I'd suddenly be whisked away to star in my very own rendition of It's A Wonderful Life. Thankfully that didn't happen. 

"I didn't think you would," Mathew told me. "But I hope that you at least believe it." 

I would have inquired further but Jessica chose that moment to make her appearance. "Sorry," she said, stepping out onto the deck. "Unexpected phone call. I trust Mathew entertained you?" 

"He was telling me about the different parts of the cell," I informed her. "There was much I didn't know." 

Jessica laughed, sitting next to Mathew on the chair. "Well as long as you weren't totally bored." 

"I'm here!" Jade announced, walking towards us. 

Needless to say I was surprised by her unexpected arrival. I was also now remembering that I still had no idea why I was there. 

"Good," Jessica said, rising to pull a chair over for Jade. We now sat in an ill-formed circle around Mathew's pillar of books. "Now we can start."

"Start what, exactly?" I asked. I had the uneasy feeling that at any moment Jessica would force us to join hands and start singing Kumbaya. 

"Alix's surprise birthday party," Jade informed me. "We try to alternate with the years so she doesn't expect anything." 

Ah, now this I could get into. "What do you mean, alternate?" 

"Well," Jessica began, "last year, Roxanne went to visit her family in Orlando. So we had Roxanne call from there and tell Alix that her car had broken down and that she needed us to come pick her up. But really we all met at Disney World and threw here a huge bash with Mickey and friends."

"I bet that was fun," I commented, wishing I'd been there. "So what's the plan this year?"

Jessica shrugged. "That's what we're here to figure out." She looked around. "Ideas?"

I tried to think of something special we could do for Alix. I envied Jessica the ability to get Alix anything. I could never compete with that, though I hadn't yet seen Jessica throw her money in anyone's face. "How about a cruise?" I said. 

"A cruise," Jessica repeated, considering it.

"She'd never expect that," said Jade, nodding. 

"Definitely not," Mathew agreed. "Especially since she thinks Jessica and I are going away for the weekend." 

I arched a brow. "You guys lied about that?" 

"Of course," Jessica responded. "We don't want her to suspect a thing." 

"Nice," I said, impressed. 

Jessica was nodding thoughtfully. "Okay, I'll make the arrangements for the cruise," she told us. 

"Can you make them with such short notice?" Jade queried. 

Jessica grinned. "I know I can." 

***

I lied on my couch later that day, staring at the patterns on the ceiling and trying to decipher my emotions. I'd returned from Jessica's with mixed feelings and I couldn't quite define them all. 

We'd spent at least a couple of hours discussing specifics. Jessica had called and made arrangements with the cruise line. She'd gotten a hold of Roxanne who'd been more than willing to partake in the plan. Everything would be perfect. I knew Alix would love it all. 

I glanced around my meager apartment. Once upon a time, I could've bought Alix the world. Of course, she would've never loved me then. It's true what they say, you can't have everything. 

And as much as I wanted to believe that Jessica did, I was starting to see that this wasn't altogether true. Still I did envy her the financial freedom to bring ideas to fruition. I couldn't compete with a cruise. 

Sighing, I picked up the phone, pressing number one on my speed dial. It rang a few times before a voice answered. 

"Yeah?"

I smiled instantly, her voice making me feel a billion times better. "Hey," I greeted. "I was wondering if you'd like to join me for dinner? I'm cooking." 

"I can't. I have a date with my other girlfriend."

"Your vibrator can wait," I teased her. 

Alix started laughing. "What time do you want me there?"

"Seven," I told her, thinking it would give me plenty of time to get everything prepared. "What would you like to eat?"

There was a pause as Alix considered. "I'll take that thing you made last time. That was yum."

"You got it."

"Do I have to stir the noodles this time?" 

I laughed. "No, I'll take care of everything."

"Oh good. Anything else?"

I arched an eyebrow though she couldn't see it. "Are you trying to get rid of me so soon?"

"I've got class in five minutes," she said regretfully. "When do you work again?" 

"I'm off until next Tuesday," I replied. "I asked Dean to give me a week to settle back in." 

"Good," Alix said. "Okay, leave me a message if you want me to bring anything."

"Just yourself," I assured her. 

"See you tonight," she said. 

"Til then," I replied. I heard the click at the other end of the line and hung up, resting my head back against the arm of the couch. Loki stared up at me from the floor and in one swift motion I had her settled on my stomach. "Oof! You're getting heavy. What have I been feeding you?"

The Pug just stared at me and I petted her fur, feeling guilty for all the traveling I'd put the poor puppy through. "Don't worry, from now on, we're staying right where we are," I promised her. 


***

I knew how much Alix loved the beach, so I decided to incorporate that knowledge into my dinner plans. I made the dinner and packed it away in a picnic basket, along with wine glasses, a couple cans of Dr Pepper, and a candle. I left Alix a note on the door letting her know where to find me. 

I'd spread out a blanket and set up the plates. I was in the process of lighting the candle when Alix appeared at my side. I'd been worried that perhaps she wouldn't get my note and think I'd stood her up. Or that she wouldn't like my idea. But the look on her face put my fears at ease. 

"Wow," she breathed. 

"I thought we could eat outside for a change," I explained, feeling a bit embarrassed. "Dr Pepper?" I offered, holding up the can. 

She smiled brightly as she joined me on the blanket. She took the can from me and poured the contents into the wine glass. "This is beautiful," she said, her voice conveying her sincerity. 

I smiled back at her, happy that she seemed pleased. We were in a quiet area, far away from the buzzing of Ft Lauderdale nightlife. The waves crashed near by and a gentle breeze blew in from the ocean. All in all, I thought it was the perfect atmosphere. "I'm glad you like it," I told her. 

"I love it," she said. 

"Hungry?"

"Bring it on," she answered. "I've been thinking of nothing else all day."

"Seeing me?" I guessed, serving the food. 

She was staring hungrily at the plate. "Hm? Oh. Yeah, that too."

I laughed, proud that she liked my cooking so much. "Perhaps I should be a chef instead of a bartender." 

"I'd hire you," Alix informed me, digging into the food with gusto.

"You couldn't afford me," I teased. 

Green eyes sparkled with mischief as they glanced at me. "I'm sure there are other methods of payment."

I started choking on a piece of pasta. 

"Are you okay?" Alix asked with concern. 

"Fine," I managed to say through a fit of coughs.

"I learned the Heimlich in 9th grade, I'm sure I can give it a whirl ÷" 

I shook my head in reply. When was it that I turned into such a dork? "Anyway, you were saying?" I asked, when I'd finally gotten my coughing under control. 

"Not a thing," she responded innocently.

"No, no," I insisted. "I would very much like to hear about these alternate method plans of yours." 

Alix shook her head. "Sorry. It is clear that you're not mature enough to handle them." 

I smiled, knowing she'd won. We ate the rest of the dinner in relative silence, commenting on random things here and there when we thought to mention something. I spent the time alternating between glancing down at my plate and trying not to stare at her. She looked so beautiful by candlelight. 

When we were done, I cleared away the plates and put the basket aside. Alix sidled over and kissed my cheek. 

"Thank you," she said. "That was really sweet." 

I smiled, feeling completely content. I still had no idea what I'd done so right to deserve this. "You're very welcome. Anything for you." I wanted to kiss her but I was hesitant, afraid she'd pull away. So I settled for taking her hand. 

"Close your eyes," Alix said softly. 

I frowned slightly but did as I was told. 

She removed her hand from my grasp and replaced it with something else. 

"Open them," she instructed.

In my palm was a small box. "What's this?" I asked her, surprised.

"Well open it and find out," she replied. 

Carefully I opened the box. I blinked a few times when I saw what was inside. "Where did you get this?" I asked her, pulling the ring out. I was touched beyond words. 

She shrugged. "I have my ways." She bit her lip for a moment. "Do you like it?" 

"I love it!" I exclaimed. "No one's ever given me something like this before." I grinned brightly at her. 

"I've had it for a while," she said. "I was waiting to give it to you."

"Thank you," I said finally, putting it on. It was a perfect fit. "How'd you know my size?"

"Lucky guess," she replied. 

I kissed her then, throwing caution to the wind. I wanted to show her how much I appreciated her gift, how much it meant to me. "I love you," I whispered when we pulled away. 

"I love you too," she whispered back. 

My heart skipped a beat at the words, which coated my broken spirit in a way that nothing else had. I wanted to say more, but didn't know what exactly. So I simply pulled her toward me, kissing her again. Hoping she understood what I was trying to convey, and knowing, somehow, that she felt the same.

Continued


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