InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Purity 9: Subterfuge ❯ Blown ( Chapter 157 )

[ X - Adult: No readers under 18. Contains Graphic Adult Themes/Extreme violence. ]
~~Chapter One Hundred Fifty-Seven~~

- OoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO-

'Let your tears touch to the ground
'Lay your shattered pieces down
'And be amazed by how grace can take a broken girl
'And put her back together again ...'

-'Broken Girl' by Matthew West.


"I . . . I can't believe it . . . Is it really you?"

Valerie tried to smile.  She wasn't sure if hers worked or not, but he tried, too—a sad sort of smile that seemed all the more sad when she saw the suspect brightness in his eyes.  "It's me," she heard herself say.  Funny, considering she hadn't actually thought that her voice really would work at the moment . . .

He barked out a terse laugh even as he quickly dashed a hand over his eyes.  "You . . . You look good," he said.  For a moment, he looked like he might want to hug her, but he stopped himself before he reached for her.  She wasn't sure what stopped him.  Maybe he thought that she wouldn't want him to . . . "You look so much like your mama . . ." That seemed to remind him that his wife was inside; that she hadn't seen Valerie yet, and he grabbed the wheelchair and tried to hurry back across the yard again.  "You—you're not leaving yet, right?  I mean, you just got here, and . . . Y-Your mama's inside.  Let me go get her . . ."

"I'm not—" she began, only to cut herself off as she remembered suddenly that she'd left Evan standing over by the truck.  "I-I'll be right back!"

For a moment, her father looked alarmed, but he caught sight of Evan and must've realized that she wasn't alone.  "Okay," he called after her.  "Your friend's welcome, too . . ."

She waved a hand and darted back over to Evan once more.

He smiled gently.  "How's it going?"

Biting her lip, she glanced back toward the trailer.  Her father was pulling the chair up the steps with a little difficulty.  "You're coming in with me, aren't you?"

Evan seemed a little surprised by her question.  "Do you want me to?"

"Don't be ridiculous!" she scoffed, looking back at her father again, her brows knitting together as she ground her teeth together.  She shouldn't have left him alone with the cumbersome chair and oxygen unit . . . "Of course I . . ." Stopping suddenly, she turned back to Evan again.  "Will you?"

His smile widened just a little despite the serious glimmer in his eyes.  "If you want me to."

She nodded and grabbed his hand, dragging him with her as she hurried back over to help her father as he negotiated the steps.  "Here," she said, reaching for the wheelchair.  "Let me help you . . ."

For a moment, he looked like he wanted to argue with her.  Finally he nodded, his gaze lingering on Valerie's face before casting Evan a curious glance.  Then he stepped up onto the porch and shuffled over to the door.  "Ronnie," he called as he pushed the door open.  "Ronnie, you'll never guess who's here!"

Valerie stepped inside behind him as a wave of trepidation slammed down on her.  She heard her mother before she saw her.  Footsteps hurrying down the hallway that led to the bedrooms announced her mother's arrival before she could actually see her.  Her father stepped forward as Rhonda Duyer rounded the corner with a stack of towels still in her arms.  "Give me a heart attack, Jack," she complained.  "What on earth are you yelling about?"

"Look," he said, gesturing at Valerie as he moved aside.  "Look who I found outside."

Her mother cast her husband a questioning sort of glance before shifting her gaze to the side, but when she did, she stopped dead, eyes widening as she opened and closed her mouth a few times.  The stack of towels fell to the floor unnoticed, and for a moment, Valerie thought that her mother just might faint.  "V-Va-Valene?" she whispered, her hand fluttering over her chest—over her heart.  She uttered a choked sort of sound and covered her mouth with her hands for a moment.  "Valene . . .?"

She couldn't speak.  She couldn't get past the lump in her throat, couldn't help the greedy way her eyes roved over her mother's face, as though she had to take in every detail, every nuance . . . Maybe somewhere deep down, she feared that her mother would somehow dissolve before her eyes like a dream or a fairy tale that would disappear in the blink of an eye.  A hundred butterflies broke loose in her stomach, making her feel giddy, weak, and just a little afraid . . . That strange sense of panic was back in spades—the one that she'd felt as she stared out of the window of the squad car as it took her away . . .

The gentle pressure of a hand on the small of her back made her blink, yanked her out of her unsettling thoughts, bolstering her resolve with the gentle reminder that she wasn't alone.  Evan's inner warmth seemed to wrap around her, gave her the reassurance that she so desperately needed.

"Valene," her mother said, taking the few steps that separated them, holding her arms out.  She hesitated for just a moment, and suddenly, she was in her mother's arms, being hugged so tightly that she had to gasp for breath.  Tears, so many tears, and Valerie didn't know if they were Rhonda's or her own.  Maybe . . . Maybe they were both . . .

"Oh, my God!" Rhonda gushed at last, stepping back and grasping Valerie's hands in hers as she smiled through her tears, uttering a weak laugh that seemed heartfelt, all the same.  "Look at you!  Just look at you!  You're just beautiful!  Jack?  Isn't she just beautiful?"

"Yeah, she is," he agreed with a smile.  Valerie peered over her mother's head, but her smile dissipated quickly.  He was exhausted; she could see it in his face.  Leaning heavily on the wall, he was trying not to show just how tired he really was.  Valerie pulled her hands away gently and stepped over to him.

"You look like you need to sit down," she said quietly, slipping her hand under his elbow to help him.

For a moment, he looked like he wanted to argue with her.  Maybe he was too exhausted to do that, though, because in the end, he waved a hand at the beat-up old recliner across the room.

He let her help him over to the chair then allowed Rhonda to pull off his jacket before he sank down with a sigh.  Rhonda tossed the jacket into the sofa before unhooking the oxygen tube from the tank and attaching it quickly to the larger floor unit beside the chair.  Then she shook open an old quilt that was threadbare in some places and covered Jack's legs.  "You want something to drink?" she asked, glancing over her shoulder at Valerie.  "I just made some iced tea . . ."

"That'd be good, Mama," Jack said, kicking his feet to adjust the blanket.  "Do you still have some of those cookies left or did your boy eat them all?"

Rhonda retrieved the jacket and hurried over to hang it up.  "There are some left.  I'll get them in a minute," she offered, her gaze searching out Valerie once more, the smile on her face trembling but bright.

"Uh, n-no," Valerie blurted, cheeks pinking at the perceived notion that she was somehow being a burden.  "We're fine . . . Oh!" she exclaimed softly, hurrying back over to Evan, who was still standing back, just inside the door.  "This is my friend, Evan.  Evan, these are my . . ." she swallowed hard.  "My parents, Jack and Rhonda."

"Pleased to meet you," he said, shaking Rhonda's hand warmly then striding across the room to repeat the gesture with her father.

Jack stared at Evan for a long moment, as though he were trying to size Evan up.  In the end, though, he nodded once.  "A friend of Valene's?  That right?"

"I'll go get that iced tea," Rhonda said as she turned to head toward the kitchen.

Valerie followed her.

"Do you want sugar?  Cream?"

Valerie blinked and shook her head.  "Really, it's okay," she assured her.  "I don't need anything."

Rhonda fluttered a hand, as though to dismiss Valerie's concerns.  "Your father likes two sugars and a little cream . . . I know, that sounds a little weird, doesn't it?  I told him that before, but that's how he likes it . . . It's how your grandfather, Bucky always liked his iced tea, too . . ." Trailing off for a moment, Rhonda seemed to turn a little thoughtful, pausing for a moment when she reached for a glass in the cupboard.  "You don't remember him, do you?  Grandpa Bucky?"  She sighed and shook her head, her shoulders slumping just a little.  "Of course you don't.  He, uh . . . He and your father didn't talk for a while when we got married.  He was so mad at your daddy for getting me pregnant . . ."

Valerie frowned.  No, she didn't remember him at all.  Angry at her father for having gotten her mother pregnant . . .? She supposed that she could understand that, too . . . "Um, I don't need any sugar," she said quietly.

Rhonda smiled at her before nodding.  "And your friend?  Evan?"

"Oh, he . . . He'd probably like sugar, too," she said.  For some reason, it bothered her . . . watching her mother, pouring iced tea into mismatched glasses—some of them with cut patterns around the bases—patterns that were tinged yellow in the deepest cracks from age or hard well water or both . . .

But Rhonda seemed happy enough as she pulled a plastic container out of another cupboard.  She pulled the lid off and stared at it for a moment before she bustled over to retrieve a faded but pretty china platter off of a high shelf on which to arrange the cookies.  "They're not fancy," Rhonda said in a quietly apologetic tone, "but they're your daddy's favorites . . ."

"How sick is he?" she heard herself asking.  She could have kicked herself when her mother's smile faltered.  She did her best to recover quickly enough, but not before Valerie had seen the upset that her question had inspired.

Rhonda let a little sigh slip but smiled wanly.  "Oh, you know . . . He has some bad spells, but he's doing as well as can be expected."

For some reason, Valerie had the distinct feeling that she was lying.  Well, maybe not lying, exactly, but certainly downplaying the seriousness of the situation.  "How often does he have to go in for dialysis?"

Her mother stopped what she was doing long enough to cast Valerie a worried sort of glance, kind of like that of a deer caught in the headlights.  "Usually only a couple times a week," she admitted.  "Last week, he had to go in an extra time.  He had an infection, so his kidneys needed some extra help."

Valerie nodded slowly.  Her mother was downplaying the situation; that much was clear, and while she could understand why, she couldn't help the spark of irritation that rose inside her, either.  After all, she wasn't a child who needed to be protected anymore.  "What did his doctor say?"

"Oh, the usual," Rhonda insisted, again trying to hide her concern behind a facade of nonchalance.  "But he did say the last time that he went in that your father's doing real good . . . real good."

Rubbing her forearms, Valerie shifted her gaze around the small kitchen.  Small pots of what looked to be herbs were arranged on the counter under a light that had been mounted to the underside of the cabinets.  An old Formica-topped table took up most of the space in the already cramped room with four metal chairs pushed up neatly as far as they could go.  In the center of the table was a red pillar candle surrounded by white and red plastic vines with glittery red hearts sticking out here and there like flowers.  The refrigerator was clean but had a few rusty spots here and there where moisture had gathered on the surface, and it struck her, just how familiar the kitchen was even if she hadn't been in it in such a long time.

From the living room, she could hear the muffled rumble of male voices.  She couldn't make out what they were talking about, but that was all right.  Turning to look at the arrangement of pictures on the wall, Valerie bit her lip.  All kinds of pictures arranged in cheap frames—most of them were of her brother and sister though there were a few of her parents, too—hung close together like an impromptu collage . . . She smiled wanly at the five-by-seven picture of her brother in the early years of grade school, smiling proudly, showing off the nice gap where one of his front teeth had been . . .

"I always thought it was funny, how Kaci Lea looked just like you when you were little," her mother went on in a completely conversational tone of voice.  "Her hair's a touch darker than yours, but she's the spitting image of you . . ." Trailing off, she gave an almost nervous kind of laugh.  "Well, she's a little shorter than you.  Guess you got your daddy's height."

"Y-Yeah," she said, unable to shake the slight daze that seemed to encompass her.  Reaching out to help her mother arrange the cookies on the plate she'd set out, Valerie smiled just a little.

Rhonda seemed surprised but didn't wave her off.   "A big city attorney," she said, her voice punctuated by a quiet sense of undeniable pride.  "Who would have thought that?"  She laughed softly.  "We've read about you in the papers some.  All those big name clients?  It's really something, Valene—Oh . . ." Her faltering smile widened by degrees.  "It's 'Valerie' now, right?"  Suddenly, she laughed, as though someone had told her a joke or something.  "I wanted to name you 'Arlene' when you were born, but your daddy wanted to name you 'Valerie'.  Got into a few fights over that.  We almost didn't get married because we couldn't agree on it.  So my mama suggested that we compromise, and we both thought 'Valene' was pretty . . ."

Valerie blinked and stared at her mother.  She'd never heard that story before.  Somehow, it touched her, even if she wasn't entirely ready to let down her defenses entirely, and she couldn't help but feel a little bad for having changed her name all those years ago.  "I didn't know that," she said softly, almost apologetically.

Her mother laughed and waved a hand in dismissal.  "Valerie suits you," she decided.  "Besides, changing your name doesn't really change who you are, huh?"

Valerie's smile faltered then faded.  That's exactly what she'd tried to do, wasn't it?  To change who she really was and to erase the ugliness she felt deep down when she thought about herself, about her past . . . But her mother didn't see the expression on her face, and that was probably for the best, too.

Rhonda pulled a wooden tray out from under the sink and set the glasses on it along with the plate of cookies, and she smiled again as she leaned toward Valerie.  "But that boyfriend of yours?  He's a real looker," she said, lowering her voice like she was telling Valerie a secret.

Valerie opened and closed her mouth a couple times as a flood of heat washed into her cheeks.  "He-He-He's not," she blurted, glancing at Evan to make sure that he hadn't overheard her mother as they stepped back into the living room again.  He didn't seem to have heard a thing, much to Valerie's relief.  "I mean, we're just friends."

Her mother's smile seemed almost knowing, didn't it?  Or maybe Valerie was just reading things into it . . . Her gaze shifted to Evan once more then back to meet Valerie's.

"Evan, here, says that you're going to be around till Saturday?  Is that right?" her father asked before her mother could say anything else on the subject of Evan Zelig.

"Oh, uh, y-yeah," Valerie said, clearing her throat as she reached for a glass of tea and handed it to Evan.

"Thanks," he said with a little wink.  She didn't miss the trace hint of worry in his gaze, either, and she smiled to reassure him.  It did the trick, at least, somewhat, because his grin widened as he took the glass from her.

"That's nice; that's nice," Jack said, the hint of anxiety that had tinged his voice dissipating quickly enough.  "Mama, you can take the time off, right?"

Rhonda paused for just a moment as she slipped the tray onto the table beside Jack's chair.  "I don't know.  We're pretty short-staffed as it is . . . I don't know that they'd let me switch . . ."

"It's okay if you have to work," Valerie hurried to say.  "I mean, you weren't expecting me, and—"

Jack flicked a hand to cut her off.  "Don't be ridiculous, Valene.  It's not every day you come around!  The home can do without your mama for a few days, I say."

"I can try," Rhonda said though her tone bespoke her doubts that she could actually get the time off.  Or maybe she was more worried about the loss of a few days' income, especially when there were still bills to pay.  Valerie had read in the file that her mother was working a couple jobs, but her full-time one was working at the local nursing home, third shift in housekeeping.  Aside from that, she did a few odd jobs during the week, too, working from home, addressing and sending sale fliers from a few local businesses, and twice a week, she cleaned the houses of a couple more affluent residents of Durkes, but the job at the nursing home paid the most, and while Valerie knew that Jack meant well, she could understand her mother's very real concerns, too.

"It's okay, really," Valerie insisted.

Jack ignored her.  "Why don't you call Jo Beth?  See if she'll work your shift for you or something?"

Rhonda shot Valerie a nervous kind of look.  She was worried that she was going to offend Valerie, wasn't she?  "Well, I could," she reluctantly agreed.  "I think she's off, so she might."

Jack snorted.  "You've gone in for her a few times," he pointed out in a wheezing grumble.  "She can do it up for you a time or two."

"If you can't, it's okay," Valerie stated once more.  "It's fine, really."

Her mother didn't look entirely reassured, but she did smile as she handed Jack a glass of iced tea.  "I'll go give Jo Beth a call," she said.  "I'll be right back."

Valerie bit her lip as she watched Rhonda hurry back toward the kitchen again, but she was jarred out of her musings when another bout of coughing drew her attention.  The rattle was awful, sounding like it came from somewhere deep, deep within Jack's chest.  She winced and grabbed a couple tissues out of the box on the table.  "Here," she said, gently pushing them into his hand as she retrieved the glass of tea before he dropped it.  "You should spit that stuff out, shouldn't you?"

He managed to hold the tissues against his mouth, and Valerie ground her teeth together as he hacked up some phlegm.  Mercifully, though, the coughing fit passed, and Jack leaned back heavily in the chair, closing his eyes for a moment as he let the soiled tissues fall into the small metal garbage can beside his chair.  "Sorry 'bout that," he muttered after he'd finally caught his breath.  "Damn cough's gonna kill me."

Valerie grimaced at her father's attempt to make a joke.  "Daddy . . ."

"You didn't come here to feel sorry for your old man, did you, little girl?" Jack asked lightly despite the hint of a scowl on his face when he finally opened his eyes again.

"Uh . . . n-no," she said, unable to bring herself to voice any of the questions that had spun around in her head for so long.  Something about seeing her father looking so weak, so frail . . .

Jack reached for the glass of tea again.  Valerie hurriedly slipped it into his hand, but she had to hold herself in check when he slowly lifted it to his mouth.  She wanted to help him.  Too bad she didn't think he'd let her do that . . .

After a long sip of tea, he smiled, letting the glass rest on the arm of the chair.  "You turned out good," he said, staring at Valerie as his smile took on a bittersweet tilt.  "You turned out real good."  Gaze shifting over to Evan for a moment, his grin widened.  "Real pretty, huh?  Like her mama—just like her mama."

Evan chuckled and winked at Valerie.  "Yeah, she is," he agreed quickly enough.  "You're right.  She does look like her mama."

Jack seemed pleased by Evan's statement, even as Valerie had to fight back a livid blush.  "You're kind of skinny, little girl," he stated as his gaze narrowed critically.  "Don't they feed you in that big city?"

"I eat," she murmured.

Jack snorted like he didn't really believe her.  "Yeah, you get a few good, home cooked meals here," he went on.  "We'll put a little meat on your bones."

"I don't—"

"Garret hit a possum the other night," he remarked.  "I think Mama's still got some in the 'fridge."

Valerie blinked.  Evan choked a little then coughed.

Jack broke out in a wheezy laugh.  "Kidding," he insisted, taking another drink of his iced tea.  "We're not that sticks—not yet, anyway."

Evan chuckled.  "A deer would feed you longer," he added.

Jack's grin widened as he rumbled out another laugh.  "I like you," he decided with a nod of approval as he looked at Evan.  "I'll have to tell Garret to aim for one of those the next time he's out."

"Twisted," Valerie muttered under her breath.

"See, V?  Your dad's got it right.  Why pay for food when you can just run it down in your car?" Evan teased.

Valerie rolled her eyes.  "Really, really twisted."

Jack grinned.  "V?  That what the boys are calling you these days?"  Scratching his chin, he thought that over.  "V," he mused again.  "I like that."

"Only that one," Valerie stated, jerking her head toward Evan, "and he doesn't count."

"Jo Beth couldn't trade with me," Rhonda said as she hurried back into the room.  "But I called Wendy, and she said that she'd trade me shifts, so I've got to go in tonight, but I'll be off Thursday and Friday."

"Good," Jack said.  "What do you think, Mama?  Need to put a few pounds on our girl, here, don't you think?"

Rhonda laughed softly as she picked up the plate to offer cookies to everyone.  "I think she looks just fine," she insisted.  "Better than 'fine', if you ask me."

Jack sighed, but his smile didn't disappear.  "She does, don't she?"

"I still can't believe it," Rhonda murmured, her eyes glossing over with tears once more.  "Makes the place really feel like home, don't you think?"

Jack nodded and set the glass on the table before reaching for his wife's hand.  "It does, Mama.  It sure does."

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'Broken< /b> Girl' by Matthew West originally appeared on the 2010 release, The Story of Your Life.  Copyrighted to Matthew West.
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Thought from Jack:
V, huh …?
Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Subterfuge):  I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga.  Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al.  I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.