InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Purity 9: Subterfuge ❯ Nerves ( Chapter 159 )

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

- OoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO-

'And his daddy's gone somewhere smokin' rock now
'In and out of lockdown, I ain't got a job now
'So for you, this is just a good time
'But for me, this is what I call 'life' ...'

-'What Would You Do?' by City High.



Evan dropped the keys from the rental truck on the table near the door and peered over his shoulder at Valerie before digging his wallet out of his pocket and letting it fall onto the keys with a dull thump.  "Well, what?" he drawled in a suspiciously neutral tone.

Valerie bit her lip and scowled thoughtfully at his broad back like she was trying to decide whether or not he was being serious.  "Don't go there, Roka," she insisted, rubbing her forehead wearily.  "I know damn well that you've got at least a million things to say."

He paused long enough to grin at her.  "I think I'm in love with your baby brother," he informed her with a cheesy wink.

"Great," Valerie grumbled under her breath.  "You really are gay; I knew it—not just gay, but a gay pedophile, to boot . . ."

"Face it, woman.  That kid's just too damn pretty for words," Evan went on, brushing off Valerie's assessment with a flick of his wrist.

She broke into a little smile and sighed, rubbing her forearms as she wandered toward the wall of windows that overlooked the city below.  "He is, isn't he?" she mused quietly.  Of course, she doubted that Garret would be pleased if he had been privy to the current conversation, but it didn't really change the facts, either . . .

Evan retrieved a couple beers from the small wet bar, and she heard the soft hiss of the caps being released before he stepped over to stand beside her.  "Your sister seemed a little surprised to see you," he went on gently, slipping one of the bottles into her hand.

She winced inwardly.  'Surprised' was a pretty big understatement, to be honest.  Valerie wasn't sure exactly how she'd expected for her sister to react, but she'd felt the understated current of resentment, and if she were to be completely honest with herself, she really hadn't expected that . . . She sighed.  She'd hoped that she was just imagining things to start with, but considering Kaci Lea hadn't returned by the time they were ready to leave, she was pretty sure that she had been right, after all . . . "She wasn't very happy about it, was she?" she ventured in a carefully neutral tone of voice as she lifted the bottle of beer to her lips.

Evan sighed.  No, it was more of an exhalation than a real sigh.  She felt it more than she heard it.  "Did you ever get to see her when she was little?"

Letting out a deep breath, Valerie shrugged.  "Once?  Twice?  Maybe . . ." she admitted with a thoughtful frown.  "There was one time when she was a baby—a couple months old?"  Shaking her head, she bit her lip.  "There was another time when she was a year old or so . . . She was walking, and she didn't want to sit in the high-chair in McDonald's.  Mom and Daddy ended that visit early because Kaci Lea was throwing a fit . . ." Suddenly, she grimaced, casting Evan a sidelong glance; an almost guilty expression on her face.  "I-I'm not blaming her or anything," she blurted quickly, unable to keep the heat from rising in her cheeks.  "I mean, she was just a baby, really.  It wasn't her fault."  Swallowing hard, she berated herself mentally for having said anything about that in the first place.  "I never thought it was her fault."

He chuckled softly and slipped an arm around her waist.  "It's okay, V," he replied, giving her a gentle squeeze.  "I never judge you, remember?"

Somehow, the teasing tone in Evan's voice was enough to offer her some sorely-needed reassurance, and while she couldn't ignore the warning in the back of her head that told her that, as much as she welcomed the support he offered her, she really ought to pull away before she ended up stepping over the line with him again, she felt so weary, so mentally exhausted, that her entire body felt heavy, leaden.  "Have I mentioned how thankful I am that you came with me?" she ventured instead.

"You have," he informed her with a cheeky grin though he pulled her a little closer against his side.  "Don't worry about it, though.  I figure that it's always a plus when my attorney owes me a favor or two."

She snorted at his obvious teasing but smiled, just the same.  "Yeah, but knowing you, you'll waste those favors on something silly—and mildly perverted."

"I'd prefer something silly and morbidly perverted," he quipped.

Valerie rolled her eyes and shot him a stern glance, though the effect was ruined a moment later when she giggled.  "I know you would," she allowed, "but I wouldn't."

"There you go again, woman," he grouched, letting his arm fall away as he tipped the beer to his lips.  "Ruin my best dreams."

"Get over it, Roka," she scoffed.  Her smile faltered then faded away completely, and she sighed once more as she turned away from the window and leaned back on the window sill.  "Half of me thinks that I ought to try talking to her," she confessed quietly, going back to the original subject.  "The other half thinks that it'd just make things worse instead of better."

"Well," Evan drawled, considering what Valerie had said carefully, "even if you don't talk to her about it right now, I don't think there's any reason to rush it.  After all, she might listen better when she gets to know you a little more—or maybe she was just having a bad day today or something."

Valerie could tell from the tone of Evan's voice that he really didn't believe any such thing, but his advice seemed sound enough.  Given Kaci Lea's obvious reluctance when it came to Valerie, trying to force the issue would probably do more harm than good.  Then again, maybe she was just reading too much into it.  How would she feel, anyway?  If she had an older sister whom she barely knew, how would Valerie feel if said-sister just showed up one day out of the proverbial blue . . .?

She sighed.  Any way she looked at it, the point really was that Kaci Lea was entitled to her own feelings when it came to her, wasn't she?  Valerie didn't have to like or understand those feelings, but she did have to respect them.  Maybe Evan was right.  Maybe all she really needed to do was to give it some time, get to know Kaci Lea . . .

"So," Evan said, breaking through Valerie's musings, "did you and your mama get to talk at all?"

Pushing herself away from the window sill, Valerie set her half-empty beer bottle on the wet bar and gave a little shrug.  "A little," she admitted, knowing deep down that she was purposefully lying when she knew damn well what he was asking.  "Just small talk, really," she admitted.  "Mom talked about their neighbors and stuff . . . she told me about Dad's testing and all that."  Her shoulders slumped slightly, and for some reason, she just couldn't meet Evan's steady gaze.  "We didn't really talk about the past or anything," she admitted quietly.  "I just . . ."

She started slightly when Evan's strong arms wrapped around her, pulling her against his chest in a comforting embrace.  "That's all right, isn't it?" he asked just as quietly.  "Today was for feeling good about your family.  You didn't have to make it harder than it was."

Nodding slowly, she closed her eyes for a moment, savoring the welcome sense of well-being that he so freely offered her.  "You're right," she murmured.  "Thank you."

He chuckled and kissed the top of her head.  "You should go to bed soon," he told her.  "You haven't gotten much sleep lately, and I know you're exhausted.  Maybe you can actually get some rest tonight."

Valerie uttered a sound of agreement, but didn't move away.  Evan didn't seem inclined to let go of her, either, and that was all right, too.  There wasn't anything even remotely sexual in his attentions, and for once, Valerie wasn't quite up to trying to fight him off, anyway.


"Do you need any help?"

Rhonda blinked and glanced up from the piles of papers spread out on the kitchen table as she pushed her glasses up her nose with the knuckle of her index finger.  "Oh, no," she hurried to say.  "I was just making sure that the bills are paid; that's all."

Slipping into the chair across the table from her mother, Valerie slowly nodded.  It struck her as a very old-fashioned way to go about things, but she figured that was all right.

"Your sister keeps telling me that I should set all this stuff up on the computer," Rhonda went on absently as she filled out a check for the electric bill.  "I don't like to do that, though.  The bill fluctuates so much that I'd rather keep an eye on it."

"If this is how you're comfortable doing things, then I don't see anything wrong with it," Valerie allowed, pushing herself to her feet to retrieve the coffee pot so that she could refill Rhonda's cup as well as her own.

Rhonda sighed and paused long enough to smile at Valerie.  "Thanks," she said, turning her attention back to the papers she'd arranged.  "Maybe it would be faster if I did it all online," she mused.  "We put the computer in Kaci's room, though, and I don't like to mess with her things when she's not home."

Valerie didn't say anything about that as she replaced the carafe on the warming pad and sat back down again.  "You have lots of pictures of the kids up," she remarked instead, her smile widening by degrees as she took in the collage of photographs once more.

Her mother sealed the envelope for the electric bill and scooped together the bills into a neat stack.  "We had some of you up there, too," she said, glancing at the wall before resuming her task once more.  "Your foster parents were pretty good about sending us pictures, you know?"  She laughed softly and shook her head.  "They were getting faded, though, so I put them in an album."

For some reason, that surprised Valerie, probably more than it should have.  "Really?"

Rhonda nodded.  "Some of them," she replied.  Then she sighed once more.  "A few years ago, the roof went bad and started leaking," she explained a little sadly.  "Your father had just started to get sick then, and I didn't notice the leak until it got worse, what with running to the doctor and the hospital and all that . . . and it ruined some of the pictures I had hanging up—one of your brother's grade school graduation, a couple of your sister, and . . . and some of the ones we had up of you . . ."

"That's okay," Valerie said quickly, uncomfortable with the apologetic tone in her mother's voice.  "It's not a big deal."

"It is to me," Rhonda went on.  "It is to your father, too . . ." Suddenly, she sighed and shook her head again, picking up her coffee and staring thoughtfully into the cup.  "Guess we really screwed up back then," she admitted, her voice barely above a whisper.  "Always wanted to tell you that . . ."

"It's all right," Valerie heard herself saying, and somehow, it was true, wasn't it?  "I mean, I'm all right."

Rhonda finally smiled and finally managed to peer up at her, too.  "All right?" she echoed with an incredulous sort of lilt to her expression.  "You turned out better than all right . . . already a famous attorney in New York City?  That's really good, if you ask me."

"I'm not really famous," she corrected, unable to keep the hint of a blush out of her cheeks at the quiet praise.

"Of course you are!" Rhonda insisted, flicking a wrist to wave off Valerie's insistence to the contrary.  "You've been in the papers and all that . . . They say you got that rock star off the hook in that drunk driving case and everything!  I cut out the articles . . . I'll show you!"

Valerie blinked and watched as her mother quickly got to her feet to retrieve a thin black vinyl bound scrapbook from a cupboard over the refrigerator.  She ran her hands along the cover for a moment before handing it across the table.

The first few pages were pictures—a few snapshots from her childhood—very few . . . A handful from foster homes where she was always playing alone.  Then there were some school portraits, most of those faded by exposure to the sunlight.  There seemed to be a number of years missing, however—the ones that had been hanging on the wall that had been ruined by the leaking roof, perhaps . . .?  One of her senior pictures taken at the fancy studio in the town where she was living at the time . . .

She turned the page and frowned.  The pictures on those pages were different, weren't they?  Obviously printed off a computer, there were a number of photos from her college years, too.  She recognized a few of them from the university's website from the pages that were listed as leisure time activities.  That her parents had taken the time to scroll through every one of the images on those webpages was unsettling to her, but in a nice kind of way.  They'd gone through the trouble of doing that . . .?  But . . .

"You probably wouldn't have become a lawyer if you'd have stayed here with us, huh?" Rhonda said, breaking through the silence as she nervously fiddled with her coffee mug.  "That's kind of what I thought, you know?  Those folks—the Dennings . . . They were good people, weren't they?"

Valerie raised her chin slowly, only to see her mother, staring unhappily at the table, glancing to the side, out the window—everywhere but directly at her daughter.  Gaunt cheeks pinked slightly, a brightness in her eyes that was hard for Valerie to see . . . Rhonda slowly shook her head as her gaze fell to the table top once more.  "They wanted to adopt you," she admitted at length.  "I . . . I thought it'd be for the best . . . and so did your daddy . . ." She shrugged almost helplessly and seemed to shrink just a little.  "They did more for you than we ever could, didn't they?  But . . ."

Valerie swallowed hard, blinked furiously as she willed herself not to cry.  "M-Mom . . ."

Rhonda shook her head, as though her action could stop whatever it was that Valerie was trying to say.  "I'm sorry, Valene—Valerie," she hurriedly corrected herself.  "I just . . . I couldn't give you away.  I just couldn't . . ."

Biting her lip, Valerie let out a deep breath.  How many times had she sat and wondered why her parents had refused to allow her to be adopted, especially after the years when she hadn't seen them at all . . .?  And now that she had the perfect opportunity to ask . . .

"Maybe it was selfish of me to think that way," Rhonda went on in an entirely weary kind of way.  "After all, I really sucked at being a mom, didn't I?"

She wasn't sure what she ought to say to that.  In her mind, telling her mother that she did the best she could sounded like more of a cop-out than a reassurance, and even if it didn't, telling Rhonda that would only be for entirely selfish reasons, wouldn't it?  To gloss over the unpleasantness of her own thoughts over the years; that's what it would be . . . "Did you . . . Did you ever want me to come home?" she heard herself asking, even before she knew for certain what she was going to say.

Rhonda flinched but didn't shy away from Valerie's softly uttered query.  "I always wanted you to come home," she insisted, a steady conviction delineating her words despite the reticence in her voice.  "From the moment they took you, all I wanted was for them to give you back!"

Valerie digested that in silence for a moment.  There was still a measure of emptiness that she felt deep inside, despite her mother's reassurances—the answers she'd yet to get, maybe . . . "So why didn't you try?" she finally demanded.  "Why didn't you fight for . . . for me?"

Her mother didn't look like she had the answers, either, if the expression on her face meant anything at all.  Still, she tried.  "We did try . . . blindly at first," she said after a moment.  Eyebrows drawing together in a marked frown, she seemed like she was trying to put things into perspective.  "It took us a while to figure out that it really was our faults, you see?"  She shook her head, rubbed her forehead.  Her hand was trembling just a little.  "It was easier to get mad at the welfare or the cops or . . . or whoever.  It took us a lot longer to figure out that we were the reasons that you were taken.  We'd screwed up, but we never meant to.  We . . . We loved you, even if we weren't any good at being parents . . ."

Trailing off, Rhonda seemed irritated at the things she'd said—or maybe it wasn't irritation.  Maybe it was disgust—disgust at the mistakes she thought she'd made—those mistakes that had ultimately taken Valerie away from them . . .

Then she sighed, and she seemed to straighten her back, as though she was drawing together the last of her resolve, and maybe she was.  "We both had problems with drugs," she admitted quietly despite the matter-of-fact tone in her voice.  "Your daddy's problem was worse than mine, though, and it took him a lot longer to figure out that he had a problem, at all, and even longer to fix it.  After you were taken away, I got real mad at him.  I kicked him out for a while, and he ended up in jail a few times for different things.  I told him once that I was going to get you back and then take off with you, and he'd never see us again . . . I think maybe that straightened him out some.  I mean, he still had some screw ups, but he tried really hard after that.  He got his first real job at the tool and die—lost that one a few months later when he went to work stoned.  That friend of his—Homer?  Do you remember him?"

Valerie slowly shook her head.  In truth, she didn't remember many of her parents' friends, no . . .

Rhonda nodded.  "Yeah, you were probably too little to remember him, anyway . . . Your daddy had gone out with him to jam, he'd said, and he hadn't bothered to come home all weekend, so he went straight to work on Monday, and he was let go pretty much right off the bat, too."  She laughed suddenly, but it was a hollow kind of laugh—one of those that slipped out because she'd already cried about it too often in the past.  "He finally managed to get a job at the foundry, and he did good there . . . By then, Natalie, our case worker, said that if we kept on track for a while—say, six months or a year—that we'd stand a good chance of getting you back, but when I found out that I was pregnant later on, well, Natalie said that it'd be good if we waited until we got things settled with Garret."  A strange sort of darkness entered into Rhonda's gaze, and she seemed to tighten her jaw, though the expression on her face didn't really change.  "Then your sister came along, and we figured that we'd get her settled, too.  Natalie was transferred to another office, and we got a new case worker—June O'Malley . . ."

Valerie frowned.  She didn't remember that name at all, though she had seen it in the file she'd looked over—the one that Evan had given to her.  Judging from her mother's face, however, she wasn't sure she would have wanted to know that woman, either . . .

"June said that you were doing better, that you seemed to like the foster family they'd placed you with then: the Dennings . . ." Rhonda went on, her gaze glossed over, a little vacant, as she seemed to look back into a time that Valerie didn't remember.  "They said you were doing better in school, that you were real smart.  June said that they could do stuff for you that we . . . that we'd never be able to do . . ." Rhonda sighed as her shoulders slumped slightly.  "Why bring you back home, just so you could end up like us?  That's what she seemed to say to us, only not in those words exactly.  She . . . She even said that we should consider terminating our rights, let you get adopted by that other family.  They had money, they went to church, they . . . They loved you, too . . . They were good people . . ."

"They . . . They were good to me," Valerie whispered, more to herself than to her mother.  A million thoughts—half-formed, half-forgotten—raced through her mind in those seconds: the nights when she'd lay awake, wondering what her family was doing, why they hadn't written or called or visited . . . A thousand tears that she'd shed, only to berate herself afterward for her moments of weakness . . . and the gentle smile of the two people who knew her story and loved her, anyway . . .

"I'm sorry, Valerie," her mother rasped out, her hand extending, her fingers opening, closing around nothing: a weak gesture that spoke volumes.  "That was the family you deserved, and I . . . Your daddy and I . . . We couldn't let you go . . ."

Slowly, hesitantly, Valerie raised her eyes to meet Rhonda's, momentarily shocked at the trail of tears that smudged her mother's cheeks.  They were tears that Valerie understood, that she knew because she'd shed them, too, and the trembling smile that formed on her lips was heartfelt—maybe more heartfelt than any of the smiles that had surfaced before.  Reaching across the table, she took her mother's hand in hers, gave it a gentle squeeze.  "I'm sorry, too, Mama," she whispered.  "I'm . . . I'm sorry that I doubted you."

She didn't know how long she sat there, holding her mother's hand in hers.  The sound of the clock, ticking away the seconds, didn't register in her mind.  Oh, maybe those bitter thoughts, those memories, were still there, and she doubted that she'd ever truly forget them.  That was all right, though, wasn't it?  Because if she didn't have those lingering memories, how could she ever really appreciate the chance to make things right again . . .?

~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~= ~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~
'What Would You Do?' by City High originally appeared on the 2001 release, City High.  Copyrighted to Ryan Toby, C. Broadius, A. Young, B. Bailey, and Robby Pardio.
== == == == == == == == == ==
matsuri ------ WildCard2009 ------ RubyJewel ------ tashwampa ------ theablackthorn ------ Dark Inu Fan ------- monkeyseemonkeynodo
cutechick18 ------ indigorrain ------ lianned88 ------ sydniepaige -------- amohip ------ GoodyKags ------ reina q ------ KendallHearts ------ sueroxmysox ------- BlkbltVette
Thought from Evan:
Hey!  I got ditched this chapter …!
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.