InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Purity 9: Subterfuge ❯ Equilibrium ( Chapter 217 )

[ X - Adult: No readers under 18. Contains Graphic Adult Themes/Extreme violence. ]
~~Chapter Two Hundred Seventeen~~
~Equilibrium~


-Oo OoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO-

'Well, I never quite knew ...
'Where I stood with you
'And my safest bet
'Was to disconnect …'

-'On Your Side' by Thriving Ivory.

-Evan-


"So how'd you enjoy your first rock concert, ever?"

Kaci Lea ducked her head and scrunched up her shoulders in a shy sort of way despite the pinked cheeks and the still-dazed glassiness in her eyes.  As if she couldn't quite get over the things she'd seen and experienced in the last few hours, the girl seemed entirely overwhelmed as she toyed with the all-access laminate that hung on a bright purple nylon cord around her neck.  "It was unbelievable!" she exclaimed softly.  "It was . . . wow . . ."

Chuckling softly as he toweled his hair, still damp from the hasty shower he'd just taken, he did his best to tamp down the post-show restlessness that always reared up inside him, very mindful of the company he was currently keeping.  "You used the earplugs, right?"

She nodded quickly, shooting him a bright, if not somewhat shy, grin and dropped the laminate in favor of grasping the earplugs that still hung around her neck, connected as they were by a rubbery purple string.  "I didn't think I'd need them, but you were right.  I could hear everything just fine with them."

Evan dropped onto a folding metal chair beside her.  "Well, I don't think one show would've damaged your hearing, but I'd rather be safe than sorry."

The cell phone Evan had left on the dressing table nearby erupted in the ringtone that he reserved for Valerie, and he couldn't help the silly grin that surfaced on his features.  He reached over to nab the device as the door opened, and Garret stuck his head in.  "Hey, baby!  Just the woman I was getting ready to call!"

"Zel, the limo's here," Garret said, obviously not wanting to interrupt the phone call, but needing to pass along the information.  Hair still damp from his own shower, he was back in the same street clothes he'd worn to the venue hours ago.  Tapping his foot, his free hand thumping an imagined rhythm against his thigh, he seemed like he was having trouble coming down off the stage high just like Evan always did.  "C'mon, K," he said, jerking his head to indicate that she should follow.  He'd taken Evan's cue and opted to call both his sisters by the first letter of their names.  "I'll take you out the back way."

"I'll be right there," Evan called behind the departing siblings as the din of the backstage crowd was abruptly cut off with the closing of the heavy steel door.  "Wish you'd have come along, too," Evan ventured almost ruefully.  Sleeping in an empty bed tonight?  He heaved a longsuffering sigh.  "I miss you like you wouldn't believe."

Valerie's soft chuckle was like a balm on his nerves—and an all-too-welcome caress that made him grimace.  "Well, unlike some people, I don't have the time and luxury of running back to New York City, just to play around for a few days," she teased.  "Some of us have a wedding to plan . . ."

He grinned and grabbed his leather jacket off the back of a chair as he sauntered toward the door.  She knew well enough that the only thing that could possibly drag him away from Maine and the lighthouse he was struggling to get done was this kind of prior engagement that he simply couldn't get out of.  After all, the show at Madison Square Garden had been planned for months, and in a venue like that, one simply didn't cancel at the last moment unless it was of earth shattering importance.  "Do you miss me?  Just a little?" he pressed hopefully.

Valerie laughed.  "Oh, maybe just a little," she relented.  "How was the show?"

"Well, what do you think?  I was killer, of course!" he gloated.

"Of course you were," she agreed in what could only be described as a tolerant tone of voice.  "Is Kaci Lea enjoying herself?"

"Great show, Roka!" one of the techs hollered as Evan strode past.  Evan shot him a broad grin and kept going, ignoring the other shouts of congratulations as he went, offering a curt wave now and then to indicate that he'd heard anyone.

"She's having a great time," Evan assured her as he nodded at Mike and reached for the airlock door handle that led out of the arena.  "Bone said she barely said two words once the concert started—Did you know that she knows all the words to my songs?  Said she was blushing a little, but she sang along to every single one."

"Somehow, that doesn't surprise me," Valerie said dryly.

"So did you get much done today or did you spend the whole day, missing me?" Evan teased.  There was an eruption of screams, of catcalls as he stepped out of the building.  Though the crowds back here weren't as bad as they were in front, enough kids had managed to make it past the initial security barrier that additional teams had already been dispatched to keep them in check back here.

"I miss you," she agreed with a soft sigh.  "Sounds like your fans are calling, though.  Go spend a few minutes doing your thing, and you can call me later when can."

"All right," he agreed easily enough.  "I'll call you when I get back to the house."

"Behave yourself."

"Love you, baby," he said, lowering his voice and wishing he had time to say more.

"You, too.  I'll talk to you later."

Evan heaved a sigh when the connection ended since he honestly didn't want to hang up, didn't want to be cut off from Valerie's voice, but she was right.  Those kids had made him into Zel Roka, and he owed them, just as he always had.  Still, he didn't deviate from his course as he headed toward the limo, dropping his cell phone into his pocket.  The limo driver quickly and efficiently pulled the door open as he approached, and he leaned down to grin at Garret.  "Come on," he said, jerking his head toward the crowd of screaming kids.  "They want to see you as much as they want to see me."

Garret blinked and looked like he was going to argue with him.  Evan rolled his eyes and grabbed Garret's arm to pull him out of the limo before he could protest.


-Valerie-


Valerie stared at her phone for a long moment, the smile on her face not diminishing as she let out a deep breath and turned her gaze out the window at the velvet darkness that had fallen over the landscape.  Around the perimeter of the neatly manicured yard stood ambient little footlights that, during the day, seemed to fade right into the scenery so that they weren't actually noticed.  Those little lights seemed to twinkle, lending a friendly glow that was neither overpowering nor overstated.  They merely lightened the shades of darkness by degrees enough to dispel it without jarring it, either.  All in all, a lovely effect that she absently hoped that he'd employ at the light house when he had time to get around to considering the landscaping.

She couldn't quite wrap her head around how quiet it really was in the house whenever Evan was gone.  It made her feel lonely, almost unreasonably so.  It wasn't as if he made that much of a ruckus when he was home, either, but the feeling in the place—even resonating from the walls, it seemed—was so desolate, so somber, that it was hard to ignore.

'Stop that,' she told herself firmly, giving herself a mental shake and turning away from the window.  He was only going to be gone another couple days, and then he'd be home, so it wasn't a huge deal.  Besides, she knew, didn't she?  He was a busy man, and there would be many times when she wouldn't be able to travel with him.

He'd decided that he might as well stay in the city over the weekend since Garret was supposed to meet with Mike and the reps at Wicked Soundsations bright and early Monday morning to deliver the signed contract.  As predicted, there had been a number of labels vying to snare Garret, but in the end, Wicked Soundsations had offered the best deal from the start, allowing Garret a slightly larger share of any profits than was normal in a standard deal for a relatively unknown act, and no doubt attributed to his connection to Zel Roka and Mike.  After all, Zel Roka's name was the glitz and glamour, but everyone understood that Mike was most definitely the force behind the man—the one in the shadows who had enough business savvy to help propel the name and taking care of everything that should remain in the dark, allowing Zel Roka to do what he did best: to shine brighter than them all.  That same business-set-mind would guide Garret's future, too, which was really no small feat, considering that Mike didn't make it his business to focus on more than he could handle, which, at this point, only really included Evan and now, Garret, as well.

Still, Valerie didn't delude herself into trying to believe that all the attention Garret was garnering was solely because of his proximity to Zel Roka, either.  No, even if she were inclined to believe that, she knew damn well that no company—and that really was what Wicked Soundsations was: a company—would focus that much time and energy, and especially, the money that went along with it—in a product that they didn't fully believe could, in the end, make them even more money than they'd invested, and, while she hated to think of Garret in terms of being someone else's commodity, that was the truth of it all.  In Garret himself they saw the next generation of rock star, didn't they?  She'd even heard Mike say as much to Evan and Garret during one of their impromptu meetings last week while the plans were being finalized for this sojourn into the city.

She could only hope that none of it went to her brother's head, and, with a mentor like Evan?  She was even more hopeful that he would remain grounded.  If she had thought it once, she'd thought it a hundred times or more, worried that it would all be too much, too soon for the young and impressionable boy from the proverbial sticks.

Sighing softly as she set the phone on a nearby table and retrieved the now-tepid cup of tea she'd prepared before deciding that Evan's show was likely over and that she could certainly call him, just to hear his voice, Valerie slowly stepped back toward the sofa and the open portfolio that she'd carelessly left laying there.

Almost everything was done: at least, the big things.  Enough was finalized that she had felt more at ease than she had since she'd started planning this wedding, anyway.  Sometimes, she wondered if he hadn't given her such an impossible goal so as to keep her mind busy, to keep her from asking too many questions about his kind, about their lives, about what she could and should come to expect from her own.  At such times, she would spend a moment, wondering about it all, only to heave a sigh and shake her head and tell herself that she was just being ridiculous.  Even wouldn't do any such thing; there was no point in it, anyway, and then she'd glance back at the piles of flyers and brochures and heave yet another sigh as she slowly shook her head.

Oh, there were still a legion of things that still needed her attention and, ultimately, her decision, but the larger things were done, at least.  Today, she'd dragged her mother, Gin, and Madison along with her to make her final wedding dress selection, which had been the largest and most pressing decision that had concerned her.

Rhonda hadn't said much of anything, not to mention that she would never had spoken ill about any of them.  As before and despite Valerie's insistence that she really did want her mother's input on the plans, Rhonda simply didn't disagree.  As though she were afraid to speak against anything that might upset Valerie, she had only smiled and nodded, but when Valerie tried on the last dress, she'd known.  Maybe it was the way her mother had involuntarily sucked in a sharp breath, or maybe it was the quick, almost unnoted way she'd brushed a delicate finger across her bottom eyelid.  Valerie supposed that she might well have believed that Rhonda was simply brushing away an errant bit of something borne in the air if she hadn't noticed the heightened brilliance in her mother's eyes, and, though she said nothing and simply sat there, smiling, Valerie had known.

That was the dress.  From the moment she'd seen Rhonda's reaction, it didn't matter what anyone else in attendance had said.  The dress she would wear when she walked down the aisle to meet her husband for the first time would be the one that Rhonda chose, whether Rhonda realized it or not.

"Am I disturbing you?"

Snapping out of her reverie, Valerie broke into a welcoming smile as Rhonda stole quietly into the living room.  She still seemed to be quite nervous, despite having been reassured a number of times that she was absolutely to feel at home here.  Glancing at the clock on the predominant fireplace mantle, Valerie supposed that her mother had just finished getting Jack comfortable for the night, and she held out her hand to invite her mother closer.  "Is Daddy comfortable?"

Rhonda nodded and hurried over to sit beside her daughter.  "He's watching the news, but he said to get out of there and to come down and spend some time with you before bed," Rhonda explained with a decidedly nervous laugh.

"You never told me how his appointment went," Valerie pointed out as she headed for the open kitchen across the room.  "Tea?  Water?  Wine?"

"Tea would be wonderful, if it's not a problem," Rhonda replied, bracing her hands on the sofa cushion, as though she was going to get up to fetch her own tea.

Fluttering a hand to indicate that she should sit back down, Valerie made quick work of pouring two glasses of ice cold sweet tea and dropping in a good wedge of lemon into each one.  "House wine of the south, right?" she quipped, handing her mother a glass as she rejoined her on the sofa.

"Mm, this is really good," Rhonda commented after taking a long draught.  Then she sighed, though it was more like a breath and less of a mournful sound.  "As for the doctor, he says your daddy's doing real well.  He may not be getting better, but he isn't getting worse, either, thank God."

"Really?"

Rhonda nodded quickly.  "That man's determined to see you married, Valene—Valerie," she quickly corrected herself with a slight grimace.

Valerie wrinkled her nose.  "Call me whatever you want, Mama," she said with a smile.  Then she laughed.  "Just call me 'V', like Evan does."

Rhonda smiled, too, but after a moment, that smile subsided, and she slowly set her glass on the coffee table.  "I . . . I want to thank you for inviting us," she finally said, her voice barely above a whisper.  "You didn't have to, and I know that your childhood—"

Reaching out, clasping her mother's clenched hands in hers, Valerie cut her off with a gentle, albeit firm squeeze.  "You know that the person I am today is a direct result of the things that I've lived through, right?" she countered softly.  "Mama . . . I don't want to spend my life being angry or carrying around hurt feelings, especially when there were many things I never knew.  You're here because it's where you're supposed to be, right?  And what's the point of holding onto a past that might have been less than perfect?"  Shaking her head, answering her own question, she sighed and smiled at her mother.  "There isn't one.  I want you to be a part of my life, and being a part of my life means that I want you to tell me things, even if you don't think I'll like what you have to say."  Letting go of Rhonda's hands, Valerie reached for the nearest brochure and waved it at her to emphasize her point.  "Like the flowers, you know?  If you don't like certain ones or if you think that one type is prettier than another, I want you to say so."

Rhonda didn't look entirely convinced, but she nodded slowly.  "But your wedding day isn't about me, Val," she pointed out with a gentle, quivering smile.  "It's about you—the things that you want, that you prefer."

Again, Valerie shook her head.  "Mama, you're wrong," she countered softly.  "A wedding's about family—about creating a new family while celebrating the family that you've already got.  It's about joining two families into one."

She looked like she hadn't really thought about it in that way before, but as she considered what Valerie had said, her smile slowly brightened.  "Is that what you really think?"

Letting out a deep breath, Valerie nodded.  "Well, I'll admit, Evan said that to me the other day, and the more I considered it, the more I agree."  Then she made a face.  "Just please, for the love of God, don't tell him I said that or he'll never let me forget it."

Rhonda laughed, her hand lifting to flutter over her lips, as though the sound of her own amusement embarrassed her.  "You've got yourself a good man there," she remarked at length.  "It's not really fair, come to think of it."

"What's that?"

Rhonda sighed, and this time, it was a more wistful kind of sound.  "Mother-in-laws aren't supposed to like their son-in-laws, are they?  Leastways, your father's mama didn't like me too much.  She thought I was the devil, leading your daddy down the paths of sin and ruin."

Valerie's eyebrows lifted at that disclosure.  "You didn't do a very good job of ruining him," she mused.

Rhonda shrugged, as though it were of little consequence.  "I made my fair share of mistakes, too.  Don't you believe otherwise."

"Does Daddy agree?"

Taking her time, sipping her tea, Rhonda seemed to be considering just what she wanted to say.  Finally, though, she smiled again, her gaze glassing over, as though she were looking back into the past.  "He might not say so, but he'd have to agree.  I mean, I was such a baby when we got married.  Looking back now, I have to wonder just how we managed to keep it all together and not end up hating each other now."

"But you don't."

Rhonda snorted indelicately.  "That might change if he doesn't stop eyeing your future mother-in-law," she predicted darkly.

Valerie laughed.  She couldn't help herself.  She'd been close enough the first time that Jack had been introduced to Gin, and she'd found it amusing that he hadn't really been able to keep his eyes off Evan's mother.  He'd said later that he was simply trying to figure out how someone as tall as Evan had come out of someone as tiny as Gin.  When he'd met Bas, however, Jack had only been able to shake his head in complete wonder.  "He's just trying to figure out how she's their mother," Valerie pointed out reasonably.

Rhonda shook her head.  "Oh, no.  He told me that—and I quote—if he ever cheated on me, it'd be with her."

Try as she might, Valerie couldn't contain her amusement at that, either.  "And what did you tell him?  Cain's good looking, too, isn't he?"

Rhonda rolled her eyes and blushed a little.  "He is," she agreed reluctantly.  "Of course, that cousin—that Gunnar?  He's a pretty fine piece of work, too."

Valerie's mouth dropped open, and it took her a moment to realize before she snapped it closed once more.  In truth, she wasn't entirely sure what to think of that particular discussion.  Certainly, she had noticed before, just how good-looking that cousin was—at least, until he opened his mouth, or so it would seem.  Then she laughed and quickly shook her head.

"Wow," she said, still shaking her head.  "But he's kind of a jerk sometimes."

Rhonda laughed and held up her hands in her own defense.  "I didn't say I'd do anything," she reminded Valerie.  "Just that he was good-looking, is all."

Valerie got up to refill Rhonda's iced tea glass.  "Then I guess that's okay," she allowed as she strode over to the kitchen.  "I can't believe you two were talking about that," she went on.

"As your daddy likes to point out: we're not dead," Rhonda replied almost defensively.

Valerie smiled at her.  "I swear, Evan's family has the beautiful gene nailed down . . ."

Rhonda laughed again, then sat up a little straighter, her expression shifting into one of absolute concentration.  "Oh!  Have you heard from Evan tonight?  How are the kids, do you know?"

"Everything's fine," Valerie assured her as she handed back the glass and sat down once more.  "I called him just before you came in.  He said that Kaci Lea was having a great time and that the show was fantastic."

Rhonda didn't look like she could decide whether to be relieved or not.  "I still worry," she admitted.  "I know that Kaci Lea likes to think that she's a big girl now, but she's still so young, and there are a lot of things out there that could get a girl like her in trouble . . ."

"She's got a good head on her shoulders," Valerie told her calmly.  "Besides, between Garret and Evan, I highly doubt that anyone could get close enough to her to start any trouble—at least, the kind of trouble you're worried about."

Rhonda didn't look entirely convinced, but she nodded slowly.  "I hope you're right," she finally said.  "I'll feel better when they're back."

"They'll be home Tuesday," Valerie reiterated.  "Evan said he wasn't sure how long the meeting with Wicked Soundsations will take."

Rhonda nodded.  She knew all of that.  Still, she couldn't help but worry, and that was something that Valerie could definitely understand.  "They're fine," she stated once more, offering her mother a reassuring squeeze of her hands.  "Besides, it'll be good for Kaci Lea to get out, to do some things."

Rhonda sighed but nodded her agreement.  "I know, and I'm glad that she's getting a chance.  Hopefully, it'll cheer her up some."

Valerie grimaced inwardly but tried not to let her expression register her feelings, since she knew damn well that the reason that her sister was unhappy about being here in Maine had everything in the world to do with her.

Whether Rhonda sensed Valerie's emotions or if she simply realized just what was going through her head, she made a face.  "I didn't mean—"

"I was hoping that she'd be excited to spend some time on an extended vacation, so to speak," Valerie admitted.  "It's okay.  She doesn't really know me very well yet.  It'll all just take time; that's all."

"Of course," Rhonda hurried to say.  "She's just at that awkward age, you know.  She'll come around; you'll see."

Despite the determination in Rhonda's tone, she had distinct trouble meeting Valerie's gaze.  "You're right," Valerie decided, unwilling to allow her mother to feel guilty over Kaci Lea's behavior.

Rhonda didn't get a chance to reply when Valerie's cell phone rang.  She knew before she got up to retrieve it that the incoming call was Evan.  "I'd better take this," she said and shot her mother an apologetic smile.

Rhonda stood up and waved a hand, as though to hasten Valerie's movements.  "I'm going to go on to bed, anyway.  I'll see you in the morning, Val."

She waited until after her mother stepped out of the living room before connecting the call.  Hopefully, her mother would forget about their discussion by the morning.  The last thing that Valerie wanted was for her parents to end up in the middle of things.  She didn't want either Rhonda or Jack to try to smooth things over, and she had little doubt that they'd try.  No, the only real thing that could repair the rift between them was time, and, luckily for Valerie, she was in it for the long haul.


~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~= ~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~
A/N:
'On Your Side' by Thriving Ivory originally appeared on the 2010 release, Through Yourself and Back Again.  Copyrighted to Clayton Stroope.
== == == == == == == == == ==
Final
Thought from Valerie:
Let's hope he can stay out of trouble this time
==========
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.
~Sue~

Chapter 216
Chapter 218
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