Disclaimers: I think the characters are still mine (and Bertha's, of course). You may continue to borrow them for your own personal use (I won't ask) just as long as you return them fully bathed and with a pretty purple ribbon on their heads. Cause I like purple.
Sequel Alert: Well, this isn't really a sequel. It's more of a continuation of the same story but from a different perspective. So if you haven't read Alix then you probably won't have the slightest clue what's going on. Actually, even if you read Alix you might still have no clue what's going on. *points to Bertha* It was all her ... I had nothing to do with it ... unless, of course, you like it ...
Sex/Naughty Words/Violence: Yes there will most likely be sex, between two (or three or four .. no, just two) consenting adult women. If you're not 18 or live in a place where this sort of thing is illegal, or just have a problem with chicks getting it on .. well then ... away with you .. away, I say. Shoo. There will be some naughty words getting thrown around here and there, so if this offends you in any way, please forgive me. There might be some violence in this one. Nothing graphic or bloody or anything, because as always, I bring you loooooove ...
Content Warning: Valerie, the character as well as the story by extension, is a lot darker than Alix ever was ... but I'm trying to keep her/it as light as humanly possible giving the circumstances. Let me know if I succeeded. Also, fasten your seatbelts cause this is about to become a very bumpy ride.
Dedication: To Cindy, for helping me create Valerie, always supporting my insanity, giving me flat-out honest advice, and for threatening not to send me the hair buzzer if I didn't write more. Did you send it yet, huh?? And to Amber, for helping me sort through all of this madness. I would've had to be committed by now if it wasn't for you. Always remember ... the monkeys are listening
Feedback: You can send all comments, questions, e-Cards, gifts, marriage proposals, voodoo curses, and/or threatening letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please be kind ... rewind. And please don't kill me .. ::cries::
Oh shit!! I thought, my heart suddenly beating out of control as Alix's revelation reached my ears. I invariably swallowed as I waited for Jessica's reaction.
"What are you talking about?" Jessica asked.
There was silence and I leaned forward so as to not miss what was being said. Please don't decide to storm out of the room, I secretly pleaded.
"Alix " Jessica insisted, her tone bordering on impatience. "What are you talking about?"
"Hmm? What did I say?" Alix asked, innocently.
Jessica wasn't buying it. "Did you just say that Valerie's my sister?"
Alix laughed nervously. "Is that what you heard? Boy, Jess, you should really get your ears checked. What I said was that I really miss my sister. Don't know why. Momentary lapse of sanity, I guess. You know how it is. Are you hungry? I'm hungry. Let's get some food."
"I am two seconds from losing my tempter."
"Okay, okay," Alix conceded. "Umm look, Jess, there's something that you need to know but I can't be the one to tell you or explain it to you cause it's really not my place and so I think you should find Valerie and talk to her cause she could make a lot more sense than I would and she wouldn't be babbling on like I'm doing right now." Deep breath. "You know?"
"Alix, do you realize how frustrating you are?"
"Uh no .?"
"Whatever. Look, I'm gonna go," Jessica announced. "You're acting weirder than usual and quite frankly it's scaring me."
I glanced frantically around me, trying to find some way to hide. I should've made a run for it right then, but Alix's next words kept me glued to my spot.
"Are you going to give her the money?" Alix asked softly.
There was silence for a long moment, then Jessica whispered, "Do you really love her?"
A sigh. "Then I will."
My eyes burned with unshed tears and I felt my heart aching with emotions I couldn't decipher. I had to get out of there.
I heard Alix say, "Jess ?"
But I don't know what she said after that, because I ran as quietly yet as quickly as I could toward the end of the hallway, where I hid inside the stairwell. After a minute, I peeked around the corner to see Jessica's retreating back heading toward the opposite side. She disappeared down the stairs a moment later and I leaned back against the wall, and let out a breath I didn't realize I'd been holding.
I stood there for a while, enduring odd looks from people heading up and down the stairs. Then, when I could no longer justify my procrastination, I took a deep breath and abandoned my hiding spot. At Alix's door, I paused. Then knocked more confidently than I felt. I no longer had a plan of action. From here on end it was all improvisation.
I turned the handle, opening the door fully. Alix was sitting at her desk, her hands on the computer keyboard. She didn't glance up at me right away and I stood there awkwardly for a few seconds before her emerald eyes finally drifted up from the monitor.
She blinked a few times as though she couldn't believe she was really seeing me. "Hi," she said softly.
I shut the door behind me before turning my full attention back to her beautiful face. "Hi," I replied, lamely. "You're probably wondering why I'm here after I stormed out the other night "
"I wasn't sure I'd ever see you again," she admitted.
I leaned back against the door, for support I imagine. Her eyes had this amazing way of disarming me. It was unnerving yet enchanting all at the same time. "Did you want to see me again?"
"I'm not sure."
Well, at least she didn't say no, I thought dryly. "I just came to say goodbye," I lied, not sure why.
Her eyes reflected surprise. "Where are you going?"
"New York," I said without conviction. "Perhaps California. I'm not sure yet."
She nodded mutely. Then said, "Okay."
"Thanks for everything," I added.
I nodded. "Well, goodbye." I reached for the handle, waiting for her to stop
me. But she didn't. I opened the door. Then I shook my head and slammed the door closed,
turning back to Alix. "Look, I can't do this."
"Walk out of your life like that," I explained. "I can't do that." I ran a hand through my hair in frustration. "I need you to know a few things first."
Alix sat back in her chair, crossing her arms against her chest and staring up at me with a look I couldn't quite interpret. "I think I know everything I need to know," she told me.
"No. You don't." I glanced quickly around the room, trying to buy time. "Look, I know that I lied to you. There's no excuse for that and I can't expect you to forgive me. But if I walk out of that door right now, I'm going look back on this moment when I'm 80provided I live that longand wish on every star out there that I could go back in time and do this all over again. So I'm going to save myself the heartache and just say what I need to say. And if you still want me to walk out the door and never return, then I will."
I held up my hand to stop her. "Just listen." I took a deep breath then proceeded. "When I first saw you that night at the club, I nearly dropped the tray of drinks I was carrying. Alix, you were so beautiful and so not what I was expecting that I have no idea how I even managed to make my way to your table without stumbling all over myself. And I was so torn between wanting to ask you out just because I wanted to and wanting to run because I knew if I went through with my plan it would be you I'd be hurting and even more torn with the knowledge that I had to go through with it." I searched her eyes for some kind of reaction but she was just waiting for me to continue. "When you asked me if you could give me a ride home that night, I knew it was my chance to walk away from all of it. I could've refused and never seen you again. I could've figured out some other way to get the money from Jessica that didn't involve using anybody, but at the same time I couldn't bear the thought of never seeing you again." It was so hard to explain everything without mentioning Jade's involvement. But I wasn't going to drop that bombshell on her. No way. God, I'm such an asshole.
"Valerie, what are you trying to say?" Alix asked softly.
"I'm trying to say that" I'm totally in love with you. "I really did like you " Stupid, stupid coward!!
"Oh," she said, her eyes flashing with disappointment. She cleared her throat. "Look, I want you to know that I understand everything. And that there's no hard feelings." She nodded, more to herself than to me. "I do have one request, though."
My gaze flew to hers. "Anything."
"I want you to tell Jessica the truth."
Jessica. Of course. "I can't do that."
Alix rose to her feet. "Why not?" she demanded.
"Because there's too much at stake," I explained calmly. "You know what would happen if the media found out about this? All hell would break lose!"
"This isn't about the media!" Alix yelled. "This is about my best friend. She deserves an explanation, Valerie! And if you don't give it to her, I will."
"You owe her that much "
I sighed. She was right. I did owe Jessica an explanation. I owed her a lot more than an explanation. Resigned, I nodded. "Okay."
She seemed surprised I'd relented. "You'll tell her?"
No. No. No. Every fiber of my being was screaming against it, yet my mouth spoke the words, "I'll tell her."
Alix searched my eyes. "Do you promise?"
"Would you trust my promise?"
I almost smiled. "I promise." I took a deep breath. "Alix, I"
"Why is it so bloody hot" Jade saw me and stopped. She threw me a questioning glance but I had to ignore it before Alix suspected anything.
"I was just leaving," I announced. I glanced quickly at Alix, then excused myself, nodding politely at Jade as I exited the room.
Making a promise and keeping one are two totally separate entities, and I knew that the longer I prolonged telling Jessica, the closer I got to chickening out all together. I kept running the scene with Alix over and over in my mind as I drove back and forth in no particular direction.
"Would you trust my promise?"
One simple word and I was mush. She's got me pussy whipped and she doesn't even know it.
Three hours later, I finally found myself on Jessica's property. If I'd been nervous the last time, it was nothing compared to the marathon my heart was running at that moment.
Always on cue, the door opened as I ascended the steps to the entrance and Maurice informed me that Jessica was out by the pool. I was surprised he didn't take me there himself like he had last time. Instead, he simply pointed in the direction I was supposed to go and I headed off that way, willing my heart to slow down. I can't believe I'm doing this. I shouldn't be doing this. Why am I doing this?
I took a deep breath as I reached the pool deck. The pool came complete with a Jacuzzi and what appeared to be a small waterfall off to the side. It reminded me of one of those pools one finds in those expensive beach resorts.
A burst of female laughter caused my head to turn in the direction of the sound and I found its source a second later. Jessica was splashing water toward the general direction Mathew was at. Mathew, in part, was holding up a blue floatation device as a shield.
I stood there awkwardly for a few seconds, trying to decide on a course of action. Finally I decided that coming back some other time was probably a good idea. As I started to turn away, however, I was spotted.
"What are you doing here?" Jessica called from the edge of the pool.
Walking a few steps so I wouldn't have to yell too loud, I responded with, "I need to talk to you. It's important."
"And that's my cue," Mathew said, leaning over to kiss his new wife before exiting the swimming pool. He grabbed a towel from one of the lounge chairs and disappeared inside the house.
Jessica proceeded to pull herself up from the water, a puddle forming at her feet. She grabbed a towel and motioned for me to sit down. "I transferred the money, if that's why you're here."
I sat and stared up at her as she dried herself. "I'm not here about the money."
A dark brow shut up in silent question, and she paused in her actions. "Well?"
I shifted in my seat. "It's about my parents "
Jessica snorted and took a seat in the lounge chair next to mine. She hung the towel around shoulders and grabbed the bottle of water resting on the floor between us. As she uncapped the container she said, "Do they need money too? No-no .. let me guess, they were kidnapped by the mafia?" She laughed at her own sarcasm and took a long swig of the liquid.
I waited until she swallowed, not affected by her attempts to mock me, then said the only thing I could think of that might catch her attention. "Thomas and Leigh Michaels."
Jessica's expression changed from impassive, to confused, to something else I didn't understand. She stood up and threw the bottle of water as hard as she could. It landed somewhere in the pool. I wasn't looking at it though, my gaze was fixed on Jessica's and the anger I saw reflected there. "Who the hell do you think you are?" she yelled, so many emotions shining through her words that I couldn't begin to separate them.
Jessica blinked a few times, as if trying to comprehend the meaning behind my words. "You're trying to tell me that you're Thomas and Leigh Michaels' daughter?" she asked, and I could tell she was trying to remain calm.
"My name is Valerie Michaels Skye," I began, "I know"
"Stop," she said, holding up her hands. "What is that you want from me?"
I opened my mouth to respond but nothing came out.
"Do you want more money, is that it?" Jessica asked. "How much to keep you quiet?"
I narrowed my eyes in confusion. "Quiet? I"
Jessica was laughing nervously as she paced. "It was only a matter of time before this got out. Shit." She turned back to me, her unreadable mask firmly in place. "How did you find out about it? Must have taken a lot of research. Man, you're a sneaky bastard."
Something was totally wrong with this picture and I couldn't even begin to fathom what the hell she was talking about. Did she lose her mind? "Research?"
She rolled her eyes. "How much do you know? The whole thing?"
"Well .. yeah but I"
"Okay, let's cut some kind of deal," Jessica said. "Name it and it's yours."
I blinked a few times and it started to dawn on me that she wasn't believing me on the whole daughter issue. She thinks I'm a fucking reporter or something. "I'm not a reporter," I told her firmly. "I don't want anything from you. I just thought you should know that well, that I'm your si"
"NO!" she yelled. "I am of no relation to you, do you understand that?!" She continued to pace, and I could tell she was starting to panic.
God, this was such a bad idea. How did I expect her to react? Damnit! I rose to my feet though I wasn't entirely sure that I could be anymore useful that way. "Jessica, you have to listen to me"
Her eyes bore into mine. "I don't have to do anything."
Sighing, I reached into my pocket and withdrew the only thing I could think of that would serve as evidence: my birth certificate. I placed it on the lounge chair I'd been sitting on. "I can't force you to believe me, but I can prove it to you. Keep that. You can have it checked out if you don't think it's real." I stared into her eyes sadly. "I don't want anything more from you, Jessica. Thanks for all of your help, regardless." I turned around and walked away. Not looking back.
"I have no idea how you did it," Chris said, laughing, sitting back in her office chair. She was dressed in a silk kimono which did little to conceal the fact that she had nothing else underneath. I doubted that was coincidental. She held up her hand to stop me in case I was about to speak. "And I don't want to know," she added, rising to her feet.
My patience was wearing thin. I'd reached my apartment from Jessica's to find a message from Chris. The money had been transferred. Mission accomplished. Relief and regret hung over me like a cloud during the entire drive to Chris's mansion. I could barely stand to stay in my own skin. And now I was being forced to stand there listening to Chris babble on. "When will Aaron be released?" I asked, impatience winning out.
Chris lit a cigarette and offered me one. I refused and she shrugged. "You sure have gotten boring." She placed the lighter back on the desk and stared at me inquisitively. "You don't seem particularly happy."
"Just let me take Aaron home," I said, and hoped I didn't sound as whiny to her as I did to my own ears. "You've got the money."
"Touch-y," Chris drawled, flicking the cigarette on the ashtray. She leaned against her desk. "What are you going to do about your hair?"
"Chris " I began, impatiently.
She laughed. "It's so much fun to toy with you, Valerie," she admitted and returned to her seat behind the black desk. To my surprise, she turned serious. "You know, they wanted me to kill him anyway."
My heart leapt up my throat at the thought.
Chris winked. "Don't worry though. He'll live." She stared into my eyes. "We're even now, understand? No more favors."
"Don't worry," I assured her, "you'll never see me around here again."
Chris glanced me up and down for a moment, not bothering to disguise her appraisal. "I wouldn't mind seeing you around here all the time. Your brother however, must leave Florida. I can't protect him once he's off my property and the truth is, that they want him dead."
I nodded my understanding.
"He knows all of this, of course," Chris continued. She paused for a moment. "I suppose it would be out of the question if I would ask for you to come work for me again?"
In spite of my awful mood, I nearly laughed. Instead, I gave her a look which I hoped conveyed exactly what I thought of that proposition.
"Okay, I'll take that as a no." Chris put out her cigarette and rose once more. "He's free to go. You know where he is." She started to walk away, then stopped and turned back to me. "Take care, Val."
I watched her walk away, until I no longer had an excuse to stand there. Then I headed down to the dreaded basement.
"Aaron?" I called. I found him at his usual spot on the mattress, looking like he was in desperate need of a shower and a decent meal. "Are you all packed?"
He stared up at me in surprise. "You mean ?"
"I got the money. You're free."
He was on his feet at once, hugging me so tightly I couldn't even breath. "Aar" I coughed.
Letting up on me, he laughed through his tears. "Oh God, Val. Thank you so much. I thought for sure I was gonna die in this place."
"Hey, I thought you said I could do anything," I complained.
"And I was right!"
I rolled my eyes. "Come on. Let's get you home and into the shower. You smell like crap."
"So," I started, eying my brother curiously as he proceeded to consume his third serving of Chinese food. "Hungry much?"
He grunted a response.
I sat back on the chair, watching him silently for a minute. I couldn't believe he was sitting at my kitchen table, shoveling away at pork fried rice like nothing had happened. No apologies. Nothing. "What are you going to do now?"
Aaron wiped at his mouth with a napkin and shrugged, his gaze never rising from the plate of food in front of him. "I'm leaving for Brazil tomorrow afternoon."
Somehow I managed to hide my surprise. "Brazil? Why Brazil?"
"Just feel like getting in on some tourist action, seeing as I've got to leave the state anyway," he answered, and I could tell he was hiding something.
"The state, Aaron, not the continent," I reminded him, though I didn't think I needed to. "Why Brazil?" I asked again.
He finally put down his fork and gazed up at me, his blue eyes troubled. "Look, Val," he began, and I could sense that I wasnt going to like what he was about to say, "I have some business I have to take care of down there. I don't want to involve you any further into my affairs. So let's just leave it at that." He resumed his meal without further commentary.
"Aaron " I warned.
"Don't worry, sis. You won't ever have to worry about me again."
"Yeah that's what I'm afraid of," I mumbled under my breath. "Will you promise to stay out of trouble and keep in touch .. and not do anything crazy ?"
Aaron laughed. "I promise."
Did I believe him? Not even a little bit.
"So," he said, raising the bottle of beer to his lips, "what's been going on with you?"
"What's been going on with me?" I asked incredulously. "Aaron, how can you ask that when you know perfectly well I've been doing nothing but trying to get your stupid ass out of the mess you got yourself into."
"Geez, chill out, sis."
I was this close to strangling him. "Do you have any idea what I have gone through the past few weeks?" I nearly yelled. "Worrying about what they were doing to you, about what they would do to you if I didn't get the money in time. I've barely slept in ages, Aaron, and all because you had the brilliant idea of stealing a hell of a lot of money which seems to have disappeared off the face of the planet! And now you want to scamper off to South America to do God-knows-what, which will probably get you either killed or thrown in jail. And the part the infuriates me, is the fact that none of this seems to have phased you at all!"
Aaron gazed at me curiously for a moment as if trying to analyze my outburst. He took a swig of his beer, calmly, as if nothing I had said had penetrated the lump on his neck he liked to call a head. "PMS?" he guessed.
"UGH!!" I yelled, frustrated beyond words. "I'm going to bed before I kill you myself." I stomped over to my room and slammed the door shut. Loki lifted her head from her spot on the bed. "Sorry," I apologized to the dog. "He just gets me so mad, you know?" She blinked in understanding, and I walked over to the closet to get changed. One boot flew in one the direction, banging noisily against the wall. I glanced quickly at Loki. "Hey, dont look at me like that." The other boot followed suit. "Okay. Okay. I admit this has more to do with Alix then it does with his moronic attitude."
I replaced my blue jeans with a pair of black Karate pants and headed toward the bed. Joining the puppy, who, truth be told, looked quite bored with my attempt at a conversation, I settled on top of the comforter and stared thoughtfully at the wall. "I can't believe this is over," I muttered to no one in particular. "And now Jessica knows. That's if she chooses to believe me. I wouldn't be surprised if the FBI knocked down my door and had me arrested for harassing the Queen."
As if on cue, I heard the faint sound of a knock on the door. I frowned, glancing at the time. It was nearly one in the morning. "Who the hell ?" I wondered out loud, rolling out of bed.
I got the door to my room open in time to hear Aaron say, "Damn, you're hot! Tell me you're here for me."
Rolling my eyes, I was about to step out into the hall, when I heard Alix's voice respond with, "Ah, sorry. Is Valerie home?"
Alix. I glanced questioningly at Loki and she looked back at me as if to let me know she had nothing to do with it.
"She's sleeping," Aaron answered. "Can I be of service in any way?"
I'm going to kill him. Totally kill him. I stepped out of the room, trying desperately to calm my heart. What is she doing here? I kept wondering. When my eyes focused on her, I very nearly tripped right over my tongue. Instead of her baggy attire, she was now clad in a velvet green evening gown that clung quite tightly to her every curve. Oh my gentle Jesus I swallowed hard.
Unsurprisingly, it was Aaron who broke the silence. "Wow, talk about sexual tension," he said. "I'm out of here. Don't wait up." He chuckled, and exited the apartment, closing the door behind him.
Alix reached down and took off her high heels, then threw them aside. "I nearly killed myself on the stairs," she joked.
Clearing my throat, I attempted to speak, but failed.
"Jessica had a thing at her mansion tonight," she said by way of explanation. "And I had to go. Well, I didn't have to go. It's not like my life depended on it or anything. I probably would've chosen to die, had that been the case. But she convinced me and then I was thrown into this thing and well " She shifted uncomfortably. "Please stop looking at me like that "
"I'm sorry," I said, finding my voice somehow. "You look great," I added, thinking that was a horrible understatement. My God she's gorgeous. "So.. umm ?" That's right, Val, stick to monosyllables. "Do you want to sit down?" I asked.
She nodded as she moved toward the couch. "My feet are killing me." She glanced at the door then back at me. "Why is it that every time I come here, someone different answers the door?"
Her tone was teasing and I was surprised. "I'm sorry about him," I apologized, taking a seat on the table in front of the couch. "He was dropped on his head as a baby."
Recognition flashed in her eyes. "Was that your brother?"
"In the flesh," I responded, not really wanting to get into the subject.
She seemed to sense this. "I'm glad that he's okay." She looked down for a moment before continuing. "I came to thank you."
My brows furrowed in confusion. "For what?"
"For telling Jessica the truth," she answered. "I know I said I believed your promise, but truth be told, I half expected you to skip town."
This admission sent a pang of sadness through my heart. She doesn't trust you. Then the more logical part of my brain responded. Can you blame her? "I keep my promises," I told her. "Specially to you."
"Are you really leaving?"
I stared into her face, feeling my heart break in two. "I'm not sure I have reason to stay," I responded, wishing beyond words that she'd give me a reason.
"Well, I just thought since you told Jessica and everything that you'd stay and try to work things out with her."
Her words tore through me like a knife through my heart. Jessica. "Look, I promised you that I would tell her. So I told her. You were right, if nothing else, she was owed an explanation. But I have no intention of spending any more time in her company."
"But you can't just drop a bombshell like that on her lap and disappear from her life," Alix argued.
I stood, feeling frustrated. "What is it you want from me?"
"I don't know," Alix said, equally frustrated. "Jessica hasn't had family in so long she doesn't say anything, but I know it hurts her. And then you come along with so many answers and she needs you, Valerie "
I felt tears sting my eyes and I fought them back. "You're asking too much, Alix."
"Why? She's your sister .. you should"
"The answer is no," I responded firmly.
"Because I'm in love with you!" I blurted out. "And you're still in love with her. And I couldn't bear to be constantly reminded of that fact."
She stared up at me, stunned.
Good job, Val. That was a hell of a performance. Way to be dramatic. I mentally sighed. But damn if it isn't the truth. "Alix"
"No. It's okay," she said, standing. "You don't have to say another word." She made a grab for her shoes and walked over to the door. " At the doorway, she turned around. "Thanks for telling her," she said again. Then walked out.
I stared at the closed door, wondering what the hell had just happened. Resigned, I walked back into my bedroom and carefully shut the door. Loki once again stared at me. "I really hope you're straight," I told the puppy. "Cause women, are just .. insane."
The next morning I stepped into the kitchen to find Aaron at the table, sipping a cup of coffee and scanning the Miami Herald. I walked over to pour myself a cup as well. "When did you get in? I didn't hear you."
"Late," he responded. "Or early, depending on your point of view." He winked at me and focused his attention back on the paper.
It's simply mind boggling. "You do realize that you were probable fish food not twenty-four hours ago?"
The paper was put down and blue eyes rose slowly to meet with mine. "Which is why I've decided to live life to its fullest." He rose to put his empty coffee mug in the sink and turned to kiss my cheek, before reclaiming his seat. "Speaking of which, where's that hot little number you had in here last night? Still sleeping?"
I sat down across from him. "I wouldn't know."
Confusion branded his features as he gazed at me. "You mean she's gone already? Damn, sis, I didn't think you kicked them out of your bed that fast."
Patience was not something I'd awakened with that morning. However, I willed myself to breathe in and out and focus away from any homicidal tendencies. "I didn't kick her out. She was never in my bed."
"Straight?" he asked hopefully.
He frowned. "Then what's the problem? Did you see those legs? Wow " He grabbed at his chest. "Be still my heart."
Thankful that there were no sharp utensils within easy reach, I said, "I don't want to talk about it." Then to make my point, I changed the subject. "What time's your flight?"
"Anxious to get rid of me already?" he teased.
"Curious, as to when it is that I have to drive you to MIA."
"Never, actually. I've scheduled a ride with a limo service. You don't have to worry about a thing."
"You know, every time you tell me not to worry about something, the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end."
Aaron laughed soundly. "You're cute, sis."
"Right." I nodded to the paper. "Are you done with that?"
He slid it across the table. "Since when do you care about Florida news?"
"Since right now," I told him, staring down at the newspaper with mild interest. At least it gave me something to do besides having to partake in conversation with my brother. I really wasn't in the mood. And yet my mouth couldn't keep quiet. "You didn't answer my question."
"What time is your flight?" I repeated.
"It's in two hours," he replied, almost regretfully.
"So soon?" Yes he was a pain in the ass, but that didn't mean I wanted him gone already.
Aaron sat back in the chair, his arms across his chest. He was wearing a suit I'd never seen before. I didn't even want to think where he'd gotten the money to buy that. "Was that the girl you are not in love with?"
I frowned at his change of subject. This was how it had always been with us. We kept switching back and forth between subjects the other didn't want to discuss. It was like verbal ping-pong. I had no idea how to answer his question. So I didn't.
He chuckled. "You should've seen your face last night. Your tongue hit the floor. Not that I blame you one bit."
On second thought, it was probably a good thing he was leaving so soon. I wasn't sure he would live very long if he were to stay in my presence.
Aaron suddenly turned serious, as if it finally occurred to him that I was not the least bit amused by his teasing. "Hey, Val, I'm sorry. I'll stop." He paused for a moment. "You should tell me what the problem is, maybe I can help."
"You can't help."
"Well then at least I can listen," he replied earnestly. "I know I can be a total asshole at times, but you can always count on me to lend a friendly ear."
Had I not been so depressed, I would've smiled. Then I sighed. "I lied to her. She hates me. The end."
"I see," he said. "Well, it's none of my business, but if she hates you so much, why did she show up at your apartment at one in the morning wearing that?"
I stared down at a random picture on the newspaper for a moment. I don't remember what picture it was, nor what the heading of the article read. I didn't look up when I said, "She just wanted to thank me for keeping a promise. She'd stopped by on her way home from some .. 'thing'."
"Look, she's Jessica Heart's best friend," I stated flatly. "I used her to get the money. She's not happy about it. Now drop it."
Aaron stared at me for a long moment, then he said, "So it's my fault."
I looked at him sadly. "It's not your fault. It's mine. I'm a total idiot."
"Ouch," he said. "You must be really upset. That's the first time I've seen your self-esteem waver." He was silent for a second. "Do you love her, Val?"
"Yes," I replied softly, too tired to deny it.
"Does she know?"
He seemed thoughtful. "Does she love you?"
I paused, remembering what Alix had told Jessica the day before. "She's never told me."
Aaron stood, then walked over to me and wrapped his arms around my shoulders, resting his cheek against my head. "I'm really sorry, sis. It may not seem like it, but I am."
I rose, too so I could give him a proper hug. "Please stay out of trouble, Aaron," I said, holding him tightly. "I really have no interest in flying to Brazil."
He laughed softly. "I will do my best." He kissed my cheek and let go. "I should get going."
"Already?" I glanced at the time. It was almost noon.
"Yeah, I have some things to take care of before my flight," he announced, moving toward the door. He paused before exiting. "I love you, you know?"
"I know. I love you too."
He smiled brightly and winked. Then he was gone. And the emptiness that swept through me at that moment nearly knocked me off my feet.
Fighting back tears, I headed back into my room to get changed for work. It hit me at that moment that I'd finally gotten my life back.
And I didn't have the slightest idea what to do with it.
"Two Gin and Tonics!"
Orders flew at me from all directions and I quickly moved behind the bar to get them done as quickly as possible. I poured gin into two highball glasses filled with ice, then filled the contents with tonic water. "Two Gin and Tonics?" I yelled, over the music and the crowd. A pair of hands shot out from the masses of sweaty bodies and gave me the money in exchange for the drinks.
I moved on to the next order.
Time flew by as it always did on nights that were busy. I'd been at work since two in the afternoon and Whispers had gotten progressively busier. I'd totally lost track of time, and though my shift was supposed to end at eleven, I was willing to stay there until closing. Anything to keep my mind off of my chaotic existence.
Eventually, the crowd at the bar dispersed slightly and things calmed down a bit, allowing people to sit on the stools and enjoy their drinks without getting pummeled by the masses.
I cringed internally at the sound of her voice, then turned around to gaze into the familiar brown eyes of Robin Graham. "Hey," I said, wishing someone would order a drink so I wouldn't have to stand there and hold a conversation with this woman.
"Rough night?" she inquired, leaning back against the bar so she could face me.
I shrugged noncommittally. Ever since her little kissing spree I'd made sure to keep a safe distance from her.
She pursed her lips and smiled. "I thought maybe you wanted to step out for a cup of coffee or something after your shift is over." She glanced at the neon blue clock on the wall. "Which will be in about fifteen minutes."
"No thanks," I said, hoping she'd get the hint.
A short guy with glasses approached the bar. "Can I have a Snowball please?"
Thankful for something to do, I moved about getting the ingredients. Gin Anisette light cream shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Voila. I placed the drink in front of him and grabbed the money from his hands. "Have a good night," I told him. Much to my dismay, Robin was still there. "Shouldn't you be tending bar or something?" Robin worked in a different section of the club. I tended the main bar, she took care of one of the smaller ones.
"I got off at ten-thirty," she commented. "Want to get something to eat instead?"
I rolled my eyes.
"Why do you hate me so much, Valerie?" she asked, seriously.
"Why?" I asked incredulously. Was it possible to be surrounded by so many ignorant people at the same time? Apparently so "You left me! No explanation. No note. No 'Sorry to throw away the past year but I'm sick of Florida.'"
"You knew I was leaving. I asked you to come with me."
"And you knew I wasn't going to leave!"
She held up her hands. "Look, let's not discuss this here."
"I'm not discussing this anywhere, Robin," I told her. "It's over." I glanced at the clock. Five more minutes. Suddenly I wanted nothing more than to get back to my apartment.
"Fine," she said gruffly. "Have a nice life." She stormed off and I breathed a sigh of relief. My replacement arrived a minute later and I headed home.
Back in my apartment I stared at the contents in my refrigerator. Then my freezer. I settled for some weird frozen lasagna concoction that I hoped didn't bite and sat down on the couch. I turned on Labyrinth. The movie always made me feel better.
Half an hour into the movie, there was a knock on the door. I frowned to myself, as I hit stop on the VCR.
I paused with my hand on the handle, suddenly worried it was someone coming for my brother. I glanced around for something I could use as a weapon should that be the case but didn't see anything. I made a note to keep a bat by the door from now on. "Who is it?" I called.
There was a pause, then, "It's Jessica."
I blinked a few times as I recovered from the shock, then threw the door open. Jessica was standing in my doorway, holding my birth certificate in one hand. She wasn't quite looking at me. "Come in," I said.
She entered and looked around for a moment. I felt a bit embarrassed about the size of my apartment. It was small by normal standards. It must have looked like a cardboard box to her. Jessica stared down at the paper in her hand. "You were telling the truth," she said.
I closed the door and leaned back against it. "I know."
She handed the certificate back to me. "I came to return it. You might need that."
"Thanks," I said, feeling incredibly awkward. "How'd you know where I lived?"
"Alix told me," she answered. "I hope you don't mind my showing up like this? I came by earlier but you weren't here."
"I don't mind," I responded. "Would you like to sit down? Care for a drink?"
"No thanks," she said.
An awkward silence settled between us. I had no idea what to say, and I doubted she did either. I took a moment to study her. She looked like she hadn't slept much, but she looked beautiful as always. She was wearing a pair of black Levi's and a blue tank top. Her gaze wandered briefly over my apartment until finally, it settled on my own.
"I'm not entirely sure what to say," she admitted.
"Look, I just want you to know that I don't expect anything from you," I assured her, feeling like I had to for some reason. The last thing I wanted was for her to think any less of me than she already did. I don't know why, but that mattered to me. "I just thought that you deserved to know the truth."
"Plus Alix made you promise," she said.
I smiled slightly. "Yeah, that too."
She nodded. "Yeah, she told me she pretty much had to force you."
So she knows I went to see Alix. I wondered what else Alix had told her, but kept the question to myself.
"This is kind of .. overwhelming," she said. "How long have you known?"
I shrugged. "Really long time, actually. It's been a subject of discussion around my house for a long time."
"Does anyone else know?"
I thought about it. "My brother, Alix That's about it. It's never been anyone's intention to make it public knowledge."
I shifted uncomfortably. "Because, Jessica. You're their daughter. They gave you up cause they knew you'd have a better life with the Hearts than with them. Mom was only seventeen."
"I'm sure the twenty million dollars didn't hinder the decision any," she said, more than a little bitterly.
This I couldn't argue with. "Look, I'm not going to defend them," I said. "It's not my place to do so."
She nodded, looking a bit flustered. "Listen, I actually came to talk to you about Alix."
I stared at her expectantly, not sure where she was going with this. Was she going to yell at me for seeing her after I'd promised I wouldn't?
"I wanted to let you know that I don't want to intervene in your relationship," she said. "And I'm sorry that I used the money as collateral for doing so. Whether or not you see her shouldn't be up to me. And I know you know that, but I wanted you to know that I I'm sorry for attempting to blackmail you like that. It wasn't .. right."
To say I was surprised was putting it mildly. "You had a right to be concerned. I know I would've been had the roles been reversed."
"You came all the way over here to tell me that?" I asked softly.
"And to give you that back." She motioned to the paper in my hand. "Anyway, I better be going."
I opened the door so she could pass through.
"Thanks for telling me," she said sincerely, yet sadly at the same time.
I simply nodded and watched her walk away. Turning back to my empty apartment I wondered how it was possible to have so many important people in my life and yet be totally alone
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