FANFIC: House of Light – Morning Madness

A/N: The remainder of the story is going to take the form of a playlist or soundtrack of sorts.  The idea is that after Lux loses her vision, she finds comfort in and defines her life by what she is currently listening to, whether it be a radio show, a song, an audiobook, or something else.  Each one will serve as the foundation for its respective chapter, which will be titled to reflect that.

“It’s half past six.
And if you’re just waking up, screw you.
Ryan and I have been up since five.”

– Cate Cassidy

House of Light
1. Prologue
2. Morning Madness

“Good Morninggg, Porrtlaaannnnddd!”

That familiar radio wake-up call was what finally stirred Lux from her sleep.  For a while, she lay in bed without moving, allowing the remnants of last night’s dream to slowly melt away from her brain.  She hated unwelcome memories of the past.  They wormed their way into her dreams like nighttime intruders discovering a broken latch on a window, often bringing with them an intense visual clarity that would forever be absent from her present and future.

Reluctantly, Lux sat up and clicked off the radio, her senses adjusting to the waking world.  She retrieved her walking stick from the floor below her mattress and quietly made her way to the bathroom across the hall, with a change of clothes in her free hand.  Luckily, it was still summer.  Most of the girls didn’t wake quite as early, so a line for the toilets and showers had yet to form.  As it was, Lux spent far less time in the bathrooms compared to the others.  It wasn’t like she had any use for the mirrors that hung above the sinks, not anymore.

When she got back to her room, Lux heard the sound of someone sitting up in bed, the sound of bedsheets untangling.

“Lux, hey.”  From the center of the room, Tasha’s sleepy voice greeted her like an ever-present safety net, waiting to catch her if she fell.  Every morning, it reminded her how lucky she was to have her best friend here with her.

Lux sat back down on her own bed and set down her walking stick.  “Morning, Tash.”

“You sleep well?”

There was no point in telling Tasha the truth.  Frankly, she just didn’t want to think about it anymore.  “Yeah, sure,” she said instead.  “You?”

“About as well as I usually do in this place.”  Tasha was silent for a moment before clearing her throat.  “But listen, I was thinking.”

“Yeah well, don’t strain yourself.”  Lux replied, smiling to herself.

“Haha, very funny.”  Even if Lux couldn’t see it, she knew Tasha was making a face at her.  “Seriously though, you know, it’s less than a week till your sixteenth birthday—”

Just the sound of Tasha’s last word was enough to make Lux stiffen.  Other teenage girls looked forward to their birthdays and the milestones and parties and presents that came with them.  For her, the looming day was just a reminder of that night three years ago when everything changed, when the few good things in her life had toppled one by one like dominos.  Besides, she could see where this conversation was going.

“Not all that emancipation crap again,” Lux interrupted.  “How many times do I have to tell you to drop it?”

Tasha didn’t speak for a few seconds.  “I don’t get it,” she finally said.  “This is our last chance to get out of this hellhole, unless you want to wait two more years until we’re eighteen.  Don’t you at least want a hearing?”

“A hearing?  For what, so I can go make a fool of myself in front of all those people?”  Lux couldn’t believe that her best friend still didn’t understand why she didn’t want to do it anymore.  “They just turned you down last month.  Do you honestly think they’re going to approve me?  I can barely get around by myself.  I have no job, I have no real prospects.  I mean, who would hire me right now?”

“Lux, we’ve been over this.  You have lots of things.  You have a clean record.  You even have money saved up.  Your grades are better than mine…”  Tasha was grasping at straws.  “We’ve been talking about this forever.  I thought you wanted it as much as I did.”

In another corner of the room, she heard someone else grumble and shift in bed.  “Would you two shut up already?  Some of us are still trying to sleep!”

“Well, I don’t,” Lux told Tasha, lowering her voice.  They sat there in silence for what felt like a very long time.  “You better head to the bathroom before everyone wakes up,” she added finally, combing her fingers idly through her hair.  As far as Lux was concerned, this conversation was over.

“It can wait,” Tasha replied curtly.  She clearly wasn’t giving up.  “So even if there’s like the tiniest possibility that they will approve you, you won’t even try?  Is that what you’re saying?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.”  Lux felt around on the nightstand for her portable CD player and earphones before shoving them in her pocket along with her sunglasses and grabbed the walking stick from its spot next to the bed.

Tasha’s feet hit the floor as she dropped down from the top bunk of her bed.  “Where are you going?”

“I need some fresh air,” Lux said, her hand on the doorknob.  “Don’t follow me.”

* * *

On the porch right outside the building, there was bench where Lux liked to sit in the mornings.  It was half-hidden by the branches of a nearby tree, but spots of sunlight still came down through the spaces between leaves.  Although she could no longer see it, Lux would measure the brightness of each day by the strength of the sun shining on her face.  It was one of the best feelings in the world.

Placing an earbud in her right ear, she switched on the radio.  It was perpetually tuned to K100, so she never had to adjust the dial.  Immediately, the playful banter between the two morning show hosts, Cate Cassidy and Ryan Thomas, reached her ears through the airwaves, and she began to relax.  Over the past few years, their voices had become the everlasting constant in her life.  Throughout the unstable landscape of foster care, where girls were always floating in and out of group homes like ghosts, and living arrangements were always changing, Lux could always count on Cate and Ryan to be there, same time, same place, with the push of a button.

The show had started almost three years ago, shortly after she had left Valerie’s house.  She’d discovered it by accident one morning soon after that, and slowly the two talk jockeys grew to replace what Valerie had been to her: they woke her up from the darkness of night and brought light streaming back into her day.  Sure, Cate and Ryan didn’t know that she existed, and their bodies were physically on the other side of town somewhere, but their voices were what mattered.  And they were voices that never pressured her to do anything she didn’t want to do, they were voices that never argued with her, or called her a liar.  They were just there.

“If you’re just joining us on Morning Madness,” Cate was saying on air, “Ryan and I are in the middle of one of our favorite games: ‘Sex, Marry, Kill.’”

“That’s right, Cate,” Ryan confirmed.  “And I believe it’s my turn, so go ahead, give me your best shot.”

“Okay, well, I think we’re going to go with the Kates today.”  Cate’s voice took on a mischievous tone.  “You have Kate Winslet.  Kate Hudson.  And…Cate Blanchett.”

“Wait a second, are you seriously telling me that you’re giving me the Kates and Cate Cassidy isn’t one of my choices?” Ryan teased.

Lux knew that morning shows banked on the chemistry between their co-hosts, and that the connection was rarely a romantic one.  Even so, she often imagined that Cate and Ryan were secretly a couple in real life, not just partners on the radio.  And sometimes, although she had never admitted this to anyone, not even Tasha, she even fantasized that she was their daughter, that the three of them were a family.  So what if Portland was a big city, and Cassidy wasn’t exactly an unusual name?  Every once in a while she allowed herself the luxury to pretend that it was possible.

A large grin had just started to spread across her face when her daydream was interrupted by the sound of footfalls on the concrete steps leading to the porch.  They were uncertain and unevenly paced, “wandering steps,” as she had come to think of them.  They usually belonged to someone who was unfamiliar with the area, someone who wasn’t sure where they were going.  Sure enough, whoever it was tried to open the nearest door, which rattled but of course didn’t budge from the frame.  More footsteps followed, mostly in the same area.

Lux lowered the volume on her CD player.  “Are you lost?” she called out to the stranger from her spot on the bench.

“Oh, no.  I’m just—” A man’s voice.  Lux could tell that she had startled him.  “Actually, I’m not sure,” he admitted.  “I’m looking for Sunnyvale Home for Girls?”  His tone of voice changed as he presumably looked over and saw her for the first time.  One of the few perks of being blind was not being able to see the look of sympathy that passed over their faces when they first realized why you weren’t looking them in the eye.  With her shades on though, she wasn’t certain if he had figured it out yet.

“Well, you found it,” Lux said.  “You have to use the front entrance though, around that corner.”  She pointed in the general direction.  “They keep this door locked from the outside.”

“I probably should’ve figured that out,” he mused.  “Hey, thanks a lot.”  She heard his footsteps retreat, this time at a quicker, more confident pace than before.

After a few moments, the sound disappeared altogether, and Lux tried to return to the radio show but found herself unable to concentrate.  Cate and Ryan had apparently finished playing ‘Sex, Marry, Kill’ and were now debating the pros and cons of public marriage proposals.

She was only halfway listening.  Her mind kept returning to the porch guy.  From just the voice, it was impossible to determine his age.  If she had to guess, she would put him anywhere between fifteen and thirty-five, but that wasn’t narrowing it down much.  If it was on the younger end of the spectrum, maybe he was just some guy one of the other girls knew, but why would any of them want him to meet them here, of all places?  And if his age was on the older end, maybe he was a prospective foster parent, but that seemed strange, too.  Usually it would be a married couple, and they would come in together.

Lux sighed.  Why was she overthinking this?  Why did she even care?  All kinds of people showed up at Sunnyvale all the time for an unlimited number of reasons.  For months after her thirteenth birthday, the perpetual sound of approaching footsteps would actually cause her to freeze up, the way they had each night when she was living with Valerie.  Sometimes, it still happened, involuntarily: a sharp current of fear that ran through her body like lightning before fading just as quickly.  Even Trey had seemed nice enough when she first met him.  You never knew with people.

“And what happened to Tasha, anyway?” Lux muttered aloud to herself.  Yeah, she’d said, don’t follow me, but that was usually their code for “Give me fifteen or twenty minutes to cool off, and then come find me because I can never stay mad at you for long.”  They’d both been saying it for years.  Tasha knew that.  And now Lux had been sitting out here for over half an hour, at least.

Just then, as if in response, she heard someone push open the side door and step out.  “Tasha?  Speak of the—”

“Sorry, it’s just me,” she heard a familiar voice say, as the door shut again with a click.  “The idiot from earlier,” he clarified, walking towards her.  “Thanks again for pointing me in the right direction.  I owe you one.”

“No problem,” Lux said.  And like a knee-jerk reaction out of her control, she offered him her right hand, outstretched so that it was level with her face.  “I’m Lux, by the way.”

He gave her hand a firm shake.  “Eric.”  His palm felt surprisingly soft and smooth against hers, almost unnaturally so, like how she always imagined the skin of a baby would feel.  Pure and untainted, not at all like most of the men she had known over the years.  She let go.  “Lux, huh?” he commented.  “That’s an unusual name.  It’s Latin, isn’t it?”

She nodded.  “Yeah, it means—”

“—Light,” he finished.

“Right.”  Lux laughed, embarrassed.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to start rhyming.”

“Hey, don’t apologize for your great timing,” he said, laughing too.  “I loved Dr. Seuss when I was younger.  There was one book in particular I would read over and over again, every day.”  He named a title Lux didn’t recognize, but of course it rhymed, and she made a mental note of it.  “I always think of it when people start talking in rhymes.”

Lux smiled but didn’t say anything.  The air was actually cooler now than it had been before; he was blocking the direct sunlight from where he was standing, but she felt her cheeks growing hot.

“Shit, it’s almost nine.”  His voice broke the comfortable silence they had settled into.  “I’m sorry, I really gotta get going.”  He paused.  “Nice meeting you, Lux.”

“You too, Eric.”  She heard his footsteps again, this time descending down the stairs and along the pathway leading out into the street.  It wasn’t until the sound had blended into and gotten lost in the cacophony of nearby voices, chirping birds, and everyday traffic, that Lux realized she still didn’t know what he’d been doing at Sunnyvale in the first place.  Or whether he intended to come back in the future.

And when she thumbed up the volume dial on the radio, she discovered that the show was just coming to an end.  “…On that note, that’s a wrap for today, folks,” Ryan was saying.  “I’m Ryan Thomas, along with my clinically insane but moderately lovable co-host, Cate Cassidy.  Please join us again tomorrow, same time, same place, for more Morning Madness.”

3. Give Me Something (To Hold Onto)

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