FANFIC: House of Light – Give Me Something

And I’ve made a million wishes now
but not a single one’s come true
Please, give me something, something to hold onto
Give me something that links me to you
– Scars on 45

House of Light

1. Prologue
2. Morning Madness
3. Give Me Something (To Hold Onto)

I spent most of my early childhood in and out of hospitals, but I’ve never been in an ambulance before.  When you’re a kid, they seem like they might be exciting until you’ve actually been in one, and then you remember where they’re taking you, where you’re going, and you remember that no one gets into an ambulance unless their world is about to change, and usually not for the better.

On the way to the emergency room, we hit bumps and dips in the road.  Each one sends a jolt throughout my body and each one feels altogether unfamiliar even though I’ve probably traveled these streets a hundred times.  It hits me that I might have to get used to this.  That whatever happened tonight is permanent and I’ll never again look out the window like any normal person and be able to see where it is I’m going or what it is I’m leaving.


Inside the ambulance, the EMT rolls up the sleeve of my nightshirt and measures my blood pressure.  “This’ll just take a minute, sweetheart,” a voice above me says.  “Don’t be scared.”  I feel the armband slowly tighten around my bicep like a vice, or maybe like a hand, right where he sometimes grabbed me to keep me where he wanted me.  No one asks about the finger-shaped bruises.  They don’t say, “Well now, how did you get these?”  I remember where he grabbed both my wrists earlier that night—though so much has happened tonight that it seems like days ago—and I wonder if the marks have begun to show.  Valerie crouches beside me during the whole trip, holding my free hand in both of hers.  And he stays at home, presumably in their bedroom, where he’s been hiding since I came to.  I haven’t seen him since he threw me down the stairs.  Well, I guess I haven’t seen anyone since then.  I wonder what he told Valerie about the gash on his head.

[ * ]

The next day, an MRI scan shows that I suffered a stroke.  The doctor discusses the images on her screen with Valerie while I sit in a chair, fingering a bare thread that is unraveling from my sleeve.  I catch the phrase “cortical blindness” along with a bunch of technical medically stuff I don’t bother trying to understand.  Apparently it has something to do with the condition I was born with, the hole in my heart they had to repair.  It was the reason I spent all those years in the hospital when I was younger.  It was reason I was never adopted in the first place.

When the doctor asks what exactly happened the night before, Valerie is quick to answer.

“Doctor, I feel awful that I wasn’t there.  She tripped and fell—”

The doctor cuts her off.  “Mrs. Gilbert, please wait.  I promise that you will have every opportunity to speak later, but right now I want to hear what Lux has to say.”

I’m silent for a few seconds, wondering what kind of story she expects to hear.  I know this is my chance to come clean.  I know it’s my chance to let out the monster of truth that has been tugging at the corners of my mouth for months.  I also know that the words won’t come, not today.

“Go on, Lux, I’m listening,” the doctor prods gently, an encouraging tone in her voice.  She places a reassuring hand on my knee.

I take a deep breath and the lie tumbles out as naturally as ever.  “Like Valerie said, I tripped over my own feet.  I fell head first down the stairs.  It was stupid.”  What’s stupid is saying what I’m saying.  I feel angrier with myself than I have been in a long time.

“And has this kind of thing happened before?” she asks.  “Do you have a history of ‘tripping over your own feet,’ as you say?”

“Well, Doctor, I don’t really think—” Valerie starts to say, but once again, the doctor silences her.

“Not yet, Mrs. Gilbert,” she warns, and the two of them sit and wait expectantly for my answer.

“No,” I finally say.  “I don’t.  It was just a freak accident.” I’m actually glad I can’t look her in the eye, even if I wanted to.  If I could, she would know for sure that I’m liar.

_________________________

“Hey Lux, you still with me?”  A hand reached out to brush a wisp of hair away from her face and tuck the loose strands behind her ear, the intimate gesture effectively interrupting Lux’s daydream.

“Sorry, I spaced,” she managed to say.  “I’m here now.”  It took Lux a few moments to realize where exactly that was.  What day it was.  Her sixteenth birthday.  This year, it fell on a Sunday, which happened to be the only day of the week that the Morning Madness show didn’t air on the radio.  The day had already started out feeling incomplete, like an integral piece of the puzzle was missing, when their boyfriends arrived outside Sunnyvale at noon to give them a ride back to their apartment.

“Where were you just then?” Bug asked softly, his lips brushing against her ear.  The springs of his mattress groaned from below as he sat down beside her.

Lux forced a quick smile in his direction.  “Nowhere.”  He must have known that wasn’t exactly true, but he let it go.  Lux loved that about him.  She loved that he understood her, that the four of them—Tasha, Bug, Gavin, and herself—were the same.  They all had moments in their pasts that cast a shadow over their present.  They all had parts of themselves they’d rather not talk about.

Instead, Bug placed a small, flat package in her hands, and she ran her fingers over its haphazard wrapping.  “That isn’t your real present,” he said.  “Just something I thought you’d like.  Go on, open it.”

“Shouldn’t we wait for Tasha and Gavin to get back?” Lux protested.  As soon as they had all arrived at the apartment, the two of them had promptly left again, whispering about some mysterious errand they needed to take care of.

“They won’t mind,” he insisted.  “They both know what it is.”  The entire bed had begun to tremble ever so subtly and Lux knew Bug must have been jiggling his leg up and down, something he only did when he was nervous.  She reached out a hand to steady it.

“What’s going on?” she asked, concerned.  “Why are you shaking?”

“Nothing.  I’m not.”  Bug’s bare thigh froze abruptly under her palm.  “Just open the present, will you?”

Lux sighed.  “If you say so.”  She relinquished his leg and tore at the wrapping paper with both hands until she finally freed whatever was inside.  “A CD?”  It seemed to be the right size, and she could feel the plastic casing with her fingertips.

“Yeah, it’s a demo of Scars on 45’s Give Me Something.”  Bug took the case from her hands.  “Let me put it on.”  The mattress shifted levels again as he stood up and walked to the corner of his bedroom where the stereo sat.  A few seconds later, she heard the music start, and Bug walked back to the bed.

Lux expected him to sit back down, but he didn’t.  He stood in front of her, not saying anything for minutes.  In the background, the music continued to play.  “Bug, seriously, what’s going on?” she asked again.  “You’re scaring me.”

He ignored the question.  “Lux,” he said slowly.  “You and me, we’ve been through a lot together, haven’t we?”  He knelt down so that they were face-to-face and his voice was now coming from directly in front of her.

“Yeah, I guess we have.”  It was true.  She and Bug had known each other since they were kids, back when he was still Bobby Guthrie, back when she—well, back when she could still open her eyes every morning to catch the sunlight coming in through the window.  Tasha had first introduced the two of them in fifth grade, and in many ways, Lux still thought of him as that boy he used to be.  But today, today he was acting strange.  “Bug, what’s this about?”

He didn’t answer her directly.  Instead, he took her left hand in his and held it for a few moments.  Lux was acutely aware of the calluses on the pads of his fingers and the rough skin of his palm.  She had always believed that you could know someone’s life story when given the topography of his hands, laid out like a textured map.  Not palm reading—that was New Age bullshit as far as she was concerned—but no matter who you were or what you did, the passing years left relics on your skin in the form of scars and wrinkles and imperfections.  When she met someone new for the first time, she liked being able to shake his hand, read a little bit of his history as if it were written there in Braille.

And now, she had the distinct feeling that her own history was about to change as she felt a cold, metal ring sliding onto her finger.  “Bug?”  Her voice faltered.  “Say something.  Please.”

The ring stopped at the junction where her ring finger met the middle one, and he held it in place for a few beats before finally letting go.  “Marry me, Lux,” he said.

“What?”  Lux was speechless, lightheaded, and confused.  She wasn’t sure she had heard him correctly.  “But, I mean, I just turned sixteen.  I just don’t think—”

“Listen, I know what you’re thinking,” Bug said quickly.  “But we don’t have to do it today or tomorrow or anything like that.  This just means we have each other, you know?  Nothing can mess us up.”

“But you don’t even have a job right now,” Lux pointed out, feeling helpless.  “I mean, you and Gavin are barely scraping by on his paychecks from Voodoo Donuts.  We can’t get married.”

“No, that’s the thing!” Bug continued, excitement brimming from his speech.  “I was riding around across town a couple weeks ago and this bar out there was hiring.  I went in and filled out an application, and I talked with the manager for a while.  Anyway, the point is I got the job!  I start next week!  I didn’t tell you earlier because I wanted it to be a surprise for your birthday.”

“But you’re not even twenty-one.”  Lux silently berated herself, wishing she would shut up.  She knew she was ruining the moment, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t wrap her mind around this news.  “Why would you go work at a bar?  Why would they hire you?”

“Who cares?” Bug was clearly becoming annoyed with her arguments.  “They needed someone to help out in the back.  Why do I feel like I’m defending myself to you?  I thought you’d be happy for me.  For us.”

“I am happy.  I am,” she insisted, reaching across the invisible bridge between them to cup his face in her hands.  “I’m sorry, this is all just so sudden.  Of course I want to marry you.”

At those words, his face stretched wide in a smile between her hands.  There was a brief moment of silence throughout the room, and then the CD repeated and the first track began again, coming in clearly through the speakers.  “I want to marry you, too,” Bug said.  “Now get up, I know you love this song.”  He stood up and pulled her to her feet.

Lux wrapped her arms securely around his neck as they slow danced to the music.  With her head resting against his chest, she could feel the rapid drumming of his heart, syncing up to the beat of the music like a metronome.  There was something ethereally beautiful about it, as if everything in the universe was singular and connected for just this one moment.  She realized then how safe and grounded she felt in his arms.  It was almost like being home.

Give me something, something to hold onto, the lead singer crooned.  And I’ll wear your wedding ring for a lifetime…

“You know,” Bug whispered into her hair, “if we got married you wouldn’t have to worry so much about getting emancipated.”

Lux froze in place, her feet rooting themselves into the ground.  “What did you say?”

Bug laughed nervously, realizing too late that he shouldn’t have said anything.  “It’s just that Tasha told me you were afraid they wouldn’t approve you because of your situation, but if they knew you were engaged—”

“Stop talking.”  Lux dropped her arms and pulled away from him.  “Is that what this is really about?” she demanded, holding up her left hand so he could see the ring that he had given her.  “How long have you two been plotting my future behind my back?  ‘No’ means no.  Why doesn’t anyone understand that?”

Her barrage of questions was met with silence.  Bug seemed unsure whether it was okay for him to speak or not, but thankfully he didn’t have to worry for long.  Someone rapped loudly on the door, two long knocks followed by three short ones.  “They’re back,” he said, stating the obvious.  “Can we please not fight on your birthday?”

Lux said nothing in response, but she tried her best to look appropriately happy, following Bug out into the common area when he went to open the door.  Bug joined Gavin who made a beeline for the kitchen counter as soon as he walked in, while Tasha gave Lux a long hug before handing her a small envelope.  “Happy birthday, Lux.”

“What’s this?”  Lux was only mildly curious.  After what had just transpired, she was exhausted and honestly just wanted to lie down.

“Open it,” Tasha said.  “It’s nothing compared Bug’s present of course, but Gavin and I thought you would like it.”

Feeling dubious, Lux sat down on the nearby couch and lifted the envelope flap, retrieving the two small rectangles of cardstock from inside.  “Tickets?” she guessed.

“For you and Bug,” Tasha explained.  “You know the hometown concert that K100 puts on before the holidays every year?”

Of course Lux was more than aware of what Tasha was referring to.  Around the city, everyone knew the annual show by the name “Home for the Holidays.”  The line-up was always made up entirely of Portland bands, and the only way to get tickets was by calling in to the station during certain contest periods.  Lux had put in a good effort the last couple years but always came up empty handed.  “How on Earth did you manage to score tickets this early?” she asked, hardly believing their luck.  The show was still over two months away; she had barely heard a word about it yet this year.

“Never mind that,” Tasha said, brushing off the question.  “Do you have any idea who’s gonna be there this year?  We’re talking about The Decemberists, Everclear, The Dandy Warhols, Glass Candy, Stars of Track and Field…” Tasha listed a slew of names off the top of her head.  “Anyway, I know how much you love the K100 morning show, and Cate and Ryan are supposedly going to be there.  You might even get to meet them!”

It was hard for Lux to stay angry with her best friend when she had given her such a thoughtful and amazing gift.  Besides that, no matter what happened, she knew that Tasha just wanted the best for her.  “Thanks so much, Tash.  I love it, I really do.”  She had just slipped the tickets back in the original envelope when the unmistakable scent of vanilla frosting and melting wax wafted to her nostrils.  “Is that what I think it is?”

“It’s a cake!” Tasha, Bug, and Gavin all exclaimed at once, as if the dessert they were carrying in their hands was some miraculous new invention.

“So, it’s no secret that you hate making a big deal out of your birthday,” Tasha acknowledged.  “But this is a special occasion.  It is your sixteenth after all, and I know that strawberries are your favorite.” Lux heard the plastic plate meet the table as they set it down directly in front of her.  The syrupy sweet smell of canned strawberries filled the air.  “Now make a wish.”

_____________________________

“Now make a wish,” Valerie says from across the table.  Her expectant face reflects the fiery light and shines in a bright, golden haze.  I watch the flames twist and dance around each candle wick and think about all the wishes I made when I was younger: the letters to Santa asking for a mom and dad, the family I always believed would someday find me if I waited long enough.

And today I realize that maybe she isn’t my birth mother, but I love her.  She’s going to adopt me.  She’s going to legally be my mother.  As time passes, my faith in the other one grows weaker.  She carried me inside her for nine months, then severed the umbilical cord and obviously hasn’t tried very hard to find me.  It’s her loss.  This house that Valerie has offered me is all I could ever want.  Well, except for that one thing.  I think of it as I blow across the cake with as much strength as I can muster.

Valerie points to the candle in the corner that I missed.  “Better get the last one or it won’t come true,” she says warmly.

I think a part of me already knows it won’t, and that blowing out a flame on a candle isn’t going to make a bit of difference.  As much as I want to keep the illusion, it’s hard for me to believe in magic the way I used to.  It’s hard for me to believe that I can make a wish, flip a switch, and suddenly the light will fill this house, obliterating all the spots of darkness.  And I can’t believe that tonight he won’t come home and want to cross boundaries that he shouldn’t even be allowed to step near.  He won’t slip into my room like a phantom with his foul breath and a monogrammed belt buckle that comes undone carelessly, with the flick of a wrist.  And he won’t part the denim of his jeans and utter those impossible words—blow me—as casually as one would ask someone to make a wish on a birthday cake…

______________________________

“No, I won’t,” Lux said, violently shaking the memory from her head.  “I won’t, I can’t, I’m sorry.”  She stood up, stumbling across the room with her arms outstretched in front to steady herself through the obstacle course of walls and tables and chairs.  Finally, her hands felt out the familiar entryway to the bathroom.  She stepped in and locked the door behind her, breathing hard as she slid to the floor with her back against the door.

“What just happened?”  She heard Gavin’s bewildered voice come from the other room.

“I don’t know,” Tasha replied, letting her knife and fork clatter to the table.  “Someone blow these out.”  Lux could hear footsteps approaching, even on the soft carpet.  The doorknob jiggled in place above her head.  “Dammit Lux, let me in!”  She punctuated the command by slamming on the door with her open palms.

“Go away, Tasha.”

“No, you know what?  I’m not going away,” Tasha said from the other side of the door.  There was an air of finality in her words.  “You know why?  Because the three of us, we’re your family, and like it or not, we’re here to stay.”

“I know that.”  Lux swallowed and wished she wasn’t allowing something that happened three years ago to ruin her birthday.  “You guys are the best thing I’ve ever had in my life, you have to know that.”

“So what’s been going on with you lately?  Are you still mad at me for last week?  Is that it?  Because I already told you I didn’t come after you because I thought you wanted to be alone.”

Lux shook her head, forgetting that Tasha couldn’t see her through the barrier that separated them.  “No, really, it has nothing to do with that.”

“Then what is it?” Tasha pressed.  “We all care about you.  If you don’t want to get emancipated, fine.  We’ll figure something out.  No one is going to force you to do anything you don’t want to do.”

There was a long silence.  Lux touched the new band around her finger absentmindedly, twisting it back and forth.  She still heard the singer’s voice in her head: Give me something to hold onto, and I’ll wear your wedding ring for a lifetime…

Beyond the door, Tasha’s voice softened.  “We’ve all been through the same crap since we were born, Lux.  So you don’t have to hide anything from us.  You know that, right?”

Lux remembered the nights she used to lock herself in the bathroom back at Valerie’s house, examining her body in the mirror, wondering what indelible marks Trey left on her skin when he used her for nothing but his own sick satisfaction.  She remembered being afraid that she would walk outside and everybody would be able to see it, what he had done, in the expression on her face or in the way she walked.  They would turn their faces away in disgust; they would think she had wanted it, that she had somehow asked for it.

“Lux, are you still there? Please, just talk to me.”

What would happen now if she told someone the truth about that night?  Wouldn’t they send her away like Valerie had?  Everyone had their limits, no matter what they said about loving you unconditionally.  She learned that the hard way three years ago, and it was the one universal truth she always held tightly onto, until her palms were clammy, her knuckles bone-white.

4. Hunches in Bunches

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