FANFIC: House of Light – Hunches in Bunches

And some Super Hunch was yelling,
“Make your mind up!  Get it done!
Only you can make your mind up!
You’re the one and only one!”
– Dr. Seuss

House of Light

1. Prologue
2. Morning Madness
3. Give Me Something (To Hold Onto)
4. Hunches in Bunches

When Lux and Tasha were younger, before either of them had ever stepped foot in Valerie’s house, they would sometimes lie awake after lights-out and play their favorite game, ‘What’s Worse?’  The rules of the game were simple.  One girl would start off by offering two hypothetical scenarios, and the other girl was required to choose which one she felt was worse—“I can’t decide” or “they’re both pretty bad” were not acceptable answers—before formulating her own question.  They would go back and forth like that, whispering to each other in the darkness, until one of them finally fell asleep or until one of the other girls in the room awoke and hissed, “If you two don’t shut up right now, I swear…”  And the two of them would only bury their faces in the pillows to muffle their laughter.

Usually the game stayed lighthearted and silly; for example, Lux might ask whether it was worse to get slammed in the face with a pie or a basketball (Tasha’s incredulous response: “You’re kidding, right?  Basketball, duh.”), and Tasha might then ask whether it was worse to eat a sheet of paper or the dinners at the Sunnyvale cafeteria (Lux: “Hmm…tough one, but I’m gonna have to go with paper.  At least the food here actually has flavor, whatever it is.”)

Other times, though, their topics grew more thoughtful and serious.  Some things were just easier to talk about in the midst of total blackness.

“What’s worse,” Tasha suddenly whispered one night, after a particularly inane round of questions, “having a mother who gave you up before she even had a chance to know you, or having a mother who knew you for years and still gave you up?”

Lux was silent for a long time, letting the implications of the question seep into her being.  “Tasha…” she finally started, not knowing what to say.

“No, forget I said that,” Tasha interrupted quickly.  “I don’t know why I did.”

“Tasha, just because your mother has done what she’s done…” Lux tried again, but her friend had fallen silent and obviously didn’t want to say anything more.  Now Tasha was pretending to be asleep, but Lux knew the both of them would probably lay awake for the remainder of that night.

And when the sun eventually rose to brighten the new day, the remains of their conversation evaporated along with the morning dew.  Neither girl ever brought the subject up again, but the shadow of a question was always there between them, unseen and untouchable.

____________________________________________

On a Thursday three weeks after her birthday, Lux woke as usual to the welcome sound of her favorite Morning Madness hosts on the radio.  Cate and Ryan were coming to the end of a celebrity interview when Ryan proposed a short game of ‘What’s Worse?’ and Lux’s breath caught in her throat.  Just the name of that familiar game felt bittersweet against her tongue, like the foul aftertaste of sleep.

Just then, Tasha ran back into the bedroom and began to rifle through her belongings.  “Remember when we used to play this all the time?” Lux asked, by way of greeting.

Tasha paused by the radio to listen.  “Oh yeah!” she exclaimed in recognition.  “Hey, remember that time…”  She trailed off as she seemed to think better of going back there.  “Crap, I’m going to be so late,” she said instead and continued to go through her things.  “I wish I could ditch and hang out with the three of you today.”

“Tash, you already missed half the day on Tuesday.”  The new school year had started a couple weeks ago, and as usual, Lux was having a difficult time convincing Tasha to go to school without her.  Because of her own “special needs,” as the administration at Longfellow High liked to refer to her situation, Lux only traveled to the campus three times a week where she worked on her assignments with their—let’s face it—poor excuse of a tutor.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she was allowed to play catch-up outside of class through a series of recorded lectures and readings.

“I know, I gotta go.”  Tasha sounded reluctant.  “I’ll see you guys later?”

“Always,” Lux said, turning her attention back to the radio as Tasha and the remaining stragglers rushed off to class.

“And now it’s time for another chance to win two tickets to this year’s ‘Home for the Holidays’ show!” Cate was saying, her voice effervescent over the airwaves.  “The event is still two months away, but it is never too early to get your hands on some tickets!”

“Cate’s right,” Ryan acknowledged, cutting in, “and I tell you what, Portland, the line-up this year is in-cred-i-ble.  Trust me, you do not want to miss this show.  We’re taking caller one hundred, ladies and gentlemen!”

Lux smiled to herself as their voices disappeared and the latest Top 40 hit came on the air.  She thought of the two tickets from Tasha and Gavin that she already had in her wallet.  No more waiting in line to make a call from the payphone in the hall, not this year.

__________________________________________

By the time Bug came around on his motorcycle two hours later, her homework was nearly finished.  And when Lux wrapped her arms around his skinny waist and clasped her hands together against his abdomen, she tried to imagine spending forever with him.  At sixteen years old, it was hard to even think about how the rest of her own life might unfold, much less factor someone else into the equation.  Forget imagining how things would be one year into the future, or ten.  She knew, better than anyone, how much life could change in a matter of seconds.

Some days, marriage seemed like an impossibility.  Her doubts came and went, then inevitably came again.  She couldn’t shake them from her mind.  There were times when he was sitting in front of her, and all she wanted was to slip his ring off her finger and place it back in his own palm.  “Maybe someday,” she would say, closing his fingers over the ring.  “But I just can’t do this now.”  All the same, the ring remained around her finger, day after day.  Lux could never bring herself to reject him.  Despite the bad timing, despite their young age, despite everything, they did love each other.  And a part of her knew deep down that if she returned the ring, he would run, as he always did when pushed away.  It would be the end of their relationship, not just their engagement.  What’s worse, Lux asked herself silently as the two of them tore through the streets of Portland with the wind roaring in her ears, being tied to someone forever or losing him completely?

“We’re here,” Bug said then, interrupting her thoughts for the time being.  He brought the motorcycle to a full stop outside the bar where he had just started working.  Reluctantly, Lux released her hold on him.  “I’m just going to go in real quick,” he assured her.  “They want me to sign a form before my next shift.  It shouldn’t take long.”

After freeing her head from the helmet, she was immediately hit with the coffee scent that surrounded them.  It was a pungent, unmistakable smell, another classic reminder of morning and of new beginnings.  “Is there a coffee shop here?” she asked.

“There’s a bookstore around the corner,” Bug said dismissively.  “So are you going to be okay waiting out here or…?”

Suddenly, Lux remembered something.  “Actually, I don’t know, how big is the place?”

“What, the bar?”

“No,” Lux clarified, “the bookstore.”

“The bookstore?” Bug seemed confused about her line of questioning.  “Um, it looks big enough.  Why?”

Lux extended her walking stick to its full length and let the tip hit the sidewalk.  “Could you walk me there first?  There’s actually something I’ve been looking for.”

“Sure, if you want.”  While they walked in the direction of the coffee scent, Lux counted their steps carefully as she had grown accustomed to doing in unfamiliar places.  When they had arrived safely inside the store, he said, “I better go.  You wait here and I’ll come get you when I’m done?”

Lux nodded.  Bug brought her close, kissing her temple before he stepped back outside.  In the seconds before the door closed behind him, she heard the sounds of cars rushing past on the street, birds chirping in their usual indecipherable way, and the whirring of machinery.  And then it was gone.  She took a deep breath, allowing the unique smell of fresh pages and hot coffee to engulf her.

“Can I help you find something?” someone asked, stopping in front of her.

Lux snapped back to attention.  “Yeah, um, I’m looking for an audiobook of Hunches in Bunches? It’s by Dr. Seuss.”

“I’m not sure if we have that one, but I can certainly check for you,” the man said pleasantly.  “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”  Lux nodded, her fingers reaching out to run along the smooth spines of a nearby shelf of books.  He was barely gone more than a few seconds before she heard his voice again.  “It’s your lucky day.  Only copy we have in stock!”  He handed her a shrink-wrapped box.  “Is that going to be all?  I can ring you up right over here.”  She followed him to the counter where he scanned the package.  “That comes out to nine dollars and thirty-nine cents,” he announced.

Lux reached into her wallet for the cash.  She and Tasha had devised a system to help her distinguish the different denominations, creasing each bill according to its value.  Ones were folded in half length-wise, fives were folded in half the other way, and tens were dog-eared at the corners.  She never carried twenties and always insisted that any change be given in ones.

The employee accepted the two folded fives from her outstretched hand, and she heard the cash register ding as it opened.  “Two fives, so that’s ten dollars, and your change is sixty-one cents,” he said aloud, pressing each individual coin into her palm separately.  “Receipt’s in the bag.  Have a great day.”

Lux took the plastic bag he handed her by the handle.  “Thanks, you too.”

She waited near the door for Bug but the minutes ticked by and he never showed.  Finally, she stepped out of the store, thankful that she had counted the steps on their way over.  “…one, two, three…” she muttered the numbers under her breath as she walked in the direction they’d come from, her stick tapping against the concrete with each count.  At twenty-two, she stopped in her tracks and reached out to feel the brick wall for a sign or a door.

For a few seconds, she recognized only the rough texture of a brick wall.  But then her fingers ran along a warm metal plate fastened over the wall.  A sign?  She felt for raised ridges and recognized the forms as numbers.  Probably the street number, she thought.  “4…9…7…0…0…” she read aloud slowly.  “The door has to be around here somewhere…”  Her hand continued to travel to the right until she reached point where the wall ended.  Finally!  This had to be the right door.  She pounded on it with her closed fist.

No answer at first.  Lux wondered if she had the right place.  She knocked again, stepping closer and putting her ear to the door, listening for any indication that someone was coming.  As if in response to her request, she heard it.  A male voice came dimly from inside: “Hold on, I’m coming!”

The door cracked open, and Lux felt a rush of cold air escape the building.  “I don’t know,” the man said, directing his speech to someone inside, “the beer guy shouldn’t be—Oh!  Hi.”  She had obviously caught him by surprise.  “Nevermind, it’s not him!” he yelled in the other direction once again.  “It’s a…it’s a girl scout.  A…blind girl scout.”

“I’m not a girl scout.” Lux was indignant.  A girl scout, really?  Who was this guy anyway?

“Oh.  Well, what do you need then?”  His voice came booming from way above her as if he were some sort of giant.

She hesitated.  “I’m looking for Bug?”

“Bug…?”  The guy at the door sounded confused.  “This is a bar.  I mean—” he cleared his throat, “—it’s clean.”

Lux sighed.  “No, sorry.  Not a bug.  Bug.  Proper noun.  I guess he’s going by Bobby Guthrie…?”

As if on cue, Lux heard a door slam inside, followed by Bug’s voice.  “She’s here for me!  I was supposed to meet her at the bookstore before we got sidetracked talking.”  He came to the door.  “Sorry to keep you waiting.”

“It’s cool.  You ready to go?”

“Yeah.”  Bug joined her outside.

Lux was about to turn away when she remembered she hadn’t introduced herself and stuck out her hand as she usually did.  “I’m Lux, by the way.”

“Baze,” the man said.  He clasped his hand around hers in a firm grip.  “Nice to meet you.”

Immediately, Lux felt disconcerted by the touch of his skin.  There was something familiar about him, as if they had met before.  It wasn’t anything physical, not the size or shape or texture that startled her and caused her to pull back.  “Nice to meet you, too,” she mumbled.  But she would definitely know if she had met someone named Baze before.  And she was sure she hadn’t.

“See you tomorrow,” Bug said.  The man grunted in agreement before shutting the door and like that, the moment was over.

“Baze?” Lux asked as they walked away from the building.  Behind her shades, an eyebrow raised skeptically.  “You’re working for some guy named Baze?”

“That’s what everyone calls him,” Bug replied, not seeming to care one way or the other.  “Maybe it’s a nickname.  You know, if I recall correctly you’re the one engaged to this guy named Bug?”  He deposited her belongings in the motorcycle compartment.

Lux grinned despite herself as they mounted they mounted the bike.  “I do seem to remember that as well, yeah.”  Once again, she slid her arms around his torso and leaned in to him.

“And besides that, Lux is also such a normal name…”

“Fine, you made your point.”  She stabbed him playfully in the stomach with her heel of her hand.  “Can we go now?”

___________________________________________

After their date, Lux returned to Sunnyvale, eager for some time alone to listen to her new purchase.  In the bedroom, she set her CD player down on the bed and tore open the audiobook package.  The boxed set came with a thin volume of the text so children could follow along with the recording.  She tossed that aside and snapped the disc into place in her player.

The narrative followed a boy who is bored at home alone one afternoon and can’t decide what to do next.  His indecisiveness didn’t reminded her of the choices she herself had to make soon, but the story was full of Dr. Seuss’ usual silliness and absurdity and it made her smile.  It was surprising how much she could gather about Eric’s personality, just knowing that this was his favorite book as a child.  When she reached the end of the track, she pressed repeat.

Shortly after, Lux heard the steady rhythm of a pair of heels clicking across the tiled floor of the hall, growing louder and louder, followed by a pause and a quiet knock on the doorframe.

“Door’s open,” Lux called out.  She didn’t bother turning her head in the direction of the doorway.

The footsteps got closer, softening as the person entered the carpeted room.  “Lux, it’s me.  There’s something we need to talk about.”  It was Fern, her social worker.  Lux knew the sound of that voice and the scent of that perfume anywhere.  The comforting combination of the two was another of the few constants in her life.  Fern had been amazing to her for the past two years.  She was the closest thing Lux had to a mother these days.

Lux quickly untangled the headphones from her hair, letting the CD continue to spin with no one listening.  “Sure, what’s going on?”

Fern sat down on the next bed so that she was facing the young girl.  “Lux, Tasha told me that she’s been worried about you recently.  Do you know any reason why she might’ve said that?”

Lux swallowed.  “No.”  She took a deep breath and rushed on.  “I mean, we’ve had a few arguments lately, but everything’s fine.”  Since her birthday, Tasha and Bug had been so respectful of her wishes, never once speaking of a possible emancipation again, never once asking her why she had wigged out on her birthday.  They weren’t pressuring her to revisit it, as far as she could tell.  She couldn’t believe that Tasha would go behind her back now and tell Fern.  “Why, what did she say exactly?”

“Not much,” Fern said cautiously.  “Just that your behavior has been erratic and she’s concerned.  She said that you wouldn’t talk to her about it.”  She paused for a few seconds.  “I have to say that I’m a little concerned about you, too.”

“I’m fine,” Lux insisted, too quickly.  In her lap, she wound the cord of her earphones nervously around her index finger, then unwound it again.  She could feel her hands trembling ever so slightly.  “Really, I am.”

“Sometimes it helps to talk to a stranger,” Fern went on.  “Someone you don’t know, someone who won’t judge you.  Someone who can just listen to you, without any preconceived notions getting in the way.”

“You mean like a shrink?”  Lux spat out the last word with distaste.

“More like a guidance counselor,” Fern explained.  “Sunnyvale recently hired someone who has experience working with teens at the local junior high.  I think you could really benefit from talking to him.”  Lux started to protest, but Fern interrupted her.  “Mr. Daniels comes highly recommended.  I just met him a few days ago myself.  He’s young and very compassionate.  I think you would really like him.”

Lux bit her lip and shook her head slowly but didn’t say anything.  What’s worse, she thought to herself, revealing all the parts of yourself you never wanted to remember again, or not having anyone to talk to at all?

“Just one meeting,” Fern tried again, her voice softening.  “One.  Promise me you’ll give it shot, and if you don’t like it we can figure something else out.”

“Fine,” Lux said, her mouth forming a firm line.  “I’ll try it once, fine.”  She nodded.

Fern stood up.  “Great, I’ll set up a meeting.”  She placed a comforting hand on Lux’s shoulder before walking out, leaving Lux alone once more.

5. [Ocean Waves]

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