FANFIC: House of Light – [Ocean Waves]

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– Relaxation Collection

House of Light

1. Prologue
2. Morning Madness
3. Give Me Something (To Hold Onto)
4. Hunches in Bunches
5. [ Ocean Waves ]

When I finally tell Valerie, the conversation doesn’t exactly go the way I imagined it in my head—but any moron with a pea-size brain probably sees the disappointment coming before I do.  I don’t have an excuse for believing it might end differently.  After thirteen years in the foster care system, I should know better.

Call it what you want.  Call it blind faith.  It’s only been three days since my “accident” but the clichéd phrase has taken on a new meaning already.  Every time I reach my hand out, hoping to feel my way along a wall or railing, I don’t know what awaits me.  I second guess myself with every step forward, my mind riddled with doubt.  But still I believe that something will always be there to catch me, to hold me, to guide me.  And even after everything, I still hold onto hope that my mother will respond like any real mother would.  That word: Mother.  The day I tell her is also the day that my tenuous grip on it loosens; I let that name fall away from my fingers when I open my hand, and it doesn’t make a sound when it hits the ground.  The little voice in my head says: A real mother will trust you, believe you; she will fight for you. 

Valerie does none of the above.  (But you already knew that, right?)

“I know you’re angry,” is what she actually says, as we sit across from each other at the kitchen table, a pitcher of homemade lemonade sitting between us.  The ice cubes clink against the glass when she pours me a cup.  “What happened to you was horrible and you have to know that I feel awful about it.” She does sound sincere.  My fingers and thumb find their way around the glass after a few tries.  I drink.  “But you can’t take it out on Trey,” she continues.  “It’s not his fault.”  The woman doesn’t have a maternal bone in her body.  When I take another sip, a frozen cube rushing into my mouth like an ice floe adrift in a sugary sweet sea.  I hold it there till it stings my tongue.  The cold numbs this whole day in my memory so that later, when I think back on this moment, I won’t feel a thing.

There is a part of me that threatens to snap at her last words: It’s not his fault.  But dutifully, I swallow the dull ache when it comes bubbling forth.  It’s all written down somewhere: our words and our actions no longer our own, just a script from hundreds of years ago.  There are parts that we play: the child, the child molester, and the wife who picks the wrong side.  I already know how this story ends.

And here’s the thing.  Everybody has limits.  Everybody has certain stories that they hear but won’t dare believe, even when the truth is staring her straight in the face.  Among the life lessons I learn today, this is the one that crushes me most, like I’m nothing more than aluminum can under the heel of her shoe.  But this is what’s different: people bounce back.

“I guess this means you don’t want to adopt me anymore, right?” I finally reply, stripping my voice of any emotion that might betray me.  “I’m more trouble than I’m worth now.  Who could blame you anyway?”  I don’t have to wait for her answer to know.  Even if I haven’t yet picked myself off the floor and physically left this house, my mind is already long gone.  I don’t know it at the time, but it’s the one thing that’s always swimming toward the light.  I never thought that one day, that light would be Sunnyvale.

_________________________________

“Lux?”  The sudden voice and the knuckles rapping against the doorframe startled her, drowning her thoughts in the ocean of sound that swept through the speakers and over the Sunnyvale meeting room.  Slowly, the present flooded back into her veins.

Lux took a deep breath.  She hoped to get this whole counseling thing over with as quickly and painlessly as possible.  “Mr. Daniels, right?”

“That’s my name.”

She held her hand out for the usual handshake as he approached the round table where she had been sitting, waiting.

He stood there for a second without taking it.  It was an odd moment, but she had certainly experienced her fair share of those with strangers in the past.  For that reason, she didn’t immediately dwell on the way he paused in front of her, so close that she could hear him breathing underneath the sounds of water rushing onto the beach.  Finally, he reached out and touched his palm to hers for barely a second, giving it the slightest of shakes.  It was more a friendly slap than a proper handshake.  “Nice to meet you.”  His voice wavered.  But before Lux could wonder about this increasingly strange behavior, he hastily pulled a chair away from the table—she heard the legs scrape against the floor with a squeal—and sat down.

“So, Lux Cassidy.”  Mr. Daniels drew her name out the way a sports announcer might.  “Why don’t you tell me about yourself?”

Something about the familiar sound of his voice teased and tickled her brain, that same feeling she got when she knew she was so close to solving a math problem but couldn’t quite figure it out yet.  It gnawed at her insides in the most frustrating way.

Nothing?” He sounded disappointed.

Lux remembered she was supposed to be answering his questions.  “Haven’t you read my file?  What’s the point?”

“Well, yes actually,” he conceded, “I have.  But—”

“So there isn’t really anything else you need to know, now is there.”  The second the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them.  Well, not really.  But she knew she wasn’t really being fair.  Mr. Daniels seemed perfectly nice, just as Fern had said.  Too nice, even.  But she had already decided to make this difficult for him, and she wasn’t going to back out now.  “My whole life is in there, filtered into the confines of a single manila folder.  Trust me, you’re not missing much.”  She sat back and crossed her arms over her chest.  Why couldn’t Tasha have just left it alone?  If she was really so concerned, she wouldn’t keep trying to force the issue.

“If you don’t mind I’d like to hear who you are in your own words.”

Yes, in fact, I mind very much, Lux thought, but sighed and cleared her throat loudly.  “Fine.”  She sat up straighter in her chair.  “Let’s see, I never knew my birth parents.  They didn’t want me, obviously.  I was born sixteen years ago with a hole in my heart, and spent most of my early childhood in hospitals.  I hated them.  The rest of my childhood I spent being bounced around so many shitty foster homes that I almost missed the operating tables.  One time I think I actually wished I could just go back there because they might finally—” Lux didn’t continue the thought after all, hurtling straight ahead in lieu of confessing the words that still felt like foreign objects in her mouth.  She had never even let them get that far before.  “Well, it doesn’t matter why.  I got my wish in the form of a fucking freak accident one night.  I tripped over my own feet and fell down a flight of stairs.  I had a stroke from a blood clot that formed because of my heart defect—boy, wasn’t that the gift that kept on giving—and now I’m blind.”  She gestured in the general area of her face.  “Obviously.  Needless to say my placement with that family didn’t last much longer, and I’ve been here ever since.  Are you happy now?”  She was breathless when she finished, the rhetorical question hanging in the air.

At first, Mr. Daniels gave no indication that he had heard her lengthy monologue.  All that followed was a deafening silence.

“Unbelievable.”  Lux stood up so violently that the plastic chair clattered to the floor behind her.  “I knew this was going to be a huge waste of time,” she added, shaking her head, grabbing her jacket and stick from the table.  “I just knew it.  I’m outta here.  You can tell Fern whatever you want to…”

“Lux, wait.”  She felt a hand reach out and envelope one of her own.  “Please, just calm down for a second.”  He reached behind her to set the chair upright again and guided her toward it.  She fought him for a moment before relenting and finally sitting down, defeated.

“To answer your question, no,” he said after she was situated.  “I know you’ve been through a lot.  Of course hearing it from you doesn’t make me happy, as you put it.  But if we’re going to make this work, those are the things I need to know, not just the laundry list of facts and statistics that are in this folder.”  He picked it up and dropped it to the table again to punctuate his statement.  “Preferably with less sarcasm from here on out though?”

His other hand was still on hers.  “I’m fine,” she snapped, pulling away.

He dropped it, but not before she realized that he’d noticed her ring.  “Wait, are you…married?”

“Yes.”  She sighed.  “Well, no.  Engaged.”  She shook her head and twisted the ring around her finger.  “I know, it’s weird.  I’m young.”

“It’s not weird, “ he assured her.  “But—and forgive me for saying this to someone I’ve just met—you don’t seem very sure it’s what you want.”

Of course, he was right.  “It’s…complicated.”

“Listen, I don’t know anything about marriage,” he admitted.  “But take it from someone who just got out of a relationship he never should’ve been in.  Before you get yourself into something that might be hard to get out of, make sure you want to be there in the first place.”

“You…make it sound so easy.”

“Well, I didn’t mean to.  It’s not.”

She could sense that he wanted to her to elaborate, but the tension in the room had evaporated and she really didn’t want to think about a potential wedding anymore.  “Can we talk about something else now?”

“Sure, anything you want.  That’s why I’m here.”

_______________________________

The silence that followed was awkward but comforting at the same time.  For minutes, neither of them said a word, both suddenly hyperaware of their surroundings.  In the corners of the room, fake waves crashed around them.

“They always play the same tracks in this room.  ‘Rainstorm,’ ‘Mountain Stream,’ ‘Night Life,’ ‘Ocean Waves’…  It’s supposed to be relaxing, I guess,” Lux explained in an attempt to break the silence.  “It’s supposed to be relaxing, but I don’t know, personally I think this one has the opposite effect on me sometimes.”  Her fingers drummed the edge of the table nervously.

“Why?”  His voice was filled with such genuine interest and concern that for a second, she nearly wanted to cry.

“It’s just—I’ve lived in Portland all my life.  It’s a two-hour drive from the coastline.  But I’ve never even seen the ocean, like really seen it.  And now I never will.”  She laughed, a little bitterly.  “It sounds silly…”

“No.”  He stopped her.  “It doesn’t.”

She laughed again in response, partly to chase away any tears, partly not knowing what to say to next.  “This is ironic, but it seems a little unnatural, doesn’t it?”

“What?”

She gestured around them.  “Recording it and playing it indoors.  It’s like trying to capture nature in a bottle.  All it does is remind you that you don’t have the real thing.”

“We could turn it off if you want?” he offered.  “I’m sure I could ask someone…”

She thought about it for a few seconds.  There was something inviting about the sound today.  Almost like it could be real.  “No,” she said finally, the corners of her mouth lifting in a ghost of a smile.  “Leave it on.”

___________________________________

Her face flushed hot because she could feel him staring at her, like she was some mystery he was trying to unravel.  It should’ve been the other way around.  She had deliberately left avoided her sunglasses today, hoping that seeing her eyes might intimidate him or make him uncomfortable.  Now she wished she had at least tucked a pair into collar so they would at least be there in case.  Now she felt naked and exposed without them.  It was starting to make her slightly uncomfortable.

Finally, Lux couldn’t stand it anymore.  “What? You know, it’s not nice to stare at the blind girl.”

“Nothing.  You’ve been quiet for a while, and I was just trying to respect that.”  He paused.  “And I wasn’t staring.”

“Whatever.  To be perfectly honest, I was kind of enjoying our talk.”  As she said the words, Lux realized that they were true.  She hated to admit it, but Fern had been right.  There was something cathartic about talking to a complete stranger.  “But are we almost out of time?  What time is it anyway?”

From across the table, she heard a cell phone open and then snap shut.  “It’s nearly four.  We still have ten minutes or so.”

“School lets out at four.  That means these halls will be flooded soon.”

“Does it bother you at all?” he asked curiously.  “Not being in school with everyone else every day, I mean?”

Lux shrugged and kicked lazily at the table leg.  “Not really.  I always hated school anyway.  I was never the best student.  And I would always be changing schools when I was younger and kept getting placed into different homes.  With a name like Lux, it wasn’t difficult for the other kids to come up with choice nicknames to make life difficult for the new girl.”

“Lux sucks?” he ventured.

She snorted.  “Yeah, among other things.”

“Well, I guess that explains your aversion to rhymes,” he said after some thought.

Lux rolled her eyes.  “Yeah, it explains a lot—” There it was again, that slight tickle at the surface of her brain.  Once again, it came and went before she could really make sense of the feeling.  But she sensed she was inching ever-so-slightly closer to the answer.  “Wait, it explains my what to what?”

“What?” He seemed to realize immediately that he’d made a mistake.  “Sorry, ignore me.  I just meant that…I was just talking to myself,” he finished lamely.

She knew it was a lie but she didn’t call him out on it immediately, although perhaps she should have.  And if they hadn’t been interrupted at that moment, she just might have.  But the point is she didn’t.  Instead, she let it go, and it wasn’t until later that week, when she was replacing a disc in her CD player, that Lux realized why the comment had caused her confusion—and why he had been so quick to take it back.

He exhaled audibly when Tasha breezed into the room without so much as a knock.  “Lux, I need to talk to you,” she said, the urgency in her voice cutting into Lux’s thoughts and suspicions.  “It’s really important.  Wait, I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” she added as an afterthought, as if she had just noticed that Lux wasn’t alone in the room.

“No, it’s fine.”  Mr. Daniels gathered his papers quickly.  “We were just about done here anyway.  We’ll talk again next week, Lux?”

“Sure thing.”  Lux had to admit she was kind of looking forward to it already.

As soon as he had left the room, Tasha grabbed her arm excitedly.  “So was that Mr. Daniels?” she hissed.

“That would be him.”  Lux hesitated, wondering is she should admit it or not: “He’s actually not so bad after all.”

“See?” Tasha was triumphant.  “And I’m not gonna lie, he’s kind of cute, too.”

“Not that that makes much of a difference to me,” Lux reminded her friend.

“Fine, I’m sorry,” Tasha grumbled.  “But he’s still hot.”

Lux sighed, exasperated.  “Wasn’t there something really important you needed to tell me?  Because if there isn’t, you know, this conversation can just end right now.”

“Oh right, that.”  Tasha’s mood deflated considerably at the reminder of her news, as did Lux’s mood, when she finally heard what it was.  Of course, neither of them realized at the time that the reality of the situation was actually much worse than either was imagining.

6. This Is A Recording

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