|Something to Light the Way
Author: Regann PM
Claudia might be the demon her father says, but Johnny will always be her light. Set before the show, based on the revelations of last week's episodes.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama - Johnny Z. & Claudia Z. - Words: 1,597 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 1 - Published: 01-30-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7789282
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
As soon as Claudia stepped into the house, she headed up to her room and stripped out of her school uniform, hurling the offending skirt and button-down shirt across the room with impunity. It had been another one of the days at the latest ultra-strict, all-girls Catholic school her father had sent her to and Claudia would be surprised if she made it through the semester before he had to find another one willing to accept his only daughter. According to Sister Bernadette, Claudia was the kind of girl who would try even a saint's patience and nuns, it seemed, weren't made of the same stuff as the holy souls they revered.
The silence echoing through the Zacchara household told Claudia that her father and Maria were out at the moment and she breathed a sigh of relief at the knowledge. After the day she'd had, there was only one thing she knew that would make her feel better and she knew her father's overbearing presence would've made it impossible to do it.
Once she had slipped into jeans and a t-shirt, Claudia headed down the hall, out of her bedroom to a room several doors down. She opened the door slowly, quietly, not wanting to disturb its occupants immediately. Instead, she peeked in as the door inched wider, eyes scanning through the colorful decor and piles of toys looking for one certain thing. It took a moment to locate the mop of dark curls amid the childish chaos of the playroom but when she did, Claudia couldn't stop the smile that spread over her face.
He was focused on a stack of wooden blocks out of which he was building some elaborate structure that looked like the slightest wind would have sent the entire thing tumbling down. But he was enthralled by it, captivated, and that made it the best block structure she'd ever seen.
"Hey, big guy," she finally said. "Can I help?"
Johnny's big brown eyes swung in her direction and the way his expression lit up at the sight of her made something painful clutch in Claudia's chest. "Claudia!"
Claudia took a final step into the playroom and sank to her knees. "How's my Johnny, huh?" In a blink of an eye, she had an armful of excitable three-year-old, his short little arms wrapped around her neck. She closed her eyes, relishing it as she held him tight and slowly rose to her feet. "Did you miss me today?"
"He misses you every day," came a voice from behind them. Claudia turned, still holding Johnny, to see Theresa, Johnny's nanny. She was sitting in a rocking chair, book balanced on her knees.
"I miss him, too," Claudia said, tightening her arms a little. Johnny was willing to be held a little longer and was she was going to take advantage. "Any idea where my father and Maria are?"
Theresa shook her head. "They'll be back for a late dinner, they said."
Claudia nodded, then glanced toward the door. "I think I'm going to hang out with Johnny for a while, so if you want to take a break...?"
Theresa closed her book. "If you're sure?" At Claudia's emphatic nod, Claudia rose to her feet. "Thanks," she said. "I won't be gone long. Maybe twenty minutes."
Johnny wriggled in Claudia's hold, clearly over being cuddled, and she reluctantly let him down. "Take your time," she told Theresa. "Me and Johnny'll be fine, won't we?"
As Theresa closed the door behind her, Claudia let Johnny lead her back over to his pile of blocks, whatever he'd been building before demolished in his rush to reach her a moment ago. "Help me," he urged, grabbing a block in each hand. He held one out to her, which she took.
"What are we building, huh?" she asked, holding the block in her hand as she watched Johnny lavish all of his three-year-old concentration on his new creation. There was something enchanting about that look on Johnny's cherubic face, second only to his smile. He was so sweet and innocent, the only real bright spot in their hellish household, the only thing that didn't seem to be drowning in lies and secrets. He was completely untouched by it all.
Claudia knew that she must've been that way once – innocent, untouched - but it had been so long ago that she couldn't remember. Before Johnny, surely; maybe even further back, before Maria had come along. Her father always said that she'd been born twisted and dark on the inside, but Claudia didn't want to believe him, no matter what the little voice in her mind whispered to her at night, all the doubts and scorn it heaped on her, telling her that she deserved every miserable thing that had already happened to her.
But then there was also Johnny.
As Claudia watched him work on his project, she couldn't stop herself from running a hand through his curls, letting her fingers touch the baby-soft curve of his cheek. He batted her hand away and thrust another block at her, at which point she laughed and joined his work in earnest. As they stacked block after block into a short, squat wall, she listened as he babbled at her, the short simple sentences he was capable of not quite up to the task of conveying his bubbling exuberance. But Claudia drank in each word, each little laugh, letting it soothe over the twisting anxiety that she never seemed to leave behind.
Once the wall was complete, every one of the blocks set in its place, Johnny wandered over to an equally garish xylophone that Theresa had left on the floor and she watched as he banged on it, delighted by the discordant sounds it produced. "I'm not sure music is your strong suit, baby," she laughed. Johnny looked up as she scooted over to join him, smiling at the tone of her words even though he didn't understand the content. "At least not percussion, anyway."
After another moment of "music," Claudia reached over and took the mallet away from Johnny and stopped the noise. He looked like he wanted to protest, but she took him by his chubby little hands. "Hey, how about we play a different game, all right?" she asked. "How about we play a little make-believe, hmm?"
She didn't give him a chance to escape before she gathered him in her arms once again, cradling him like she'd done when he'd been a baby. He wasn't really pleased with all the coddling but he was a pleasant child and he endured it, going so far as to snuggle against her, little face pressed between her neck and shoulder. "Let's pretend that's everything's different, okay?" she whispered. "How about that, Johnny?"
There were so many things that Claudia wanted to change and nothing more than what had happened the night Johnny had been conceived. She hadn't understood much, then, not really, not what her father had told her to do or what it would be like to have to do through with it, but she'd emerged from it an adult far beyond her years. And any childhood left to her had evaporated when she'd realized she was pregnant and that her father would never let her have her child to call her own. But it hadn't been until she'd first held Johnny as a newborn that she'd realized that her father stealing Johnny from her was almost as much of a crime as the one that had created him.
Her father said that Claudia had been born bad, that there was a demon inside of her that had tainted her since her first breath. And maybe, she decided, he was right. Maybe she'd never had a chance to be anything than what she'd become, old and cynical and ruined before she was seventeen years old. Maybe she deserved everything that she'd lived through, including every vile and disgusting moment of the night her father had sent her to Gino Soleito's bed.
But then there was Johnny, her beautiful beautiful boy, and there was no doubt in her mind that he had been born perfect. Somehow he'd managed to escape whatever darkness Anthony had marked Claudia with and she was going to make sure that it never touched him. She didn't know how exactly, but she had to protect him because he was her son and no amount of lies that her father told would ever change that truth. Anthony's only child was a demon but hers, Claudia's, was the closest thing to an angel she'd ever known.
Johnny was drowsy in her arms, lulled by the quiet and stillness into a light nap. She could feel his warm breath against her skin, his curls tickling her ear. She soothed his unruly hair back so that she could drop a kiss on his forehead, her eyes lingering on the sight of his peaceful, sleeping face.
"I love you, Johnny," she whispered against his skin. "My sweet, sweet son."
Claudia's soul might've been nothing but darkness, but Johnny was proof that even if she couldn't do good, she could make it.
Johnny would always be her light.