Disclaimer: I own everything, and nothing. I'll leave you to figure that out.
A/N: Well, It's been a year or more since my last update. I sort of lost this story. My muse and I weren't agreeing on anything and this just became a chore, another thing to do. Then today I receive a review. It was a anonymous, so I couldn't reply, and anyway, I think it's pretty cowardly to hide. But they basically read my story, which is under construction by the way. I wrote the beginning of this story over three years ago when I was just discovering my love of writing, so I was no expert. I have thus improved since, up to chapter five and left me: "Honestly. Mary-Sue. Bye." I am not saying they didn't have a right to do so, by all means, go ahead. But it angered me to know someone wasted their time putting negativity out in the world, but also hid behind the cover of anonymity. And yes, it hurt, but only because this story has been a sore spot forever and always. But I took that anger and used it for good and wrote furiously today and finished it. So, I guess I should thank you, whoever you are. You made me get off my ass and add to my Mary-Sue. I guess that was not your desired effect, huh? Oh, well. Sucks to be you.
A/N 2: This chapter is dedicated to the lovely Nicole. She has been poking and prodding at me to finish this story like it deserves to be. This is for you, BB.
A/N 3: Reviews and Feedback are lovely and MOST helpful, but not required. Little notes of encouragement always help a writer.
The Girl Next Door: Come Home
Come home 'cause I've been waiting for you for so long.
And right now there's a war between the vanities, but all I see is you and me.
The fight for you is all I've ever known.
"Ouch, Jack! Watch where you're going."
"Why don't you keep out of my way, munchkin!"
"I would if you weren't so huge!"
"You're the huge one."
"Way to make a girl feel special, dear."
"You're welcome. Now where is that damn light switch…"
"Gone a couple of weeks and you forget the layout of your own house."
"Find it then, smarty pants, but I doubt you're so incredible that you can see in the dark."
Maddie didn't respond, instead Jack heard a quiet shuffling along the floor and felt her walk past him. A few moments later, light flooded the foyer. Jack turned around to see Maddie with her arms crossed over her chest and a victorious grin tugging at the corners of her lips.
"Unfair advantage," Jack said, shrugging his shoulders.
Maddie rolled her eyes, making a tsking sound as she moved past him to travel deeper into the empty house.
"Where're you going?" he asked.
She turned back around briefly. "To find Lestat."
"You're deserting me to find the cat?" Jack asked, looking flabbergasted as he peered exhaustedly down at the pile of luggage he had to carry upstairs.
"Yes," she replied, glancing down at her stomach. "I'm pregnant, which is totally a 'get out of jail free' card." She smirked. "Have fun!" With a twirl, she disappeared in the direction of the basement.
"Thanks a lot!" he called out to her, knowing regrettably that she was probably ignoring him. He sighed heavily, hefting two bags over his broad shoulders. He muttered a few colorful curses under his breath as he trekked up the stairs, hoping Maddie was grateful.
About a half an hour later, Maddie reappeared walking through the threshold to their bedroom carrying a very content looking feline in her arms. Jack glared into the creature's smug green eyes before stripping off his shirt, tossing it into the wicker hamper just on the other side of the room.
"I'm going to take a shower," Jack said as he passed Maddie towards the bathroom.
"Okay." He heard her reply softly as he walked past. The skin of her fingers brushed his arm briefly, relaxing him almost instantly. It had been a long, tiring day in the car as they rushed to get home early than they had planned, but there was no need to let the tension linger.
The hot water cascading down from the showerhead felt heavenly on his aching, cramped muscles as it slowly melted away their trip in one fell swoop. Gone were the fights, the bickering. That long horrible night he had been carrying around with him like a dead weight evaporated in a moment of relaxation that was over too soon. He climbed over the side of the tub, gasping for a towel.
He quickly dried off and pulled on a pair of loose pajama bottoms before walking out of the bathroom and back into the bedroom. He smiled at the sight he was greeted with. Maddie had had fallen asleep seemingly at the moment her head hit the pillow. She barely had time to cover herself up and her legs dangled carelessly over the side. Lestat had curled himself over her stomach in what looked to be an act of protection, rather than comfort judging by the grumpy look frozen upon his elegant features.
Jack bent over her, pulling up her legs and adjusting them to be on the bed. He dragged her favorite blanket, a warm knit colored a dusky blue, over her and tucked in around her sides. He then came to rest beside her. Almost immediately after he settled himself on the bed, Lestat woke up. The cat whined at him, turning on top of Maddie until he settled so his emerald eyes caught sapphire, almost daring Jack to move him.
"Possessive thing, aren't you?" Jack asked him. He could have sworn the animal narrowed his eyes in response. "Well, you can have her tonight. It's only fair."
The cat let out a delightful yowl, his tail flapping in the air.
Jack chuckled. "But just tonight," he reminded. "She belongs to me, not you."
Lestat didn't like that, so much that he turned around again so his tail faced Jack.
Jack rolled his eyes at the tempestuous feline, giving him the same treatment by turning his back to him and faced the wall. Sleep came easy that night. After barely closing his eyelids, he had drifted off into a deep slumber.
- - - - -
Maddie yawned as she trotted downstairs. It was barely seven in the morning, but the house felt warmed by the sun already. In her fuzzy slippers and light summer robe, she felt truly comfortable for the first time in weeks. It really was good to be home.
She went straight to the kitchen as soon as her foot touched down on the ground floor. Coffee needed to be made or she and Jack would be very, very cranky people. She filled up the machine with water and grounds, flipped the top lid shut, and pushed the button. Maddie stepped back and looked at her handiwork with an oddly proud smile. Working the coffeemaker without breaking it or starting a fire was always quite a feat for her.
Maddie wandered into the living room, thinking a little reading will help pass the time while she waited for the coffee to finish brewing. Jack wouldn't be up until then, so there would be no one around to tease her about reading aloud to her child. She plucked Wuthering Heights off the shelf after deliberating for a moment. She was in the mood for something darker and nothing could top the deliciously evil Heathcliff. She sat herself in her father's worn armchair, resting her legs on the ottoman. It was not long before she found herself deeply immersed.
The door opened without her notice.
"Here kitty, kitty. Hurry up, you pain in the ass. I'm in a ru-"
It was the voice, full of familiarity, that finally got her to look away from her novel. Her eyes caught brown as he stood stunned in the foyer. "Bobby?" she queried. "Why are you here?"
"I should be asking you that question," he replied, stepping into the living room with his lips quirked in a half-smile. "When did you get back?" he asked, folding his arms and leaning against the post separating the two rooms.
Maddie curled over the corner of the page, dog-earing her place in the book. She placed it down on the side table and pushed herself up and off the chair. "Late last night. Jack drove like a mad-"
The creaking of the floorboards halted her speech. Jack was up.
"Maddie? Are you -"
She winced as he came into the room. The look of happiness on Bobby's face made her feel sick. The sudden glare on Jack's features made her feel guilty. It was not even eight yet, but she had a headache that she knew wouldn't be going away anytime soon.
"Speak of the devil!" Bobby exclaimed, moving to clap Jack on the shoulder. Maddie didn't even have to look to know Jack had coldly shrugged his hand off. She felt Bobby's gaze fall upon her and move back to Jack, deciphering the message hidden invisible in the air.
When Maddie looked up, if didn't surprise her to see Bobby standing over her, heat in his gaze. "You told him."
She swallowed the lump in her throat. "It sort of slipped out."
"It sort of slipped out?" he said, throwing her feeble argument back in her face. Maddie wanted to crawl back to bed. Or maybe take off in the impala, leaving Detroit in the dust.
"I…-" The words tangled in her throat, bunching up in a knot too big to swallow. The urge to run nearly unbearable.
Then Jack's lanky body blocked everything in her line of vision and she was left to stare at the back of his t-shirt. "Don't get angry with her!" The muscles under the thin, worn fabric tensed. Maddie reached out and touched the tips of her fingers to his spine. He didn't relax.
Maddie heard shuffling in front of her, like Bobby was trying to reach an angle where he could see over his little brother's shoulder and glare down at her. "She and I agreed this wouldn't get out. That it was behind us. Then she goes and tells you! I think I have every damn right to be angry with her."
She winced. Her fingers retracted and convulsed, grabbing a handful of Jack's shirt in the process and hanging on for dear life. Jack heaved a sigh, his shoulder raising and falling heavily with the breath.
"It was an accident. We were fighting. Actually, I was yelling and provoked her. If you want to be angry with anyone, hit me with your best shot."
A sudden, thick silence fell in the wake of Jack's words. If the situation wasn't so tense, Maddie would have giggled. A speechless Bobby must be a sight to see. The floorboards creaked, tan fingers appeared over the curve of Jack's shoulder. Bobby's voice was soft. "Man, I…-"
The front door banged open, startling the three of them. "Bobby, The hospital called. They need me to come in immediately. They're way short staffed today. Some kind of bug. Can you watch the little one for a couple of hours before Sofi gets ou-" The voice halted. Maddie moved quickly around Jack's body to see Charlie's wide brown eyes for herself. A breath, two steps with Hope clinging tightly to her mother's hand, the two woman stood facing each other.
"Welcome home." Charlie smiled brightly, the lines around her eyes seeming lighter, fainter.
Maddie didn't respond, but instead threw her arms about the other woman's neck, holding herself steady on her tip-toes. Charlie wrapped her free arm around her back. Hope nestled herself into the embrace by their legs. "Missed me?" Charlie asked, her voice like a light laugh. Maddie nodded against her shoulder.
"Sorry." Maddie heard Bobby say softly from behind them.
"I'm sorry, too, man," Jack replied, a grin creeping into his voice.
- - - - -
"So one night, we're laying on the couch watching some crap TV, and he goes, Let's get married. Tomorrow. I'm sick to fuck of living in sin, And I just laugh. Because you know, it's Bobby Mercer and you say the word commitment, he runs the other way. But true as his word, we were driving to city hall the next day and signed the certificate," Charlie explained, eyes alight and warm. Her hands rested on the table, her fingers twisting the silver ring round and round. "Figures he'd fail to cough up a rock."
That sent Maddie into a fit of giggles, clutching at Jack's shoulder to stabilize herself in her mirth. He shook with ill-contained laughter under her hand.
Charlie had called into to the hospital, claiming illness. Maddie gave her a disapproving look and she just shrugged. No one dies on a Wednesday. Mondays, or the weekend, but Wednesday? Everyone's still pissed that it's still the middle of the week that they hang on in spite, she explained, excusing her 'bad' behavior. Afterwards, they all migrated next door to the Mercer homestead, and Charlie thus caught Maddie up on everything that went on in her absence. Even went as far as to call Lucien and Allegra over to which Jack exclaimed, Doesn't anybody work anymore?
Maddie greeted them both with enthusiastic hugs. Still together, I see. Haven't wanted to throttle her yet? I'm deeply impressed, she told Lucien before attacking him with another hug. We're living together! Allegra's voice rang above the commotion and Maddie played faint. Eventually the group settled around the kitchen table, and Charlie started to explain how she and Hope officially became Mercers.
"We grabbed adoption forms on the way out. Bobby drove like a maniac and set himself down at this table as soon as he walked through the door. I've never seen him work on anything harder in his life. It took him two hours to fill them out completely. The we drove back to city hall. We handed them in, and I swear to God, Bobby was gonna attack the clerk when he said it would take a few weeks to process."
They all laughed, except Bobby, who was muttering something about taking too damn long. When Charlie finished her story and the conversation lulled into a comfortable silence, Maddie looked over the faces of her friends - no, her family. Each one of them content, happy in this moment. She wished she had her camera to capture it forever in time. And then it hit her, someone was missing.
"Where's Daniel?" she asked, and all faces snapped towards her. It was like whatever happy drug that was in the air was suddenly sucked out of the room, leaving them all sober. Their eyes shifted over one another, silently arguing over who was going to tell her what was starting to seem from the way her stomach twisted was bad news.
"Oh, Honey." It was Lucien's soothing voice that cut through her nerves. So it was gonna be him? Smart move. "Daniel's not well."
Fear seized her. She almost didn't noticed Jack's hand squeezing hers. "Is he sick?" No. No. Not another one. Not Daniel. Why must you take everyone from me?
Lucien look startled, but he faced softened, apologetic. "No, Sweetheart, but some things happened and he's not okay."
Maddie stood up, shaking off Jack's hand, and moved around the table. "Where is he?"
"Maddie, I think he needs-"
Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "Tell me where he is, Lucien," she said harshly, her hand balling into fists. They had no right to keep her from him.
Lucien sighed, his hand running wearily through his salt and pepper hair. Allegra place a comforting hand on his shoulder and looked up at Maddie. "His apartment. He hasn't left in days, maybe weeks," she said, relenting. She knew she couldn't stop her friend if she tried.
"Thank you, " Maddie whispered, and twirled towards the door. She heard a chair scraping behind her and she picked up her pace. She needed to go alone. She needed to go now. Daniel needed her.
- - - - -
She scrambled up the seven flights of stairs, hardly feeling the tiredness creep into her bones from carrying so much weight up so high. As she approached his door, Maddie plucked a bobby pin from her hair. She was not always the goody-goody. She had picked up a trick or two from hanging around the Mercers constantly. But as it turns out, she didn't need to pick the lock. A small twist and the door fell open.
He sat on the floor, huddled against the wall like a lost child; the wood and plaster the only thing protecting him from cracking. His curls lay limp and in straggles on his head, flopping across his pasty forehead. The ruby strands seem faded, diluted somehow, as if all the luster seeped out of him. He looked bleach, freckles standing out sharply against too white skin, like black sharpie ink on paper. His clothes were wrinkled and stank, even from a distance. He looked unwashed and unclean with the appearance of an unfamiliar scraggly beard.
His apartment was in as much a disarray and in need of cleaning as his person.
Her heart ached, wrenching hard in it's rib lined cage.
It was as if he heard nothing of her entrance into his domain, nothing but the silent call of her distress. He looked up and turned his emerald eyes her way. A tear escaped her eye. So this was how she was to find Daniel Ryan upon her return; an empty shell of what he used to be.
Her feet carried her to him without thought and she sat herself right down next to him in the middle of his mess. He laid his head upon her shoulder without words and wrapped his thin arms around her body. Her fingers tangled themselves in his curls, twirling and caressing. Trying to sooth. He clung to her like a small child and cried.
- - - - -
"Elise is pregnant." His sobs had slowed to hiccups after an hour, and had finally stopped. But hen he spoke, his voice was like sandpaper on skin. Pale fingers stroked the curve of her stomach. Questions were on the tip of Maddie's tongue, but she bit it and listened. "Isn't it awful that I'll know your kid better than my own?"
He paused, his breathing evening out. All the while he traced patterns on Maddie's stomach. "She found out and told me, and I got down on one knee. I think that was mistake number one. I was planning on asking her already. Just biding my time, for the opportune moment. I botched that one right up." He sighed, the breath settling him deeper against her side.
"She freaked out, saying things like, I'm too young, and, This is going too fast, and, my personal favorite, I want my mother. She packed her bags and flew home the next day. She isn't going to give me a say in anything. I only hope she doesn't abort it. If she puts him or her up for adoption, I can go get them and take care of it by myself. But if she kills it, I won't have a chance." He turned to look her in the eye for the first time. "I want to have a chance."
Maddie reached up and stroked his cheek. "You will. You have rights. I will help and we have Lucien, but right now, you have to take care of you."
"Starting to stink, eh?" he asked, a ghost of a smile appearing.
"A lot," she said, smiling more brightly. "A shower would be nice."
"Okay, okay. I get it," he said, pushing himself up off the floor. His bones audibly creaked. He turned and reached a hand towards her. "Help?"
She grasped his hand tightly. "Yes, please." And with his hand, yanked herself from the floor. She went to brush herself off, but stilled when she felt his hand under her chin. He lifted her eyes to his.
"Thank you," he said, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "I really missed you. Next time you decide to take off for months at a time, I'm coming, too, okay. Even if I have to ride in the trunk."
Maddie laughed. "Are you going to hug me? Because I've had enough of your filth."
"Well, now, I'm not." He smiled a little brighter. "But really, thanks."
"Yeah, whatever," she said, brushing his hand away and shoving him towards the bathroom. "Now, go. You need to be clean."
He saluted her, bringing back a little of the old Daniel, and turned on his heel and disappeared behind the bathroom door. Once the door clicked closed, Maddie set to work tidying up the apartment. She grabbed a couple of trash bags from the cupboard under the sink. There wasn't much she could do about surface cleaning, but she can get the trash cleared out and the dirty clothes into hampers.
She worked quickly, getting everything sorted before he got out of the shower. She took a grand second sweep over the place, carrying spray and paper towels to pick up spots. Once she was satisfied it was a vast improvement over what it was before, she tossed out the last of her dirt paper towels and picked up the phone and the phonebook. She flipped to the yellow pages and picked out an ear marked page. Daniel was probably going to be hungry when he got out and she wished she could cook him something, but this would do.
After she placed the order, she checked the time. It was later than she expected and a sudden wave of tiredness spread over her. She had wanted to wait for him to get out, but that could be longer than she had time for. Jack would understand if she spent the night, but she wanted her nice, comfy bed and her cat after a day like today. So she picked up the notepad and pen on the tiny table that held the dock for the phone and wrote him a note.
I went home because I am exhausted. NOT because of you. I cleaned your place a little. It is not completely sparkling, but I doubt it ever was. A sandwich is on it's way, I left money next to this note. You're welcome and EAT IT. I will come back tomorrow.
She ripped the sheet from the book and set it down on the coffee table along with the twenty she plucked from her purse. She turned and backed out of the apartment, quietly as she came, locking the door securely on her way out.
- - - - -
The sight that greeted her when she returned home was Jack sprawled out on the couch, his head hanging precariously off the edge, drool drying on the corner of his mouth, and The Weekenders blaring from the TV. She either wanted to fall down laughing or pinch his cheek from the cuteness. Instead, she nudged him awake and he followed her sleepily up the stairs and collapsed into a dead sleep when he reached their bed.
Maddie considered washing up, but decided against it on account she was as tired as Jack. As gracefully as she could, she slipped out of her clothes and into loose pajamas. Before she fell asleep on her feet, she slid herself into the bed. It was almost as if she fell into REM the minute her head hit the pillow. But it was far from restful. She was thrown into a land of nightmares, or memories. Which, she wasn't sure. But her body thrashed violently, tangling the sheets and nearly waking her bed mate, trying to escape the prison of her mind.
- - - - -
Maddie padded into the room filled with beeping sounds coming from machines all around. Her father was at her side, his hand firmly grasped around hers. She smiled brightly at the frail woman in the bed. Her clammy and unnaturally pale skin was decorated with tubes and tape holding needles in place. Today Maddie got to see her mommy, and that meant it was an important day to the five, almost six-year-old.
Upon reaching the side of the bed, Maddie immediately climbed up into it.
"Maddi-…" her father attempted to stop her from doing exactly what she did every time, but he was cut off by a look from his wife. He sighed and sunk into the plastic hospital chair at her bedside. "At least be careful."
She turned, and nodded at her father before scrambling to the coveted spot next to her mother. Claire Fitch opened up her weak arms to accept her daughter, and smiled contentedly when the little girl snuggled into them.
"And how was your day?" she asked, peering down at her daughter; who had closed her eyes, her head buried deep into her mother's side.
Maddie refused to lift up her head, but she did answer. "Okay. Daddy doesn't know how to braid my hair like you do, and Billy Samson pulled at it, and said it looked like a rat's nest," she finally looked up and gazed into her mother's blue eyes. "What exactly is a rat's nest?" she queried, scrunching up her face in confusion.
Claire laughed at her daughter, glancing over at Andrew with a look. He just shrugged and shook his head his head like he didn't know what she was talking about. She sighed, as her fingers tangled in the bushy mess of hair belonging to her daughter. "Did daddy even brush your hair this morning?"
Maddie smiled wickedly. "Nope. I didn't even get a bath last night!" she exclaimed, sitting upright in the bed and pointed at her father. "He doesn't take care of me right. I didn't even go to bed early… I-I just stayed up all night in front of the TV."
"Maddie!" Andrew shot up in his seat, and looked his daughter in the eye. "You know that isn't true."
Maddie glared at him, knowing full well he would botch up her plan. "He just doesn't want to get into trouble," she said, crossing her arms over her chest and looking hopelessly at her mother. "You believe me, right? That means you'll come home and take care of me. The right way."
"Honey…" Claire hesitated. She knew that it was wrong to keep her daughter in the dark about her illness, but Claire felt it would be worse if she knew that her mother was dying. It was an awful burden to put on anybody's shoulders, and she wasn't about to do to her daughter. So she lied. "Mommy's tired, and she just needs a rest. I promise I'll come home tomorrow after I've rested up some. We'll get you ready for trick-or-treating, and make you the prettiest angel. How would you like that?" The lie was worth seeing her daughter's eyes light up, and sparkle after she uttered it.
"Really?!" Maddie squealed in delight. "Thank you! Thank you!"
Claire smiled softly, happy to see her this happy one last time. "Now don't you feel silly about lying about Daddy?"
Maddie frowned and crossed her arms over her chest. "How did you know?" she asked, eyeing her warily.
Claire laughed at the suspicious look on Maddie's face. "Because I know for a fact that your Daddy is the best Daddy in the world and that he would do no such thing. Now go over there and apologize to him."
Maddie gave her mother a dirty look, refusing to budge. "Go on," Claire said, doing her best impersonation of the look.
Maddie sighed, and crawled over to the side of bed. She hopped off a little ungracefully, but made it to Andrew unscathed. "Sorry, Daddy," she said, looking down at her feet and twirling a lock of her matted hair around her tiny finger.
"It's okay, Baby…" he said scooping her up in his arms and pulling her close. "I understand why you did it."
Maddie hugged her father back, unaware of the tear trailing down his cheek, the way his identical gray eyes watered. Nor did she notice the same teary look her mother was sending her father as her hand glided slowly across the hospital bedspread or the way her father went to take it in his.
She was completely unaware this was goodbye.
- - - - -
Maddie woke up with a jolt with tears in her eyes and shaking like a kitten in the rain. She ripped the blankets from her body and threw her legs over the side of the bed, hesitation only to test the strength of her limbs to carry her before dashing into the bathroom, finding her way through the dark. She tossed back the toilet cover and seat, before dry heaving into it's depths. After a few gagging breaths, she collapsed by it's porcelain side.
Why was her mind playing tricks on her now? She was ready. She was resigned and awaited her fate, but now? She wasn't sure. Was it fair to bring a child into this world where she could be ripped from it? What if she contracted the cancer that took her mother? What if it was running through her veins this very instant? Humans had so little time as it was. What if hers was shortened indefinitely? Her hands fisted, her nails digging harshly into her flesh. Whatever happened, she was resolved to go down fighting.
Her first act of defiance, if you could defy fate, was to pick herself up. Using the bowl, she tugged herself up on quivering legs and moved over to the sink, where she splashed her face with cool water, as if washing away the demons of her mind. She breathed deeply, in and out, soothing balm on her frayed nerves. Clutching the sink, she looked herself in the eyes, repeating a mantra over and over in her head. You will not die. You will not die. You will not die.
It was then she felt the wetness and realized it came not from the sink, but from between her legs and ran like syrup down her thighs. Too afraid to check the color, she looked back to her reflection. Her mirror self seemed to be mocking her, a sinister grin on her lips that did not twist on her own features.
A scream erupted from her throat.