Synopsis: First one-shot in the "What If?" series. What if Shelby had met up with Scott at the docks as planned in "Best Behavior"? Alternate scenes.
Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I don't own them.
"Love takes off masks we fear we cannot live without, and we know we cannot live within" – James Arthur Baldwin
Five minutes. Sitting on her bed in the dorm, she watched the clock, seconds ticking by, the normally quiet, barely noticeable sound echoing repeatedly in her ears, her heartbeat accelerating as she watched the thin red hand complete a full circle, starting back where it'd began. Four minutes now. Her thumbnail was wedged between her teeth, gnawing and releasing, gnawing and releasing. Her stomach was twisted in knots, pulling tighter, tighter, tighter still; she felt sick, ill, as if she hadn't eaten in days and she wasn't getting enough air and she'd give anything if she could just … three minutes. He was already there; she'd heard him slip out before, the screen door slamming lightly, his boots moving down the stairs, through the gravel. She closed her eyes; bad move. She could see him. He was sitting there, waiting, expecting … what, exactly?
"Maybe we, uh …could get together and hang out. Talk, maybe?"
Her eyes flickered open. Back to the clock. 12:58. Two minutes.
I can't. Got homework.
"Maybe tomorrow night?"
She could only make up so many excuses. Horizon and its limited parameters only gave her so many escape routes. She could only avoid looking him in the eye for so long and she couldn't look him in the eye without caving.
Yeah, I'd like that.
Lies. She wasn't a fan of talking, not about herself, anyhow. She'd listen to him talk about how he was feeling until he turned blue and had to gasp for breath. She wouldn't mind a bit. However, the second she entered the equation, the second he wanted to know about her, about her life? Run in the other direction, as fast as you can. Faster, faster, don't you dare look back!
"So, we still getting together tonight?"
She found herself in the laundry room; safe, neutral territory. He'd never look for her in here; no one would. Another clock, another taunting red hand. 1:03 and she was late. Three minutes late; did she actually think she was going to go to begin with? Excuses, excuses, make up excuses. You're good at making up excuses.
Um, tonight's not good.
"All right, how about tomorrow night?"
1:04 and "yeah" meant "no." She inhaled deeply, digging her now ragged nails into her palm, tucked beneath the sleeves of her sweater. He was waiting, wondering. Maybe he'd hate her the next morning, but he'd hate her even more if she told him the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help her God. She trailed her hands along the island counter, turning her back to it and slowly sliding to the floor, lightly dropping down and staring off into space. She didn't need to be mocked anymore; the clock read 1:05 and she was motionless. This is for the best, she told herself, pulling her knees towards her chest, waiting. How long would it take him to give up? A half hour? An hour? He wouldn't go beyond an hour, that'd be –
"Jeez! You scared me!"
She observed the face peeking around the corner of the island, trying to get her already accelerated heart, now stuck in her throat, to return to its rightful place. Well, so much for being alone. Removing her hand from her chest, she looked at Daisy with a mixture of disgust, curiosity and amusement. "Where'd you get the makeup?"
"Around. Used a laundry marker, baking powder .. charcoal, blueberries … paint.."
She was always to the point, never one to beat around the bush. Shelby liked that. "What are you doing in here?"
"Life. What are you doing in here."
Shelby smiled, just barely. "Hiding."
"Life." Her voice relied heavily on sarcasm. She paused for a moment, her stomach still twisted, knotted. "Scott told me about his life. Now he wants to talk … about my life"
"A reasonable desire from someone in a vulnerable condition," Daisy noted, gazing at Shelby. "But not something you're ready for."
She contemplated the question. The easy, obvious answer would have been a simple "nope," but she stayed silent. Would she ever be ready for it? How do you prepare yourself for something like that? It doesn't just come out in every day conversation; it isn't something you prepare like a stump speech, or a history presentation. Scott's secret was an accidental slip; he'd unwillingly exposed himself to her, and considering the circumstances, had no choice but to come out with the truth. For a moment she thought he had it easy, then cursed herself for even letting the thought cross her mind. His secret had been toxic, just like her own, eating away at his insides a little more each day.
"He was abused, Shelby. He doesn't have the plague."
It's not him.
But he hadn't told her all at once. The letters were only briefly referenced, almost as an afterthought. Had it not become such an integral part of the CPS case, in all likelihood, she would have never heard about it. She could always pick and choose, couldn't she? She could talk about her mother, about her biological father, about her little sister, the girl she'd sacrificed so much for to protect – she'd keep that detail to herself; she could make Walt a mere anecdote if she wanted to.
So what was Skinny's wrath all about?
"I don't know. She's clueless; the entire time we were together she never told me one thing about herself…"
She could omit. She could lie. She was a good liar.
Tonight at the docks? Around one?
1:23 and she was crossing the campus, heartbeat thundering in her ears. She wasn't running, her pace wasn't even brisk, but she couldn't breathe. She still couldn't inhale and exhale and feel all right. Her breath was caught in her throat and she just wanted to tear away at the invisible barriers because her head was being held underwater and she was drowning and all she needed was one gulp of air, maybe two, but she wouldn't be greedy.
She saw him and immediately stopped in her tracks. He was still there, sitting on a wooden crate, shoulders hunched over. She stood still for a few moments; part of her hadn't even expected him to still be there. Part of her wanted to run back in the other direction, back to the safety of the laundry room and Daisy because no, she wasn't really ready for this and she'd probably never be ready for this and he might never understand that or her or anything and then …
"Don't forget. You promised."
Damn him. Damn him for speaking to her in that tone and looking at her with those eyes and telling her she was beautiful. Damn him for still being there, his head in his hands, looking so upset because she'd promised and she'd lied and he really thought she'd come just like she said. Damn her feet for carrying her closer and closer and closer to him until he spotted her and now it was impossible to turn back and run away, and even if she did he'd run after her because he was faster and …
"I thought you weren't coming"
She heard his voice break a bit and so did she. "Sorry, I flaked. I was kind of tired, got the hands on the clock mixed up …"
Her voice was soft and she wasn't sure if she could have come up with a worse excuse, but he just nodded, pulling over another crate for her to sit on. She shook her head and sat down on the edge of the dock, her feet dangling over the water, her back to him.
"Heard Ezra's gonna be ok."
"Yeah. Daisy told me his parents left Stepford and went back to the Springer stage with Jerry and bald Steve during dinner. It wasn't pretty, Ezra was pretty broken up about it," she mused, actually using his given name, the more familiar 'Freakin' set on the back burner due to the circumstances. "He probably just wanted to escape."
He nodded, smiling at her references to their previous conversation. It was silent for a few moments and he allowed it to wash over him. "So," he approached again, leaving the crate behind to sit down beside her, "what's your family like?"
"Mom, little sister, step-father." She'd give him as little information as she could get away with. He was peering at her, so she sighed, looking down at the water. "My mom is a waitress. She isn't home a lot anymore, and when she is, its like – she's too busy putting all of her energy elsewhere. Jess – my sister, her name is Jess – she's in the 8th grade. She's smart, she has her shit together … she's all the stuff I'm not," Shelby admitted, chuckling dryly. "She's a good kid."
"And your step-dad?"
She'd left him out for a reason. She didn't want to go here.
Silent for a moment, she pulled her legs up towards her, wrapping her arms around her knees, holding on tight. Slowly, she turned to face him, her expression a bit sad, but otherwise unreadable. "He wasn't Mike Brady."
"Yeah, you know, 'The Brady Bunch,'" she commented, referencing his initial question regarding her family life.
"Oh, right." He smiled a bit, looking down at his shoes, then back at her. "So uh, do you guys get along? What's he like?"
She looked away from him, her gaze going out over the water once again. Yeah, what's he like, Shelby? Come on, just lie. Just say he's not your real dad, not that he's a real prize either because he dumped you off here after more or less having nothing to do with you or your sister since you were five years old. Just say he's ok, shrug your shoulders, act like nothing is amiss or was amiss or will ever be amiss. Say he makes good money so your mom doesn't have to work at the diner as much as she used to when you never saw her, but still too much because she's so fucking weak and sometimes you just want to cry and shake her because no matter how many times you've tried to tell yourself different, she has to know …
"Shelb? Did you hear me? What's your step-dad like?"
Really now, Shelby, what's he like?
He's great, he's fine, he's ok, he's not your real dad, he makes good money, he has a good job; he's your mothers husband and there are wedding pictures in the living room and they look so happy and normal and hey Scott, you might even like him because he sits down to watch football on Sundays; he likes to think you're really 'close' and he calls you 'Kitten' and you couldn't stand being in the same house with him so you ran away and lived on the streets and under the Santa Monica pier for two weeks, eating out of dumpsters and begging for pennies and yeah, selling your body because anything is better than being in your bedroom and waiting while your mother sleeps in the next room; he makes you cry and every morning in the shower you scrub your skin until its red and sometimes bleeding but you're still not clean and you still can't breathe because he took everything away from you so long ago …
She should have stayed in the laundry room, because it's too late now and she's crying because it hurts too much and she can't keep it inside any longer because she's still drowning and her head is still underwater and the world is spinning and she has to breathe ...
"Elayne, Scott. He's like Elayne."
Review, please. This is what happens when you watch old HG tapes at 2am. This would have been up then, but this site hates me, I swear. I might end up editing this, so suggestions would be great.