A/N: Well…this is it, the last chapter. Sad time. :(
I decided to go ahead and post it because I'm impatient; I finished this chapter last night because I couldn't wait. This is good and bad for you: good, because you didn't have to wait another month for this chapter, bad because you now have no more chapters to look forward to. I hope you enjoyed the ride, and I hope you enjoy the last chapter!
Sooo…after a (very short) debate I had with myself, I decided to break my rule of not allowing the characters receiving calls to do any thinking about the call they just received until the next chapter. Seeing how there isn't a next chapter, I decided to allow the character receiving this call to do some thinking at the end of the chapter. I believe it fits very nicely, and a wrap up chapter would've been short and silly, not to mention it would've broken the way these chapters have been set up, and I'm too OCD to let that happen.
Thanks to everyone who reviewed!
Disclaimer: I've already disclaimed both of these things, but for good measure, I don't own "If Today Was Your Last Day" or To Kill a Mockingbird.
Last Call: Valerie
Valerie didn't go to school the next day.
"I really don't feel very well. My head hurts and,"—she moaned—"so does my stomach. Can I just stay home today? Missing one day won't kill me."
Her dad had given in without much of a fight, and Valerie had retreated back into her room, where, two hours later, she'd managed to stay preoccupied by finishing To Kill a Mockingbird. However, upon finishing the book, her mind was free to think. She glanced around her room quickly, looking for something else with which she could distract her mind. Her eyes landed on her unfinished science project, but it wasn't due for another month, and she was too exhausted from reading the last hundred pages of her English book to work on science.
The momentary lapse of something to do was all that was needed to release the floodgates.
Without warning, Valerie's mind shifted back to the insane phone call she'd gotten yesterday. Paulina had apologized for something. (Not something that actually made a difference in Valerie's life…but still, Valerie didn't know the girl was capable of sympathy.) Paulina. PAULINA! The girl actual does have a heart…somewhere underneath that cold and evil exterior…somewhere very very very deep inside that coarse outer shell of hers.
And if Paulina had the heart and the guts and capability to call someone she didn't like and apologize for something she'd done, what kind of person did that make Valerie?
"A lowlife. A coward," Valerie murmured to herself. She sighed and decided to do what her dad thought she was doing: lie down in bed. She put her hands behind her head and stared at the crumbling ceiling.
Wasn't that the real reason why she hadn't gone to school today? To avoid her problem? To avoid the girl who was the reason why she couldn't escape thinking about her problem? So the real reason why Valerie hadn't gone to school today was because she was…a coward, through and through.
Valerie tried to subdue these thoughts. She hunted ghosts, she risked her life to rid…or, um, help rid, the city of unwanted ghosts. That wasn't being cowardly! That was being heroic! That took guts!
But you don't have the guts to face your real problem.
Valerie moaned and shut her eyes. She grabbed a pillow and stuffed it in her face. She was a coward, and if she were honest with herself, she'd known it for a long time, and so had other people.
Hadn't Danielle called Valerie out just the week before, saying she was running away from her problems? And just four days ago, her dad had told her she was a liar. Valerie scoffed. What did they know? Nothing, that's what.
The soft beeping noise that alerted her to the presence of a ghost interrupted the silence. As soon as Valerie muted the noise, her dad opened her door.
"Hey, Sweetie. Feeling any better?"
Making a split second decision, Valerie yawned and nodded. "A little bit, but I think I'm going to take a nap."
Her dad smiled. "Good idea. I'll leave you alone and let you get some rest." Valerie nodded again and shut her eyes. As soon as the door shut, however, she sprung out of bed and activated her hunting suit. Within seconds, she was flying through the air, in search of the ghost that had triggered her tracker. When she noticed a large group of people running, she took off in the direction they were running from.
A ghost tiger was rampaging throughout town, causing chaos. It roared, sending another group of frightened people running away. The tiger noticed the frantic people and chased after them. "Oh no you don't!" Valerie yelled as she barreled down on the white and green tiger. She shot at it to draw its attention away from the scared pedestrians. It growled and began chasing her instead. Valerie smirked and let the ghost get as close to her as she dared before flipping into the air and sending a volley of shots at its back.
It roared in pain and turned blazing yellow eyes in her direction once more. "Come and get me," Valerie taunted. As the tiger ran toward her, she activated her shoulder blasters, which effectively stopped the tiger's rampage. It whimpered in pain as Valerie pulled out her thermos to trap it. She shook the thermos with pride and heard the protesting roars of the tiger from within.
A semi-large group of people were now emerging from hiding places and walking back to the scene of the chaos. Many clapped, others returned to their normal business without so much as a glance at the red-clad girl who had triumphed over the beast (after all, what was a day in Amity Park without a ghost attack?), but Valerie heard the voice of one small child ask his mother a question.
"Mommy, isn't that the girl who hunted Danny Phantom?"
Sourly, Valerie didn't spare a glance at the concerned child. Instead, she kicked back up into the air and returned home. She lay back down on her bed and folded her arms across her chest. Even capturing a ghost hadn't made her feel any better. That little kid had ruined the moment for her.
Valerie had given the idea of revealing herself to the town immense thought. On one hand, being free of the secrets and the lies would be nice, but Valerie couldn't deny the fact that even a five year old knew: she used to hunt the ghost that was now the town hero. Instead of being welcomed into society like Danny had been, people would hate her and only recognize her as the girl who had hunted Danny Phantom.
Fed up with her depressing thoughts, Valerie plucked her ear buds from her bedside table. She plugged the end into her MP3 player and fell asleep to the words of "If Today Was Your Last Day."
Friday, Valerie realized that subjecting herself to nothing but her thoughts for company the day before was close to ridiculous, so she decided to drag herself to school, where she would at least have the luxury of drowning out her thoughts with lectures and the babble of other students. Walking through the familiar halls of Casper High turned out to be exactly what she didn't want. She managed to run into Paulina twice before first period and by lunch time, she was so desperate to avoid Danny and his friends that she took her lunch outside and sat under a tree.
By the time she returned home that afternoon, Paulina's words from two days ago were echoing through her mind non-stop: "I decided to go ahead and call you because I'd probably regret it if, say, I died in the next five minutes or something. I'm the only one who could really tell you how I feel, and if I didn't tell you, you'd never know."
In the end, despite the words from her father and Dani and the horrible feelings that had been plaguing her lately, those words were what pushed her over the edge. Because, if she had the chance to tell only one person how she really felt before she died, she knew who she would need to call and what she would need to say. Her backpack had barely hit the floor of her bedroom before she whipped out her cell phone.
With the simple push of speed dial three, she was seconds away from the hardest phone call she would ever make.
"Still wish you could have flown me home. I hate walking."
He sighed. "Yeah, but your dad promised to threaten me with ghost weapons if I spent too much time with you, you know that, so we have to convince your parents that we don't spend every second of our free time together. I still don't know where he got those ghost weapons."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Okay, I can see my house. I'll call you back once I'm past my parents and in my room."
He hung up the phone and tapped a few keys on his computer keyboard. Seconds later, Doomed was glowing on his computer screen. He had nearly clicked the play button when his cell phone rang.
"Huh, that was fast," he mumbled, answering the call without a glance at the caller I.D. "Hey, that was fast. What, did you sprint past your parents or something?" He laughed but hesitated when Sam didn't laugh as well.
"I…um, I don't…"—deep breath from the person on the other end—"I don't think you know you're talking to," a voice that wasn't Sam's interrupted.
Confused, he pushed back from the computer desk. The voice sounded familiar…it almost sounded like Valerie, but that was impossible, right?
"Danny, it's…it's Valerie, and, um, I—"
"Valerie!" Danny exclaimed. He stared wide eyed at his wall, picturing Valerie on the other end of the line. By the sound of her voice, she was nervous, probably shaking. Her heart was most likely racing. Quickly, Danny tried to make the conversation less awkward for her, even though it was awkward for him as well. They hadn't uttered so much as a word to each other for three months. "Hey, what's up? How've you been?"
A bitter laugh greeted his ears. "Don't even pretend, Danny. You and I both know this phone call is more than just old friends catching up after months of not talking."
Now at a loss for what to say, Danny remained silent, hoping that Valerie would quickly find words to fill the awkward silence. She took another deep breath before she said anything, though.
"I'm sorry. I've been acting like a kid the last few months, and I—I'm sorry." Danny frowned. She was sorry? Although Danny appreciated the apology, he felt a little let down. After months of avoiding him, all she had to say was— "And I owe you an explanation. I haven't been avoiding you because you're Danny Phantom. You know after we saved Dani from Vlad I started laying off. I mean, you were right about Vlad being evil," Valerie admitted, which confused Danny, "so I knew you must not really be as bad as I thought."
"Wait. What makes you say Vlad was evil? He didn't reveal himself until weeks later."
When Valerie answered, Danny thought he could hear surprise in her voice. "Oh, I didn't—? I mean, I forgot to—? Oh, that's not important just now. Remind me to tell you about it later, though. The point is," Valerie continued, leaving Danny frustrated, "that was when I started realizing that you must not be evil if you were working against him."
"So…you haven't been avoiding me because you don't like Phantom?" Danny asked. Honestly, that was why Danny figured Valerie hadn't spoken to him since he told the world the truth.
Valerie laughed again without humor. "No. The reason I've been avoiding you is because…I was mad that you lied to me."
"What?" Danny exclaimed, without thinking. He knew Valerie had some whack judgment sometimes, but there was no possible way she could make it his fault that he hadn't told her the truth. "Val, you can't—"
"I know. It doesn't make any sense. I realize there was no way you could have told me the truth. I would have freaked out, I know." Valerie paused, then dived in. "But that didn't stop me from hating you for it." Now that Danny had actually heard her say the words, his shoulders slumped and spirit wilted. He'd actually been hoping Valerie would come to forgive him soon and they could be friends again.
Valerie continued talking. "But I don't hate you anymore. And really, I should've come to my senses sooner. I've been really stupid for avoiding you for so long." Danny felt himself smiling now. "I do wish you would've told me after I found out everything about Dani, though. I think I could've handled it, then…probably better than I've handled it the last few months anyway." Valerie sighed. "I guess I understand why you didn't tell me then, either. I'm sorry for hunting you, and I'm sorry for reacting so badly when you told the world you're Danny Phantom."
Danny was still smiling when he said, "I forgive you, really. If the situation was reversed, I probably would've reacted the same way. Thanks for apologizing. So…are we friends again?"
Valerie hesitated before answering. "Well, I was hoping for more than friends." The smile dropped off Danny's face. She had to know about him and Sam—and hadn't their relationship ended years ago—? "What do you say to teaming up to fight ghosts?"
Danny's heartbeat returned to normal and he uttered a relieved laugh. "Yeah, that sounds like a great idea." Danny paused, thinking. There was something he wanted to know. "Hey, if you don't mind my asking, what made you change your mind? Why did you decide to call me today?"
Valerie answered immediately. "Oh, well, Dani had said some things that made me start to feel bad for ignoring you all the time, and my dad called me out for lying to you about my secret identity the same way you had lied to me. But what really pushed me over the edge was this phone call I got. The, um…the person who called me told me something I needed to hear, something she said she would have regretted not telling me if something happened to her and she wasn't able to tell me. I guess it was kinda like a last call. So…I decided that my last call should be to you. I figured it was like theoretically giving away the last, like, five minutes of my life or something. Anyway, the point is, I couldn't live with myself if I never made an effort to fix our friendship."
For the first time, Danny had absolutely nothing to say. Actually, he was convinced he had heard Valerie wrong. She couldn't have said what he thought she'd said. "Wait, did you just say this is kind of like a last call, if you only had five minutes to live?"
"Um, yeah." Valerie sounded confused by Danny's question. "Why—"
"And you said someone else called you, saying the same thing? This wasn't just your idea?"
"Yeah, that's right. I didn't come up with the idea myself." A moment of silence passed before Valerie spoke again. "And the person who called me said someone had called her. Hmm, I hadn't really thought about that. I wonder—"
"—who started it?" Danny finished for her. His mind was racing, but he tried to keep it quiet long enough to get off the phone with Valerie. "Yeah, that's amazing. So, you said you wanted to partner up, right? Well, why don't you come over around noon tomorrow and you can practice some with me and Dani."
Danny could tell he had confused Valerie with the sudden topic change, but she didn't call him out. She laughed. "Don't you think I know how to catch a ghost, Danny?"
Despite his now overly-active mind, Danny smiled. "Yeah, but for the last two years, you've been pointing your weapons at me." Danny smirked. If they weren't able to be honest with each other, this newfound friendship would never last. "So I figure you should probably get in some practice before we tackle a ghost together. You might forget you're on my side now."
Danny knew Valerie's silence meant she was trying to decide whether or not to be offended. Honestly, Danny didn't think there was any need for them to practice together; he only wanted to set up a meeting together outside school so they could catch up and build their friendship back.
And he wanted to meet soon, before they could retreat into awkward silence again for the simple fact of not remembering what it felt like to be friends.
Valerie finally responded, with a smile in her voice. "Yeah, okay, I'll be there. I'm sure Dani will be psyched to see me."
"See ya, tomorrow, Val."
"See ya, Danny."
As soon as Danny pressed the end button on his cell phone, the smile on his face faded and stared out the window, thinking.
Valerie said someone had called her to make a "last call," the same thing that he himself had done just last Monday. What did that mean? That someone else had had the same thought he'd had?
Or that Vlad had decided to pass on Danny's words?
Danny laughed, surprised and leaned his arm against his desk. He propped himself against his hand. The filthy, rotten billionaire had actually taken what Danny had said to heart? Imagine that. So…what? Had he called Valerie and then Valerie had called him? No, Danny told himself. Valerie said the person who had called her was a girl. So had Vlad called some girl, who somehow had a connection with Valerie? Or…
Or was the situation much broader than one or two people? Vlad had called someone. And then whoever he had called had called someone else, who had called someone else, and so on, and so forth, until…until the chain made its way back to Danny.
Danny leaned back in his chair and frowned. He couldn't help but wonder how many people had been affected by his actions on a bored Monday afternoon. How many people he knew had been touched by his one, seemingly unimportant phone call? Who would Vlad have called? Besides his mom (to confess his undying love, which Danny assumed he would've heard about) and his dad (to tell him how much he can't stand him, which, again, Danny assumed he would've heard about), Danny didn't think he knew anyone Vlad would've called that he also knew. Of course, there was Sam and Tucker, but what would Vlad have to say to either of those two? And besides, Vlad was being forced to keep a low profile. There weren't many people, including the four he'd just thought of, that would've kept Vlad calling them a secret.
And if Danny couldn't track Vlad's call, there was no way for him to know how many people had been reached. So he settled himself for thinking back over the last week and a half, trying to think of anything unusual that had happened.
It didn't take long for him to think of something.
His mom had called Dani to tell her she could live with them. Had that been the work of a last call? The action was very unexpected, and it had happened fast. Before he'd had time to think over that thought, another one was pushing for attention. Tucker had asked Jazz out on a date. Could he have made that a last call? Danny even began thinking that the rumor of Dash getting a job might have been the work of a last call.
Danny smiled. So that was at least nine people, including himself, who had been affected by the chain of phone calls. Huh, Danny thought, what are the chances?
And he realized that, even if he didn't know the full scope of the picture, everyone's life had to be a little bit better now, didn't it? Vlad had seemed thankful that Danny was sympatric toward him. Dani was now getting to live here with him and his family. Valerie wasn't mad at Danny anymore. And…even Tucker and Jazz were happier.
Tucker had finally worked up the courage to tell Danny about his date Saturday night. After pretending to mad at him for an entire day (during which, Danny managed to cause a huge commotion in the hallway at school that had completely embarrassed Tucker), Danny took mercy on his best friend and told him he'd already known about the date and that he wasn't really mad anymore. Tucker had been surprised, then angry at being fooled and followed, then understanding. Apparently, he and Jazz were planning to get back together the next time she was in town.
Danny suddenly thought back to last Tuesday, when he had found out Mr. Lancer was getting married. The man had seemed anxious that day, as if he were actually getting married that day. He had said it was nothing, but now Danny wondered if there might have been more going on…perhaps he'd been dwelling on making a last call too?
Danny shook his head. He was letting his imagination run away with him now; he was picking at scraps. Even so, Danny couldn't help but up the number of people touched by last calls to ten.
As he thought of Mr. Lancer, the mysterious Mr. Johnson also appeared in his mind—he and Lancer had become fast friends over the past week. I really ought to stop calling him the mysterious Mr. Johnson. After all, there wasn't anything more mysterious about him than any other teacher. Danny had found nothing since his first meeting with the man to make Mr. Johnson appear strange to him, except for the ever-present anxious feeling whenever he was in the same room with the man for too long, which didn't happen much. He figured he should just put his thoughts to rest; convincing Dani to do the same, however, was proving difficult.
But…really, there was no need to be suspicious of the unassuming man. If he had learned anything from Valerie's call and figuring out that he had caused a handful of people to think about their last minutes of life, it was that each day should be lived as if it were his last. After all, there was no way people could know when their last few moments of life would be, and if Danny attempted to live each day as his last, then he would have no regrets when he finally did live out his last day.
His cell phone rang again, interrupting his thoughts.
He picked it up, again without looking at the caller I.D. "Hello?"
An angry sigh greeted him. "Sorry I took forever. My parents held me up in the kitchen, talking my ear off. If my grandmother hadn't come to rescue me, I'd probably still be trapped there."
Danny laughed. "Why, hello to you too, Sam." Sam had no choice but to laugh, and Danny could tell that she was becoming less and less stressed out now that she had finally been able to get back on the phone with Danny. But now, Danny had something he needed to tell her. "You'll never guess who just called me."
"Um…the president," Sam guessed. Danny smiled.
"No, I said you'll never guess; you and I both know the president has installed a special phone in his office so he can contact me the next time the world is in mortal peril." They shared a laugh. Even though that wasn't true, the president had been very thankful for Danny's heroics last spring and made sure that Danny would be available if the world ever faced something like the Disasteriod again.
"Okay then, Professor Snape?" Danny rolled his eyes, even though Sam couldn't see him.
"Sam…" he began in a dry voice.
"What? I would be totally surprised if Snape called you."
"Yes," Danny said, "so would I, considering he's not real."
"Well! I'm trying to keep the conversation alive. Who called you!" Sam exclaimed loudly.
Danny paused for a second, trying to decide how Sam would take the news. "Valerie."
Just as Danny expected, Sam didn't respond immediately. "Valerie Gray? The Valerie Gray? The one who's been avoiding you ever since you revealed yourself? That Valerie? The one who hates your guts?"
Danny winced but trudged on. "Hated would more accurately describe her feelings now. She called and explained why she's been avoiding me for so long, and she apologized. She wants to be friends again. Actually, she wants to hunt ghosts together. Of course," Danny added for good measure, "if you're okay with that."
Danny could tell Sam was having trouble digesting the information. "And you're sure that she's really sorry? It wasn't just some…some superficial mess to get back on your good side?"
"Yes," Danny replied whole-heartedly. "I'm sure."
"Well then," Sam responded, "I…suppose that's fine."
"And you don't have any problem with me spending time with her?" Danny asked, again wanting to clear any and all waters of misunderstanding before it was too late.
At this, Sam actually laughed. "Oh, Danny Danny Danny, only girls with self-esteem issues have a problem with their boyfriends hanging out with other girls. Besides, I trust you."
Danny smiled, grateful that Sam was so understanding. She was obviously more concerned about the fact that Valerie hadn't been completely heart-felt with her apology than the fact that she wanted to be his hunting partner.
A sudden inspiration hit Danny. If he were going to live like every day was his last, he needed to start sometime. What better time than now?
"Hmm? What is it?" she asked.
"You know I think you're beautiful, right?"
Again, Sam's response was slow, but Danny could tell there was a smile on her face when she responded. "Thanks, Danny…because…even girls who don't have self-esteem issues need to hear those words from their boyfriends every once in a while."
A smile stretched across Danny's face.
This was only the beginning.
A/N: Okay, okay, so I actually broke another one of my rules, though not technically. In this chapter, I made it waaaay more obvious than in other chapters who was going to be called (even though Valerie didn't actually say she was going to call Danny). Honestly, though, I'd be surprised if most people didn't pick up on the direction of this chapter was heading before it was even posted. I've been steadily building up to this call the entire story, so I figured it was safe to let Valerie's thoughts wander. I also feel like her thoughts were a central part to her building herself up to make the call.
It's over! I ended up loving this story SO MUCH MORE than I had originally intended. For those of you who started reading this two years ago, when I made it very clear that this story was a completely random idea and that I had no definite plans or ideas about where it was headed, thank you for sticking around with me throughout the entire project! And for those of you have hopped on board over the last six months as I gained inspiration for and finished the story, thank you for reading!
Also, I bet no one can guess who my favorite Harry Potter character is. :P
To my reviewers:
I honestly cannot express enough how much I love each and every one of your remarks. I re-read all my reviews after finishing this chapter and was happy to relive the positive words (and even the negative remarks) that motivated me to do the best I could on these chapters. I thank you all for the kind and motivational words you shared with me!
Random Story Notes:
The entire story lasted 12 days, from Monday of one week, to Friday of the next.
The final document was 104 pages and 43,483 words (however, this also includes my long-winded A/Ns and doesn't account for the minor editing I sometimes do on FanFiction).
Only 5 people (an anonymous reviewer, bookphan44, TexasDreamer01, Elle Aitch, and raincaster) mentioned something (either through review or PM) about the story rounding off at Danny. Although only one of those people (raincaster) flat-out predicted that Valerie would call Danny (before Paulina's chapter was posted, I mean; raincaster predicted this call after chapter 6), one other person (Elle Aitch) hinted about speculation that Danny would call Valerie (after chapter 5).
I like and hope you all appreciate how the nature of the calls evolved but ended up coming full circle. Danny started the calls with the line "if I only had five minutes to live." From there, the first few characters also had the same reason for calling. Although that sentiment persisted throughout the calls, other reasons developed, such as "just wanted to brighten your day," "wanted to clear the water," "wanted to be unexpected," and more. But in the end, the calls all boiled down to "the last five minutes."
I really enjoyed having to create fun backstories for some of these calls (most notably…Vlad/Lancer, Lancer/Pamela, Tucker/Jazz, Damon/Kwan, Kwan/Sam, and Paulina/Valerie). I also enjoyed being challenged to have the mindset of so many different characters…kept my mind interesting and busy as I changed mindsets so often! And for anyone who has trouble writing certain characters, I suggest you attempt to write a story in which you FORCE yourself to write from so many different perspectives.
I ended up being very surprised (and very happy with) how much time I spent on popularity during this story. From Star's reasons on why she's still friends with both Paulina and Valerie to Kwan's ability to stand up to Dash and still remain popular to Dash realizing there's more to life than football and him and Paulina having a slight falling-out.
For anyone who picked up on Jeremy's hesitation during his phone call with Jack—"I thought you'd like to know that they've been put to good use a good number of times. I honestly don't know what we would've done without them. And well—uh, well never mind. Just know that we appreciate them."—I hope you now realize what Jeremy decided not to tell Jack. ;)
For those of you interested in Mr. Johnson, I realize I never "solved" that mystery. But it doesn't take much thinking to realize that I actually did. Many people have told me what think about Mr. Johnson, and they are correct; I also assume there are a number of readers out there who have figured it out but haven't told me what they think. For anyone who is confused and cares about the anxious feeling Danny gets about Mr. Johnson, re-read the first few chapters of the story, the ones that were posted two years ago, for a clue.
And finally, I'm impressed with how many people have expressed their thoughts on trying to think of who their last call would be. Glad I was able to make some people think! :)
End Story Notes
I don't have any stories planned at this time, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm done writing. I just can't tell you if or when to expect a new story.
Forgive my long-windedness! I just like making sure everything is perfectly clear before leaving a story.
Thank you all so much for reading and reviewing! Please take time to leave one more fantastic review to tell me how this chapter was!