A/N: This one goes out to everyone who is still a LUX fan, who is still reading this story and waiting for updates. Thank you for being patient with me. I have been insanely busy this year, but every so often I still get a e-mail in my inbox telling me that someone new has favorited this story or put it on their alerts, and it always puts a smile on my face. I hope you enjoy this chapter. The next two are ones I've been looking forward to writing for a while so hopefully I'll get to them this summer. (And if any readers of my in progress Gossip Girl fic are reading this, that story has been put on hold for now. I'm pretty much heartbroken when it comes to GG right now, so yeah, I apologize.)
Old pale memories of someone you knew
Keep crawling through the back of your mind
And the closet's been shaken with bones
Little reminders that you're out on your own
8. Today Will Be Better, I Swear
Lux kept the slip of paper tucked in her pocket like a good luck charm for days afterwards, only pulling it out every so often to run her fingertips along the texture of the torn edges. Paper was the opposite of ceramic, or glass: unexpected in the way that it softened at each haphazard tear, as opposed to the straight, precise edges of pre-cut sheets that would slice through your skin if you weren't careful. Ceramic, on the other hand, became more dangerous with each sharp, jagged break.
She decided early on that she would start with the first name that Mr. Daniels had written down, the one at the top left corner. To be honest, she never allowed herself to read past that space, saving her mother's name for later the way you might hoard the last cookie in the jar, unable to face the inevitable emptiness that followed. There were times when she wanted to throw the paper away entirely. In fact, her fingers hovered above the wastebasket more than a few times, but in the end she couldn't go through with it.
A part of her wanted them to see her, standing there in front of them, in the flesh. She had resisted it for so long, but it didn't seem fair that she carried the baggage around with her every day for years while they lived their lives, oblivious to it all. Another part of her knew that it would be opening up old wounds that should probably stay closed. Maybe there was some good that could come of them meeting, but inside that good there was so much bad, too. They must've had their reasons for giving her up, but that nasty streak that constantly lived inside her was back, the one that made her want to stand in front of them and ask, "Was it worth it? Can you look at me now and say honestly that you would do it all over again?" She wanted to hurt them like they had hurt her. Childish, she knew. It wouldn't solve anything or erase anything that had happened. It wouldn't allow her to see again.
But she was starting to get it now, really get it. That life was a series of dominoes, balanced on their most precarious edges, set up in a random, arbitrary configuration. They fell depending on the angle at which the first one was knocked over. And once that one was down, you could only watch in horror as nature took its course and the inevitable followed. The world just kept pushing at you from all different sides, kicking pieces of you one way and then scattering other parts in the opposite direction. Often there was no rhyme or reason to it, but sometimes, the impossible happened: you could take the reins and make choices that would nudge the dominoes into a certain pattern, a certain toppled conclusion.
Lux held the thin piece of paper to her chest until she could hear her heart beating through it. Nathaniel Bazile, whoever you might be: the faceless man who gave me half my DNA, hidden somewhere behind those two names, two proper nouns. Are you ready? You're about to meet the daughter you forgot you had. She took a deep breath and stepped out the door. Her walking stick skimmed the surface of the ground, back and forth, back and forth, the same regular rhythm as the organ that thumped wildly inside her chest, betraying her nerves.
[ * ]
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Lux hesitated at the top of the driveway, her fingers brushing the handle of the truck door. But not just any truck. No.
Tasha slammed the door to the driver's seat shut, put the key in the ignition, and rolled down the window so that she could yell outside to her friend. "Come on Lux, I told you, he carpooled with one of his construction buddies today. He won't be back for like five more hours."
Still, Lux didn't move. Couldn't. "But," she said, and she wasn't sure how to continue that thought. "But won't he—"
"And I'll fill the tank again when we get back," Tasha added. "I'm a pro at this, remember? Relax. He's not going to find out. Now do you want to meet this Nathaniel Bazile guy or what?"
"Then get in!" Tasha started the engine.
Reluctantly, Lux opened the door and slid into the passenger's seat. She could tell immediately that it was still the same truck Trey had driven three years ago. That same smell (greasy hamburger wrappers and a tinge of cheap pot), those same seats (threadbare and thin but somehow still soft), and how could she forget—the seat belt that tied her down, always held her in place. She had been here before. Too many times to count. It's enough to make her want to hurl.
Lux could hear the concern in Tasha's voice, and she swallowed, nodding in response. "Yeah, I'm fine. It's just been a long time since I've been in a car like this, that's all."
For a few seconds, Tasha didn't reply. But then she seemed to shake off whatever was holding her back. "Alrighty then, let's get out of here." And with that, she put the car into reverse and stepped on the gas.
As they peeled away from the driveway, Lux let out the breath she hadn't realized she was holding. They were one step closer now. One step closer to what exactly? Well, that she still didn't quite know.
[ * ]
The seat belt strap ran diagonally across her chest like a beauty pageant sash, but it pushed against her, heavy as weights. She kept tugging it away from her body, readjusting it, hoping to find a more comfortable position in the seat, but it wasn't working and finally she gave up trying. The afternoon sun was on her face. She held up an open hand to shield herself from the burning rays, aware of how the gesture felt strangely similar to a wave. Like she was saying hello to whatever waited for her on the other side. Or maybe it was more like a goodbye to the rest of it.
As they drove, she kept hearing Eric's voice in her head: It's not just about you now, and it's not just about your friend. You realize that right? And Lux shook her head from side to side, trying to shake the words out so she didn't have to hear them anymore. She tried to empty her mind, turn it off, let the car take her wherever the road led them.
[ * ]
Back at Valerie's, Tasha had mapped out the route to Nathaniel Bazile's place. "Okay, I think I can get us there," she'd said, clicking through Google Maps while Lux stood restlessly behind her, hoping that no one in the neighborhood would recognize her. "Piece of cake." Now, she reached her hand out to Lux. "Almost there. What's the street number again? Let me just see that paper…"
Lux hadn't realized she was clutching the slip of paper so tightly in her palm, balled up and damp with sweat inside her fist. "No!" The possessive reaction surprised even her. Slowly, she relaxed her grip, but still she did not hand the paper to Tasha. "You're driving, Tash, you should really keep your eyes on the road. I have it memorized anyway." she said recited the number for her friend. As she repeated it out loud, she realized how familiar the sequence of numbers sounded, like she had seen it before, or heard it somewhere at least. But where? Unfortunately, she didn't have much time to dwell on that train of thought before she was interrupted.
"We're close!" Tasha proclaimed triumphantly, like they had been running a marathon and had almost reached the finish line. "Oh! Red light. Again." She slammed on the brakes, and Lux flew forward as the truck lurch to a stop. The seat belt held her in place. "This is the longest red light ever." Tasha drummed her fingers against the steering wheel impatiently. "Ha, I know I say that every time we hit a red light, but this really is the longest one, I mean seriously…wait a minute, I think I see it, I think I see the place! That's weird though, it looks like a—" Her sentence was cut off by a loud honk, and Tasha immediately responded by honking angrily in return. "Yeah, yeah, fuck you too, buddy," she yelled through the half-open window.
"What?" Tasha responded. "He flipped me off! You want me to just ignore it?"
"Yeah, maybe. You're in a stolen car," Lux reminded her in a loud whisper, "can you try not attracting so much attention?"
"I would be attracting more attention if I didn't respond," Tasha countered, petulantly, and Lux knew she was pouting. "Besides, I didn't steal this car, you know. We're just borrowing it. And it's not like it belongs to a total stranger…"
"No, it doesn't," Lux muttered underneath her breath. "Though I almost wish it did because that would sure as hell be better than this."
"What was that?"
Lux sighed loudly. "Nevermind."
"What? Seriously, it's true. Who doesn't get all bitchy and vindictive when someone gives them the finger?" Tasha scoffed. "And we are just borrowing the car. I told you he's not going to notice. Anyway, it doesn't matter because it looks like I got us here in one piece!" And with that, she put the car in park and killed the engine.
Lux rapped her knuckles loudly on the door of the building, feeling an odd sense of déjà vu while she did it. There was something familiar about the whole situation: the texture of the door and the way the sun slanted onto her face, the sounds of the cars rushing past on the adjacent road but especially the smell of coffee that wafted from the café across the street.
"Do you smell that?" she asked Tasha, as they waited for someone to open the door.
"That smell," Lux said, "there's like a coffee place nearby or something, right?"
There was a pause as Tasha looked around. "I think it's a bookstore actually."
And with those words, that feeling expanded in her chest, grew larger: the déjà vu or whatever it was, that sense that she had been here before, standing right here in front of this building waiting for something to happen, but on another day under different circumstances, without knowing the full story of what lay beyond the door.
"Anyway, this can't be the place though," Tasha said, breaking the spell. "It's not even a house. Are you sure you gave me the right number, let me just see that paper for a sec—"
Before Lux could respond, the door swung open.
"Sorry for the wait, I was just—Oh, it's you again. The blind girl scout, right?" That familiar voice, booming from far above like it was emanating from speakers in the corner of the room. That voice. That nickname. That handshake.
Second by second, the pieces clicked together in her mind until she had reached the only available conclusion. Nathaniel Bazile = Baze. The whole thing made perfect sense, even if just for a fleeting moment. "I'm not a girl scout," she found herself saying, just as she had weeks before.
"Oh, right. You're Bobby's girl. You can tell your boyfriend thanks for the two week's notice by the way, that was really considerate of him. That's the last time I hire a kid with a GED and a spiderweb tattoo on his neck, just so you know."
"I'm not Bobby's girl," she said, trying to keep the irritation out of her voice. "He's gone anyway."
"Oh yeah?" The man—Nathaniel, Baze, her father, whoever he was—sounded somewhat bemused by her indignation.
"Yeah. You want to know who I really am?" She took a deep breath. This was it. Now or never, no turning back now. "I'm your…I'm your daughter." And before she knew it, she had said it. It was out. She flashed him one of her rare smiles then, a quick, uncertain one but a smile nonetheless. She would've given anything to see his face right then. His expression (was he angry? surprised? happy?) or just what he looked like, whether she could see the places in his features that had been passed on to her own face. She wished she could see that. More than anything.
[ * ]
"Okay, one more time for the cheap seats," she repeated, pacing around the bar. She was beginning to lose her patience. Was her birth father really such an idiot that he couldn't grasp the concept of impregnating a woman and having a child? No wonder he had never come to find her. "You and someone had a kid. You gave up that kid. I am that kid. And now for some reason I am here at your place—house, bar, whatever—trying to explain it to you instead of the other way around."
To her right, Tasha grabbed her wrist in an attempt to calm her down. "Lux, let me see that piece of paper. I'll give it back in a second, okay? Promise."
Reluctantly, Lux relinquished her good luck charm, torn paper edges and all. Suddenly, after coming all this way, she felt defeated. In a way, she felt cheated, because none of this was unfolding in the way she had pictured it. Everything was all wrong.
Beside her, she heard a sharp intake of breath from Tasha. "Lux," she whispered, nudging her friend, "have you read the rest of this?"
Lux shook her head. "I was saving it," she admitted, and all of a sudden she was aware of how stupid that sounded. "I was saving it. You know, for later."
"It says here that your mother is—"
Across the room, Baze seemed to have recovered. "Cate Cassidy, that's your mom," he said, before Tasha could finish her sentence.
"Wait, Cate Cassidy?" Lux's mouth was hanging open in disbelief. She was sure she had heard him wrong, or that he was joking. Or something. "Cate Cassidy. The one on the radio, from K100? That's my mother?" Sure, she had fantasized about it, but she knew the difference between reality and dreams.
Before she could wrap her mind around what she was being told, another male voice broke in, also familiar, just as incredulous: "Class of '94 Cate Cassidy? Cate Cassidy was pregnant in high school?"
"Yes, she was."
"No. No." The voice seemed unable to accept that. "Cate Cassidy never would've slept with you. She was number one in the class. She had a perfect four-point-oh—"
"Okay, Math," Baze said, an edge to his voice, "you are really not helping here."
And the déjà vu feeling only widened inside her like a dark hole that swallowed everything in its vicinity. She was thisclose to falling in. "Hold on, you're Math?" Lux asked, turning in the direction of the voice. "The Math, Westmonte High Math?"
"What, you go there too?" Math seemed to just realize that this was a possibility.
"No!" Lux yelled, louder than she had intended. "No, I don't. You know why? Because kids like me, we don't go to Westmonte!" She took a deep breath and tried to calm down. "No. I heard you on the radio a few weeks ago. K100, actually. Let me ask you guys this—when did Portland shrink to the size of a quarter?" She could hardly believe that string of coincidences that had led her to this place in the last couple of months: "Bug getting a job at this bar of all places, Math winning tickets to Home for the Holidays on air while I happened to be listening, Tasha being sent away to Valerie's. And now, Cate fucking Cassidy being my mother!" It was too much.
The room stilled. No one said anything but she could hear movement, breathing: the world outside still living on. She was just one kid. In the end, she was inconsequential. Her personal dramas could not actually stop time.
"Take me back to Sunnyvale, Tasha," she said quietly, and held out her hand for the familiar touch of her best friend's fingers. "I'm done here."
[ * ]
The two girls were silent as they drove back. Lux tried hard to avoid thinking about what had just transpired back at the bar. Meeting her father for the first time—or at least meeting her father for the second time and this time actually knowing who he was. Almost immediately, she regretted leaving so abruptly while Baze came to life and called out to her ("Wait, Lux…hold on a second…") as the door swung open and shut and she stepped outside again, the last of his words cut off before she could hear them. There was so much more that she had wanted to say, but recently so many life-alterating revelations had come hurtling toward her like rubber balls in gym class that all she could do was dodge them. Behind the wheel beside her, Tasha seemed uneasy, as if she were lost in her own world of thoughts and worries and concerns. Finally Lux spoke up. "Everything's fine, right?"
"Yeah, of course. You know I always got your back."
"No, I mean, you know, at…home." Lux said the last word with a wry smile. "With your new foster parents."
"Yeah, I told you, they're alright. Valerie's nice, even." Tasha activated the turn signal and the hollow ticking filled in the spaces between her words. "I've had worse." The truck swung wildly to the right as it rounded a sharp corner, but then it settled back into the lane, continuing straight forward.
"Good." Lux felt her limbs relax. She stretched her legs out in front of her and slouched in the seat. Maybe there was still time then. Maybe there was all the time in the world.
[ * ]
She was sitting in one of the common rooms at Sunnyvale a few days later when Tasha came storming in. She didn't even bother to greet Lux, or to sit down in one of the chairs next to her. She just dropped something on the table where it landed with a dull thud, loud and heavy, and then waited, clearly hoping for some kind of reaction from Lux.
"What's this?" Lux asked, cautiously. She untangled the headphones from around her hair.
"You tell me." Tasha was pissed; Lux could hear it in her voice. About what, she had no idea.
Lux reached out in front of her, felt the object with her fingertips. "It feels like a shoebox."
"Ding ding ding! Give the girl a prize!" Tasha's voice dripped with sarcasm. "But what's in the shoebox, Lux? 'Cause it ain't shoes."
Lux sighed in exasperation. "You know, you're going to have to help me out here because I'm not a mind reader. What the hell are you getting at?"
"Photographs, Lux!" Tasha practically yelled. "Photographs of you! And Valerie! Mother's Day cards, report cards from middle school, drawings with your signature on them! I found them on a shelf in the hall closet. Is there something you want to tell me, maybe?"
Shit. It took a while for the words to sink in. Lux couldn't believe Valerie still had a collection of that junk after all these years. What did that even mean about their relationship? Valerie hadn't been the type to leave clutter lying around the house. "Tash, I can explain, I just—"
"You lived with them before, didn't you? Is that where your accident happened?" Her voice softened slightly. "It is, isn't it? I was thinking about it on the way over here. The dates match up."
Lux didn't speak. Her fingertips ran along the worn edges of the cardboard box on the table in front of her. What kind of shoes used to be in that box? Were they ones that Lux had worn? Or were they Valerie's own? Trey's?
"You know," Tasha started, sounding contemplative, "back when we were at the bar, you were listing all these coincidences that had happened and you mentioned me getting sent Valerie's in the same breath. I thought you just meant that the timing was bad, but really it was because you had been there before. Why didn't you just say something?"
Tears welled in her eyes. She didn't want to do this now. She didn't want to do it ever, actually, but maybe there was no choice now. "I wanted to," she managed to choke out. "But I was afraid that—"
"Whoa, Lux." The anger was gone from Tasha's voice, replaced my genuine concern. "What's going on?" When Lux didn't answer, she took a step back. "I remember when you were first sent there, I was back at my mother's where she was being her usual wasted, train wreck self, and we weren't talking much. But you wrote me those letters and you sounded so happy. You went on and on about how Valerie was the best foster mom you'd ever had and how this time it was really different and she wanted to adopt you. Then, the next thing I knew you had tripped and fallen down the stairs, and suddenly that deal was off." Tasha narrated her thoughts out loud, slowly and deliberately, like a detective nearing the conclusion of an extraordinarily tough case.
Lux winced as her friend recounted that period of their lives. "Tasha, please, I'm begging you, leave it alone."
"What really happened, Lux? Why are you keeping it from me?" The questions came flying so quickly, that Lux barely heard them. Well, except for one: "Who are you trying to protect?"
She didn't know the answer to that one.
[ * ]
The knock on the doorframe of her shared bedroom at Sunnyvale sounded wholly familiar. Lux could always tell who it was by the volume of it, the space between each individual knock. "Come in."
"Some might call it fate, you know," Fern said, by way of greeting. Her heels, muffled by the carpet, barely made a sound as she walked over and sat down next to Lux. "When the pieces all fall together like that."
"Coincidences," Fern explained. "Tasha told me what happened. That you met your birth father last week. That must've been difficult."
Lux scowled. "Tasha needs to stop telling you everything about me."
Fern's voice was kind. "She's worried. She cares about you. I know you understand that. You care about her too."
Lux sighed. "I do. You have no idea how much." It was true. She and Tasha had met, here at Sunnyvale, when they were just little kids. Back then the two of them had nobody else but each other. No matter how many bars she visited, how many birth fathers she met, or how many birth mothers she heard on the radio every morning, Tasha was her real family, a true friend, the one who was always there, physically present. She couldn't let her down. "That's why I have something to tell you."
Fern waited a few beats. Finally, when Lux said nothing, she continued: "Well, I'm always ready to listen, Lux. You know that."
"You won't believe me." It was what she had always been afraid of, especially after Valerie's own reaction years ago. People believed adults, not foster kids who pointed fingers and only made trouble.
"Oh, honey." Fern brushed the loose strands of hair out of Lux's face. It was something she was constantly doing. I like being able to see you when we talk, she said once. How is that fair? Lux wondered, but bit her lip and didn't say anything. "Is it the truth, what you have to tell me?" Fern asked.
Lux didn't say anything in response, only gave the most imperceptible of nods.
That was enough for Fern. Sometimes Lux wondered how the woman could be so understanding all the time, so patient, so good. "Then of course I'll believe you."
Lux turned to face her case worker. "How will you know I'm not lying?"
Fern placed one hand on Lux's shoulder. "Don't you know by now? It's my job to know these things." With two fingers, she lifted Lux's chin ever so slightly so that it was level with her own, and though Lux couldn't see it, she felt Fern's eyes on her. "Try me," the woman sitting across from her said. "Try me."