Apology first: sorry this has taken so long to update. Besides a strange work schedule, I split my time between two fandoms and sometimes one wins over the other.
But thank you guys for reading and reviewing and being patient! It means the world to me, and I adore you all. (and I promise; it might take awhile to update, but the fic will be finished…)
Chapter 12- Remembering, Forgetting
But I didn't. I didn't hate him the rest of that night after I'd crept back to my room; my lips tingling and my body heavy and sated. And I didn't hate him the following morning either, as I sat in the living room playing endless games with Troy. There weren't strong enough words in the world to describe what I was feeling beyond confusion, an unwillingness in my mind to acknowledge what had happened and to even wonder what might occur next. So impossible to hate him as I should… because last night had been my fault, too. I could have run. I could have screamed and fought.
But I hadn't. And if I had to admit the truth… I'd wanted it. Wanted those sensations, thrilling and blinding and utterly wrong. Had loved that feeling, beneath his caresses and murmured endearments that he desired me.
No, I didn't hate Tony. I should; but I couldn't.
It was an unusual occurrence; everyone in the house all together in the same room. Mother, miraculously awake before noon, and sitting primly as she flipped through a fashion magazine, avidly absorbing information about beauty regimes and the spring line in Milan. And Tony, quietly reading his newspaper and seemingly ignoring me, as I did him.
And yet, I couldn't ignore him completely. As though there was something drawing my attention, I kept sneaking glances every so often, my eyes taking in flashes of detail as sharp as if I were snapping a series of close-up photographs. The little crease between his brows, and the frown as he read something he evidently disagreed with. His profile; the sharp angles of nose and cheekbones, his lips soft and smooth. His fingers on the edge of the pages; those long, square-tipped fingers that just last night had caressed me with such gentleness and reverence…
Crack. The little ball that Troy and I had been rolling to each other slipped from my hand to thud against the floor, making everyone look up in surprise as I jumped nervously.
"Sorry," I muttered, cheeks flaming as I crawled across the floor to where it had rolled, next to Tony's ankle. But before I could reach it, he'd picked it up and held it out with a smile, his eyes meeting mine for the first time since last night.
"I think you dropped this?" he said, his tone nonchalant.
"It slipped." I reached out to take it from him and my fingers brushed against his palm with a palpable zing of electric shock. We both stilled immediately, my breath catching in my throat as I looked up at him.
I should hate him, I thought, my eyes and ears and senses full of his nearness, and my traitorous mind awash with images from last night. His eyes bored into mine; summer blue suddenly eclipsed with the depthless black of his pupils, and I could feel our breathing synchronize… small, shallow breaths that felt as though all the air in the room was sucked away.
"Leigh dear, what's wrong?" I tore my eyes from Tony to see Mother looking at me in confusion. How long had we been frozen like that; hands clasped, gazing at each other? Long enough to be noticeable.
"Nothing," I stammered, pulling my hand away. "Nothing's wrong."
"Then take your toy and say thank you. Honestly," Mother said, flipping a page so hard it almost ripped, "you should be careful with your things. It almost marred the finish of the floor."
"It's a toy, Jill. Not a bomb." Tony's voice was mild, almost censuring. "And you know, Leigh is getting too old for you to scold her like a child."
I risked one more sidelong glance at him, before I rolled the ball back to Troy. The faint smile on his face was normal, so very normal… but his eyes were still dark as he watched me. Dark and thoughtful.
I should hate him; oh, I should, I should… But it was hard to bury those feelings. Not just the thrill of his body on top mine, that tingling euphoric release when I closed my eyes and almost thought I could see the stars. But the rest of it. That right or wrong, he'd wanted me. That he'd cared about me.
I should hate him. But I couldn't somehow. And even worse of all… I didn't think I wanted to. My cheeks reddened slightly as I pulled my gaze away, willing my heart to stop racing.
Mother gave a little laugh, high and breathy as she flipped another page. "She's a child yet. Look at her. On the floor, playing with Troy."
"I am looking," Tony murmured, turning back to his newspaper. "I think sometimes you don't."
"I do," Mother insisted, still with that annoying, chittering giggle. "I know she's getting older… oh, but you'll understand what I mean one day when we have our own child. Age is just a number, darling. Leigh will always be my little girl, just as sweet and innocent at thirty as she was at five."
How strange to hear words like those. As sweet and innocent at thirty, as I was at five? What sort of Mother says something like that? As though the years I've lived mean nothing; the experiences I've had changed nothing about me at all.
I'm not the same girl I was two years ago; to say nothing of two days ago. And so much of it is her fault, all her fault. What would I have been like, if my childhood never changed? Would I be the Leigh Vanvoreen that she'd loved; or would life still somehow have turned me into who I was now… I looked up at her, seeing her and yet not seeing her all at the same time. Her beauty, so carefully honed and preserved, and yet nothing, nothing in her eyes.
"Am I ?" I asked archly, the words sliding from my mouth despite myself. "Am I still your little girl?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Mother said absently. "Don't I make sure you have pretty clothes and jewelry and other fancy things? Aren't you living here in Farthy with me, like a princess? What else would all that mean?"
I squeezed my eyes shut, pressed my lips tightly together to hold back the tears and the scream that threatened to emerge. She dared to claim that clothing and housing me was proof of her love… but those things weren't privilege! They were a right. Having a child meant doing the best you could for them. It meant looking up, once in awhile, from egotistical self absorption. It meant loving and talking and getting to know me as I grew up, it meant that I should be able to talk and share my feelings and never once fear that she'd dismiss my concerns or only hear what she chose to.
"Then let's spend the day together," I said suddenly. "Do you remember how we used to do that, long ago? You'd take me to the zoo, and we would laugh and laugh, imitating the animals. And then we'd go to the playground and you'd push me on the swings… and then we'd have ice cream at Martinelli's. Strawberry ice cream topped with whipped cream, in fancy dishes… and you'd scold me about dropping any of it on my dress, and tuck napkins into my collar so that I'd stay clean. I was so proud the day I was seven, and I managed to eat and not make a mess for the first time ever."
There was silence in the room, a silence that went on and on. I could feel Tony's eyes on me, appraising and pitying; and across from me, Troy sat as though frozen… but I paid no attention to anyone else. My eyes stayed fixed on Mother. The high cheekbones, her pale golden eyelashes fluttering down over blue eyes as she avoided my gaze. Why wouldn't she look at me? Was she afraid that if she did, her whole world and all the lies it was based on would come crashing down around her?
Or perhaps, paying attention to her daughter was a hardship, after all.
"If you'd like," I went on, my voice hypnotically soft, "we could just spend a day at home. Remember, when you taught me to make papier mâché jewelry? I had just started at Winterhaven, and I was so homesick… but you said that even if I was only home on the weekends, we'd make that time count. Give me good memories to take back to school with me, to remember until the next time I was back again. So we mixed papier mâché and I told you all about my teachers and the books I was reading, and you said how much you loved hearing about what I was doing… And I made you that blue pendant, like a flower. You said it was the most beautiful thing you'd ever owned and you'd keep it forever.
"Do you remember those days? Because I do. I remember them all."
I want you to prove it. The words burned to come out, but I held them in. I want you to prove to me that you're still my Mother, my beautiful Mother whom I'd loved so much. Prove that last night was wrong, that Tony is not the only one who wants me and thinks of me. That you do, too. That you still love me.
"We never do anything like that, not anymore," I murmured. There was still not a sound in the room, not a twitch or a wiggle from even Troy. "Not since we moved-"
I'd never thought a magazine closing could make a sound like a gunshot. But it did, and the rest of my words died, unspoken on my tongue.
"I'm busy," Mother snapped, her southern drawl so evident in her irritation. "I've got things to do; appointments to keep today."
"Shall I make an appointment to spend time with you, Mother?" Anger was starting to creep into my voice, my words emerging clipped and furious. "How is next Friday for you, then? Or shall I schedule for sometime next year?"
Mother stood abruptly, shoulders back and head tossed high. "Don't be ridiculous, Leigh. You don't have to schedule time with me; but with you're a child! Your days are full of that school and your little friends; and you can not imagine all the demands I have on my time! And I simply can not spend what I do have frittering it away on the silly things I was forced to do, to entertain you when you were young."
Her words fell like bombs as she paused, unknowing or perhaps uncaring of how harsh they were. She doesn't care, I chanted miserably inside my head, wrapping my arms around my stomach. She doesn't see me, and she doesn't care… and perhaps I am ten times a fool for even trying to recapture what we used to have together. Because I knew all along… that Mother, the woman of my childhood is gone. And I don't think she'll ever come back.
"Besides," Mother continued with her breathy laugh, voice back to her high society, whispery cultured ways. "I doubt you'd want to spend a day making clunky circles out of dirty paper to pass off as jewelry. You know what real things of value are, now. Don't you have that necklace we gave you at Christmas; that pretty one with the diamonds? Isn't something like that so much better than some silly thing a little girl would make?"
"Some things sparkle more than gems," I said, my voice sharp. "What something looks like on the surface is not as important as what's inside, or the care it was made with."
But I saw in an instant that my words, and even my tone was being ignored as she turned away from me. It was as though I hadn't even spoken at all.
"If you want to spend some time with me, be a good girl and come up to my room to help me get dressed. I have got to meet the girls for lunch, and then I've got a manicure booked…" Mother's voice grew fainter as she walked up the stairs, and I glared at her back, my throat tight and hot with unshed tears.
Tony stretched out a hand to help me off the floor and I took it reluctantly, feeling his palm warm and secure beneath my trembling fingers.
"You should go," he said quietly, his voice full of pity. "If you want to… I don't think she'll be back until late. We're going to a party this evening; and you leave for Winterhaven in the morning, don't you? If you don't go now, you won't see her until next week."
"Perhaps she'll have time then," I muttered. "I'll pencil myself in."
He gave a short bark of laughter, less from humor than to release the tension in the room.
"Perhaps we both should," he answered. There was a tone in his voice, slightly sad and mocking all at the same time. "You're not the only one who rarely sees her for quality time."
Small fingers clutched the edge of my skirt, tugging slightly until I looked to see Troy by my side. "Can we?" he whispered, eyes large and worried as he looked up at me, "make that paper stuff? Can we? What is it?"
I forced a smile on my face, reaching down to tousle his hair.
"Haven't you ever played with that? It's paper… wet paper, that dries hard. And you can build things out of it." His eyes widened and a grin broke out across his face; and suddenly my own smile relaxed and felt more natural. The first real smile I'd had in weeks it seemed. "Of course we can, if you want?"
"Yes! Yes yes yes yes!" Troy jumped up and down, dark hair flying and I stroked it down with a gentle hand.
"It'll be fun. The two of us. We'll have a good day; one to remember until I come back next week from school. Go upstairs then, and put on some old clothes that won't get ruined. I'll come up in a few minutes with the supplies." Almost before I'd finished the sentence, Troy ran away. I stood for a moment, listening to his frantic scramble up the stairs, the sound of his footsteps receding away from us into his room, before I looked back at Tony.
It was the first time since last night that we'd been alone, and there were so many things that could have been said. Words; angry, ugly words blistered the inside of my throat and teetered on the tip of my tongue. I should hate you and last night was wrong and don't ever touch me again, I don't care how good it felt, it will never, ever happen again. Words like that.
But I was so wrung out from speaking to Mother. So… empty. As though she'd effectively stripped away another little layer of me, with her inability to care, to put me first in her life. I'd thought the last two years couldn't surprise me more about her… but like a fool, and the child she considered me, I kept hoping for things to be different. And they weren't.
Children think that growing up is easy. That you get older and bigger, and things will always make sense. But they don't. You get wiser with each passing year; you learn more about living, about people and life… and somehow everything isn't right anymore. Its twisted and turned around, and everything that you thought you knew was right just isn't anymore… Everything is wrong… or maybe it was just me. My life. Wrong and terrible and so very, very lonely.
So I stood with Tony, words pent up inside and my brain quiet and dead when he cleared his throat, eyebrows raising quizzically.
"You liked the zoo?" he asked. "As a child? Was that your favorite thing?"
It was the last thing in the world I'd expected him to say, and my mouth gaped for a moment.
"Doesn't every child?" I stammered. I shook my head in surprise, my hair flying around my shoulders in a bright flash of pale gold, catching the sunlight. "Yes, I liked it. It's the zoo, with all the animals…"
"I didn't," Tony said, drawing his thumb slowly over the inside of my wrist. Until then, I hadn't even remembered that my hand was still in his, but I did now. The warm flesh of his palm against my own, the soft shiver of skin stroking skin.
"I thought it was frightening how they were caged," he murmured. "How cruel that things so proud and beautiful were at our mercy. But of course I was very little, then. My parents took me when I was about Troy's age but I cried so hard they never took me back."
"Mother and I went once a month," I said hesitantly. "Sometimes by ourselves, or with Daddy. She would sketch them in motion… and sometimes she'd give me the camera so that I could try taking pictures by myself. It was my favorite thing to do on the weekends."
"We both grew up in Boston, but we had such different childhoods," Tony said softly. "I think I'd rather have had yours. Happy. With good memories." His thumb grazed higher up, tracing over my pulse point and I jumped, my cheeks reddening.
"Don't you have good memories?" I asked curiously, wanting to draw my hand away and yet simultaneously slide it more into his.
There was a slight darkening of his features, a tiny frown before he smiled, releasing my hand.
"Some," he answered, turning away from me toward his office. "There are a few things that I remember; but they're not really from childhood.
"I've got some work to do, Leigh. I'll check in on you and Troy later, alright?"
But I didn't even have time to answer before he disappeared, and I heard the snap of his office door closing with an odd finality.
We didn't make jewelry that day, Troy and I. But we made animals: lions and giraffes and bears… and one thing that Troy swore earnestly was a horse, but looked more like a dog. There was a veritable Noah's ark by the time Tony popped his head in the door, smiling when he saw Troy snuggled by my side, clothes liberally coated with floury paper and glue.
"I'm painting!" Troy announced cheerfully, waving a brush with artless abandon, and splattering yellow paint on my cheek.
"I see," Tony chuckled. "Be careful though; you got Leigh. Its lucky yellow suits her."
"I'm fine," I said, getting up to get a tissue. "And I'm washable." I glanced in the mirror, but Tony reached out, turning me to face him.
"Let me," he murmured, using his handkerchief to wipe my cheek. I could feel the heat from his fingertip through the fine linen, his other hand blazing hot on my shoulder as he held me in place.
"All better?" I asked. The time with Troy had made me smile, made me forget the events of the past few days, and Tony's face relaxed as he observed me.
"In more ways than one, I think. You look… happier than you were this morning." His hand, heavy and almost possessive on my shoulder was at such odds with his voice, bright and deliberately cheerful, as though he'd never had a bad thought in his life. Such an array of contradictions in Tony that night… and despite myself, I found I was breathing faster; tiny, shallow pants… was that why I felt so light headed? The scent of his cologne, warm with undertones of musk invading my nose and tickling my memory. His eyes, serene and yet somehow shuttered; the steady blue light of them both bright and dark at the same time and impossible to read.
We were standing so close… too close, almost. If I took half a step I'd be pressed right against him; but he moved first. Away from me; with a slight warning look in his eyes and a stern set to his mouth.
"We made animals," I said, gesturing at the figures scattered around the room. How strange that the relief I should have felt when he'd moved away echoed in my chest, beating and re-emerging as a faint pang of regret. "A zoo of them; much better than jewelry."
Tony clasped his hands and leaned closer, seemingly forgetful of his tuxedo and dress shoes as he sank to the floor to gaze at them. "Those are Troy's," he said immediately, staring intently at a few of them. "Good proportions… realistic depictions even in such a medium. And I think those must be yours, then."
"I'm a terrible artist," I said, sitting down heavily beside him and sighing a little. "Mother – she tried to teach me about perspective and color and shading, but I'm still so bad at it."
"Me too," Tony confessed. When I looked at him, he was grinning wickedly.
"My parents knew, ever since I was little that I'd never be a craftsman. I was never very good at anything creative… That's why my father pushed me so hard in the business aspect. He would never have said it, I think he felt that even if I had no talent, at least I'd be of some use to the company.
"I'm just sorry," Tony added softly, "that my parents both died before they knew that Troy inherited all the creative genes. I think they would have been happy with him."
If anyone was meant to create and craft; it would be my small brother. We both turned, watching Troy humming Fur Elise beneath his breath and completely absorbed in his task, squinting and scrutinizing one of the giraffes as he carefully splotched it with brown paint.
"I'm sure they were happy with you, too," I said, feeling a bit shy. "Even if you're not the creative type."
Tony glanced at me, tucking his hand into mine and smiling slightly.
"It's not as bad as I've made it sound. I was good at other things; they were proud of me. Parents are always proud…" His words died out, and he squeezed my fingers slightly before quickly releasing them. He leaned over to press a kiss to Troy's forehead, then walked to the door without looking back at me.
"I really just came in to tell the two of you good night. Jill and I are leaving; so Leigh, we'll see you next weekend."
"Wait!" The word burst from my lips, and Tony stopped in the doorway, turning slightly so I could see his profile illuminated in the light from the hall.
"I should go," he said, not quite looking at me. "I have a beautiful and impatient wife waiting for me to escort her to yet another party. I know there are so many men who wish they could have your mother on their arm…"
It could have been my imagination, but I could almost taste the tang of annoyance in his voice. The bitterness and mocking; the trapped, shuttered light in his eyes.
"We didn't talk about-" I faltered, not knowing what to say. What does a girl of thirteen know about how to introduce such a topic… and to such a man. His body tensed, and he turned fully to me.
"There's no reason to," he answered tersely. "Last night was… it was a time that shouldn't have happened, Leigh. It's not what we're supposed to be; and while I know you're not a child-" he smiled gently, mockingly "-I should be old enough to have never forgotten that. It's the smart thing to do, for us to never discuss it again. Forget and move on, for everyone's sakes."
It was the correct thing to say. His words should have brought relief that maybe we could do that. And yet… I looked at him, standing in the doorway of Troy's room, handsome and strong and righteous in his belief that we could disregard the last two nights.
But I can't. I can't forget, and I can't hate him, and I can't even find it within my heart to hate myself to how I was feeling. Drawn. Drawn to him, little strings of desire and destiny, weaving us closer and closer together, despite all the reasons not to.
And in the end, I wasn't brave enough to do what I wanted. To run over to him, fling my arms around him and press my lips to his, or to even tell him that I couldn't forget.
"Fine," I muttered, looking away and firmly burying those traitorous, exhilarating thoughts down in my mind.. "You're right. I'm sure it'll be easy not to remember."