Summary: Don't just stand there, say nice things to me. Cause I've been cheated, I've been wronged. James/Laura
Warnings: Domestic violence, alcoholism, promiscuity, a whole lot of language and asshole!James. It's not pretty.
It's an apartment. It's not even a very nice apartment, but it's better than the place they've come from.
Two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. The living room is the most spacious room in the house. It's an inflated 850 plus utilities. James' painstaking search for employment after a devastating layoff has finally bore fruit, and while it's great not to have to depend on unemployment anymore or bite his nails over phone calls from prospective jobs, he'll be cutting it pretty close with the bills every month. Hell, he's almost positive he won't be able to afford this place for long.
He's never taken care of a kid before, but he's sure they're expensive too.
So, it's an apartment. Not a good one. Not a horrible one, either, for what it's worth. Could be better. Should certainly be cheaper, but he's not on the kind of terms with the landlord to sanction a plea to lower the rent.
The scrape of boxes against the floor validates the reality of moving. James feels the floor underneath his feet and this is the worst feeling. Being born all over again. New town, new people, away from everything he knew. This isn't a happy idea.
He'll give it a year, at most. He can't stay in one place for too long.
James works at a packaging plant. The work is seasonal and the hours are volatile, but it's better than nothing. They're at the point that just 15 dollars would help them out tremendously. It'd be enough to last them both two days of McDonald's for dinner. James and Laura have already went a day or two without eating before. While James has always been the quiet, long suffering type, never much inclined to argue or complain, Laura's 8 years old and going for a whole day without breakfast, lunch, or dinner doesn't go down well with her. She'll cry. And then he'll feel like an ass. A helpless ass that can't even feed a little girl. That's when he gets desperate.
James isn't good at hiding things. He's quiet, but that doesn't mean you won't be able to notice if he's distressed about something. He just fumes, ruminates, agonizes, or obsesses over things quietly. Good things don't happen when James fumes, ruminates, agonizes, or obsesses over things. Often the only thing that reaches out to him is the bottle. Perhaps it's even more dangerous to believe that the bottle is the only one that gives a shit.
He's already teetering on the edge of an abyss to begin with. It's just a question of how long it'll take him to fall in. He'll ignore it for as long as he can, try to ride it out before he starts teetering. God, he hopes it isn't anytime soon.
For now, it's an apartment. It's what they have. And it's where they belong.
The silverware clinks awkwardly between them at dinner some nights later.
James wonders if Laura ever considers running away again or betraying his trust in some way. She couldliterally go right down the street while he's at work, knock on a neighbor's door and say, "The man I'm living with kidnapped me," and he'll be arrested.
Perhaps if she were evil she'd try it. But being a ward of the state is a worser fate than having to hang around a boring guy like him, right? James isn't Mary but he's better than the alternatives, and he thinks Laura's come to terms with that.
She's the reason he stepped away from his car and followed her into that fog filled graveyard. To think of it: an 8 year old girl, a hero. A girl who goaded the jumper away from the ledge. An orphan's earnest desire is to be the center of something, isn't it? To accomplish something important despite being denied the gifts most children take for granted. Not like at the orphanage, where she was small, inconsequential. Maybe he can help her realize that.
He just hopes he isn't inconvenient. He hopes his presence is entirely wanted, because if she hadn't been there, egging him away from his car and from the water, he wouldn't be here and she'd be back with "Miss Millard and the mean kids." Those are scary things to consider for them both.
His eyes are downcast. He never knows what to do in moments not punctuated by the scrape and clink of silverware or the drone of the TV. Similarly, she spends their days together in relative silence, except when she wants something: help with homework, a bowl of afternoon cereal, a boredom drive-around, a bed time story, to play games he's more than 20 years too old for. James gives it all. He couldn't deny her if he tried. Right now she's all that he's got going for him.
James has found that fatherhood is one of those things that trigger an altruistic awakening even the most selfish of persons never anticipate. Some of them step up to the plate and willfully accept that the world has tilted in favor of cultivating this new life they've created; others, not so much. Sometimes, the door slams and a mother is left alone. But that isn't the person he's set out to be. In this case, the later would never be an option. He needs something to take care of about as much as she wants to be taken care of. He guesses it works out nicely. They feed on each other, need each other, and neither of them are in the position to leave. Sounds like two strangers trapped in a locked room with little choice but to get along, but thankfully they are strangers who've handled each other well so far.
He tries not dwell on anything else on top of his third glass of wine.
Just please God, not now. Not right now, James thinks as he rubs his head. He feels it pull at him, and he wants it so. He wants it so much.
Aren't I doing well?
He doesn't mean to. He doesn't meant to, but he does.
Downtown, there's a titty bar called The Blue Joy. There's this girl—she has auburn hair down to her mid-back, tousled and messy, the blackest eyeliner and some of the greatest legs he's ever seen on a girl. She's 22, and her name is Bianca.
She drives a shitty green Cadillac and he always sees her walking to work with dark blue stilettos. In the nighttime, they look black. But in the starry stage lights that beam down from the ceiling, he sees they're blue. She presses a heel down on the ground and pins his 20 underneath, all with one hand on the pole and her other leg wrapped around it. Her hair is all over her face like a messy mop, and the sweat on her sternum glitters. Her nipples are pert, showing through her bikini top. There's a skull and crossbones on one of the triangles of her top and solid black on the other. She went for a pirate theme tonight.
I want you so bad, it's driving me mad, it's driving me mad, says the song.
He leans back, hands on his thighs, and watches as she strides toward him.
By the time he works up the nerve to remember there's a kid at home waiting to be fed he's smashed to shit and everything's spinning and there's a whirring in his head. For some reason he's thinking of a merry-go-round, spinning and gaining color, then the merry-go-round morphs into a spinning top and then a dreidel that finally topples over and something full of glitter bursts and showers down on the night sky.
A pain explodes in the back of his head. He falls down. Someone or something's got him. He turns around and sees a man in a t-shirt with the name of the titty bar on it saying something about not being in a mood or not being in the mood and I better not see your face back here again, though he doesn't know what he's done and suddenly feels really sorry that he doesn't know. He tries to slur to that effect but the fat man just kicks him again and tells him to get out of here before he loses it.
He carries these words with him as he brings himself to his knees, wondering if perhaps he's lost something or is in the process of losing something—his keys, his wallet, himself. Feels another shove, but doesn't think anything of it. The man is as good as forgiven. He's too shitfaced to be angry, really. There couldn't be anything wrong with the world at this point, except his legs aren't working as good as they should be. But even that's a little funny. He forgives his legs too.
He doesn't know how he got into his car, just that he's here and now he has a table in his head spinning incessantly like he might have stared at it for a long while in the club and now it's seared into memory. Lots of colors, and flushed, freckled skin, red from misuse. Wondering where that came from.
James fumbles with the latch for an eternity. His head is beginning to throb. The light in the hallway is too damn bright. Why would they let a light that bright shine in the hallway? It's terrible, violating, searing. Finally he gets the door open and it hits the inner wall of the hallway with a thud. He wavers through the semidarkness, focusing on the light that leads into the living room.
Laura looks so confused right now. She turns her head and her blond ponytail whips to the side. She shuffles to her knees and screws her eyes at James, wary to approach him. It strikes him that there's no TV in here, just boxes, and Laura has been sitting in the middle of the rug, surrounded by these boxes, for God knows how long. He must have been gone for hours, but he can't remember when he left. He was supposed to be packing, but then he wanted a pack of cigarettes and…
James burps under his breath and stumbles back a bit, rubbing his head. No, this isn't right. This is not right, not right, not right.
"James!" Laura stands, her little fists clenched. Her jaw is working like only a child's could, unsure and searching for voice, but wondering what to say. She's probably never yelled like this at an adult before. "What happened to you? Why are you all…?" her eyes take on a look of imploring worry, and she frowns, her mouth opening and closing.
James burps, louder this time, and wipes his mouth. "Oh, sorry…" his lips curl into a smile and he shakes his head, palming his forehead. "I just… God, I dunno. I dunno what happened."
James doesn't know and from the looks of it Laura doesn't want to know either. She just wants to forget this whole thing.
He exhales a long stream of strong smelling breath and blinks for a few moments. This light is too damn bright. He switches it off and pops off his shoes, letting them plop to the floor. Clumsily, James lays blankets out on the floor and collapses onto them, falling into the unfeeling abyss waiting for him behind his eyes. So good not to think anymore…
Laura curls up in a ball and wonders why James came home so late. More importantly, she wonders what this means for her childhood and the coming years she is to spend with him.
Laura forgives him for all those times and may well keep forgiving him, because she's still here every morning. She always wakes up before him. Through his bleary, heavy eyes he sees her ponytail bob as she nods to her bickering Barbies, who are presenting their case to the Teddy Bear judge. One of them is the staple Barbie. Long blond hair down past her hips. The blond doll wears a fur-lined Christmas dress taken from the Happy Holidays Limited Edition Barbie Laura was given by the Salvation Army. The other is a brunette with shorter, mousy brown hair, a pink skirt. Maria's skirt.
Laura doesn't know that Maria is in bed too. She's never seen this ghost, but Laura, the sweet, unassuming princess, readily acknowledges and even welcomes the presence of this apparition. Poor thing; she doesn't understand what a nutcase he is. Resentment will follow in her later years—maybe even disgust. Maria doesn't come around that often nowadays, but Laura would be better off not knowing anything about her.
"Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey," Laura sings, turning to him with her usual bright countenance. Only until he took her home did he finally get her to stop being such a brat to him. She can't be more of a doll. She adores him now. Daddy, she sometimes says.
He thinks of Angela. Daddy was a demon. Daddy was a rapist. An eater of dreams and the crusher of hopes.
James might become him too. The Daddy that Laura will find out, too late, that she doesn't want.
Maria can never be Mommy, and James is just crazy.
She'll leave some day. He knows it.
"Laura?" He flicks on the light. She sits up in her bed, her blond, cropped hair disheveled from sleep.
"What's wrong? Are you okay?"
Laura shakes her head.
James carefully inspects the wound. High on Laura's pale, skinny forearm is a gash. He considers a cat, but then, the gash is too deep for a cat. It looks more like a large dog's, or even a bear, but of course that's completely out of the realm of rationality. He peels back the covers and finds the culprit: a loose bed spring, sharp and stained at the tip with her blood.
"Does it hurt real bad?" he lifts her up into his arms and she latches onto him, sighing into his chest. His heart skips a beat. While she's usually headstrong and willful, she can be affectionate sometimes.
"I'll have to wrap that up good and tight to stop the bleeding, but first I have to disinfect it, which might hurt a little, okay?"
James secretly loves the warmth of Laura's small body, the feeling that he provides protection. Though he can remember plenty of times he was denied warmth, agonies from which no one provided protection.
"Yeah?" he opens the cabinet door, trying to steady Laura with the support of only one arm while taking out some alcohol and disinfectant from the medicine cabinet. He bumps the door closed with his elbow and sits Laura on the toilet seat.
"You never told me how Mary died."
James shoots her a look.
Laura's old impertinence surfaces, and she lashes, "How did you kill her? Why won't you tell me? Aren't I old enough?"
James straightens. "Why would you ever ask something like that?"
"Because I wanna know." she presses. Her mouth is set in a hard pout.
"Laura, this isn't up for discussion."
"Why not?" she whines. "You don't want to talk about her because you want to forget all about her. You don't care about her anymore."
James breathes through his nose. "Go to bed, Laura."
Laura glares and petulantly thrusts her arm outward. "Aren't you gonna clean it up?"
James stares down at Laura sitting on the toilet seat. He wants to tell her the truth. That it was never meant to be this way. He never wanted it to be like this. But he can't find it in himself to say it and instead presses a cottonball soaked in peroxide to her cut and slaps a band-aid on it, carrying her back to her room. Even though she turns away from him, he still tucks her in and kisses her temple.
No, he never wanted this. If it were up to him rather than that sickness, he'd have Mary here too. If only Laura believed that.
A little while later and it's 3 in the morning. Laura's fast asleep. The whole house is dim and quiet. He's sitting at the living room table with a bottle of shitty bourbon that sears its way down his throat. After a few gulps he doesn't remember how things ought to be and more comfortingly, he doesn't care.