Disclaimer: I don't own Digimon, but I do own Riley, Tera, Taylor, Elijah, Natalie and Aaron.
A/N: School's out! How sweet is that?! I'm a fricken senior! And I have no stress at all for three months, it feels so good. God damned, I'm in such a good mood, you have no idea how good this truly feels. Except for the fact that its like 110 degrees outside and I just had to take the SAT's. That's enough to fry one's brain for a while. Now I must let you go enjoy the chapter. Laters.
Beta's Note: Hey fellow readers, yeah, some of the dialogue is very much grammatically incorrect, but that's the way people talk, alright? Kay, enjoy the story.
A cool blast of air greeted her as she stepped inside the air-conditioned restaurant. Trying to hide her nervousness, she wrung the hem of her shirt. The move failed miserably; her hands were not involuntarily shaking, but it was easy to see she was jittery.
She jumped, startled, as someone's hands landed on her back and pushed her inside the restaurant.
"They usually don't like it when you stand in the doorway." Kari's casual and light voice sounded soothing to Riley's ears, her hands felt warm and firm as she led her inside. But still, she stopped anxiously, causing Kari to crash into her. "Ow," Kari grumbled, stepping back.
"This is a waste of time," Riley began to argue, for what felt like the hundredth time, glancing back at Kari. Kari stood warily, staring back with her worn chocolate eyes and stray maroon hairs falling into her face. "She's gonna say no."
"So what?" Kari snapped. "She'll say no, we'll find another way." Kari quickly squeezed Riley's hand, then dropped it as if it burned to the touch, quashing any sign of sincerity. "Don't be stupid and give up before you try."
"Kari." They both looked up to see TK standing a few feet away. "We got a table. Come on."
"Wait a sec," she growled, turning back to Riley. The redhead was gazing at a table at the front of the restaurant. "Is that her?" she asked, watching the blonde girl sitting at the table.
"What is she doing?"
"Do you want someone to come with you?" Kari asked, her voice tight and uncomfortable. "Because I can."
"No, it's okay," Riley said, shaking her head. Kari nodded and turned on her heel, whispered something to TK, and walked away. Riley's heart quickened as she watched her best friend retreat.
TK smiled reassuringly. "It's gonna be okay," he whispered. "You know that, right?"
She shook her head. "Sara's my last chance to get away from that bastard. If she says no, I swear I'm running."
"But your mom-"
She leaned over and kissed him tenderly. "I swear I'm running." With that, she turned and left him standing there as she walked toward the table. The girl sitting there didn't notice her. "Sara?"
The blonde's head shot up and her blue eyes focused on Riley's face. "Riley!" she cried as she jumped to her feet, dropping her pencil and nearly knocking over her drink. Sara hugged her and kissed her check in greeting. Riley tried to be stiff and indifferent, like Kari was when hugged, but Sara's warm familiar arms were too tempting and she gave in instantly, hugging back tightly. "Oh, sweetheart, I've been so worried about you!" Sara pulled away, holding Riley back by her shoulders and surveying her with a disapproving look. "What were you thinking? You go off for days without a single word! Dad's going ballistic. I don't know what you've got planned. Especially now that some lawyer keeps calling up about taking you from his custody."
"I'm not going back," Riley answered as she shook off Sara's hands.
Sara smiled at Riley's rejection. "Good, I'm glad." She kissed Riley's cheek again. "Sit." As Riley took her seat, Sara cleared away some of the drawings spread across the tabletop. Riley watched with captivated interest at the rough pencil sketches of oblivious restaurant patrons.
"How long have you been waiting?" Riley asked, as Sara sat down beside her.
"Not long. Ten minutes or so."
"Sorry about that. TK's brother took forever to get ready."
"Matt?" Riley nodded. "Did he give you a ride here?"
"Because he can drive."
"I could have given you a ride. Why did you bother Matt?"
"It wasn't really any bother," Riley shrugged. "He and his friends were coming down here anyway. Besides, I'm living with them, so it would've been more of a bother to get you."
"You're what?" Sara demanded, flabbergasted. "You're living with your boyfriend?!"
"Well, sort of," Riley blushed, wondering if TK and Kari could hear her. "It's a boarding house for kids like me. You know." Sara nodded in understanding. "There's eleven of us altogether."
"I didn't realize there were so many of you."
"Some of the other kids - they came from Japan - they say that eleven's nowhere near the total."
Riley stopped talking as a small, pretty waitress walked up to them carrying a notepad. "Hi, sorry for the wait. My name is Erin and I'll be your server today," she introduced perkily. "Are you ready to order?"
Sara pulled her eyes from Riley and looked to the petite waitress. "I'll have the house salad."
The waitress scribbled something on her notepad and turned to Riley, who ordered without glancing at the menu. "Fries and water."
Sara looked confused. "Riley, you can get something to eat."
"I don't have any money."
Sara shook her head. "Riley, order whatever you want."
Riley hesitated before looking down at the menu. "I don't know."
Her sister rolled her eyes. "She'll have a cheeseburger, medium well, and a chocolate milkshake."
The waitress nodded with a laugh. "Alright so, a house salad, a cheeseburger, medium well, and a milkshake. No problem. I'll be right back with the shake."
Sara gave Riley an exasperated look. "Why didn't you just order?"
"Because I feel bad spending your money."
"Riley, are you working?"
"Do you have any sort of steady income?"
"Are you hungry?"
"Then don't feel bad. Now, tell me more about the house. Do you like living there?"
"It's okay. I like it because my friends live there and people like me, but there are a lot of problems. One of the older girls, who I knew before, has AIDS. TK has cancer. And my best friend hurts herself."
"Yeah," Riley looked down and Sara caught the hint.
"Like you used to."
"Well, not exactly. I just took a lot of pills, she cuts her arms."
"Oh." Sara stared down at the pile of drawings in front of her. "You stopped doing that, right?"
"You know I did."
"I know, I just have to ask. It's a habit," Sara smiled warily as she spoke. "So, at this house, is that Harrison guy there too?"
"Yeah, he's everyone's guardian. He's going to adopt me."
"He adopted all eleven of you?"
"No, only four. The rest of us have families that want us back, sorta," Riley smiled. "Some have families who are just spiteful and refuse to give them up." Sara sighed, knowing what Riley was hinting at. "If I go back there, he's just going to lock me in that room again. He won't feed me; he won't let me out, it's that simple, and with summer coming, no one will notice when they don't see me around." Riley stopped talking as the waitress came back and set a milkshake in front of her.
"I know that!" she snapped. "I don't want you to go back, but I can't do anything. It's his decision, not mine."
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about."
Sara's face softened. "Riley, I can't report my dad. He's my dad, for god's sake."
"He's your dad, but he's beating me."
"Riley, baby, we've talked about this. I can't. I'm just as scared of him as you are."
"He never touched you."
"Yes he has, don't give me that bull, and he threatens me all the time. Threatens to not pay for my college. Threatens that he'll kick me out. What about when he stormed into my room and trashed it because he was mad at me." She stopped herself, shock etched in her big blue eyes, as if she had just made a sinful confession. "I'm just as scared as you are. I've been on the wrong side of his belt too." She shook her head, still trying to recover from her admission. "Besides, I thought you were coming with me to Boston."
"I can't wait that long." A thought struck her. "I might not, anyway."
"My mom's going to come. My social worker found my real name, and she called my mom. Mr. Harrison talked to her, and she's coming." Riley sighed painfully, fighting to hold back tears at the thought of the dreaded meaning. "I'm scared."
"Oh, sweetheart," Sara leaned over and ran her hand over Riley's cheek, the touch of her cold rings sending a chill down the younger girl's spine. "Your mom isn't going to change anything. You'll come with me to Boston and you'll start high school there, just like we planned."
Riley smiled. "That's a diamond band on your ring finger."
Sara flushed crimson and turned her left hand over for Riley to see. "Embry proposed last night. You're the first I've told. Dad doesn't know yet."
"He's going to kill Embry for it. You haven't even graduated yet."
Sara laughed. "That's why he won't know until I leave."
Riley laughed, but it faded as she looked at her sister warily. "How can you stand him? He'd just so strict and... scary."
"It was hard right after my mom died. But, you know, after he got shot and couldn't work anymore, I had to learn to stand him long enough to take care of him. That's just life. I never stopped hating him, I mean, I almost had to drop out to take care of him. But he's my dad, the last of my family. It's still hard, why else would I be going to Boston of all places?"
"Because they have B-FAC," Riley answered.
"Yeah, Boston Fine Arts College, the dream of dreams. I can acquire the skills to become a sell out artist." Riley giggled. "Embry was accepted to Boston University, so he'll be close. And we've started looking for apartments. Two bedrooms."
Riley grinned. "I suspect we're not sharing."
"Are you nuts? Sharing a bedroom with a fourteen-year-old girl when there's a hot skater boy down the hall? I'd have to be crazy to pick your skinny little Puerto Rican butt."
"He doesn't mind me living with you?"
"He has no choice. Besides, he's ecstatic about you coming. He's been asking about you all week. You need to call him." Riley nodded. "So your mom?"
"Evil bitch from hell."
"You don't know that, you've been gone for six years. She could have changed," Sara scolded. "When is she coming?"
"Tomorrow, I think."
"You'd better not run," she warned, shaking a finger at Riley's face. "I'll drag you back kicking and screaming if need be."
"I won't. I have to stay. Otherwise, I'm never going to get out."
She fell silent as the waitress brought their food. Riley's stomach growled painfully as she nibbled at her fries and Sara watched in silence. "Riley, you know I love you, right?"
"I know," Riley nodded softly.
"I'm sorry, Riley."
Riley shook her head. "I just can't hold out for five more months. I'll live at Mr. Harrison's until August, then move out with you and Embry. No biggie, right?"
Sara reached across the table and took Riley's hand. "You're a terrible liar. You're scared straight."
"Yeah, I guess I am."
Sara kissed her hand. "It's going to be fine. I swear, Riley."
"Yeah," Riley muttered distractedly, running her other hand around the rim of her forgotten milkshake glass.
Taylor's bed groaned as Tera sat down, resting her tired body. Taylor was out with Matt, along with Tai, Kari, Sora and TK. Natalie and Elijah were out on their own, today being the first time they had gone out since Tera had gotten sick, and their unfortunate break up and subsequent make up. Tera missed Natalie being home to take care of her, but she was happy they had worked everything out.
Aaron was the only one home with her now. He was down the hall, working on homework, but no doubt he would be in to check on her later. He did that periodically, coming in to check on her arms, administer her eight or nine medications and talk to her. She wished he'd just leave her alone.
She supposed she could go down to Natalie's room and lay down; he would check on her less when she wasn't just down the hall. It was also technically her room, now that Riley had taken her place here. But Natalie's room didn't feel like her room. Since she had been sick, she hadn't brought any of her things down, and Gennai still hadn't gotten her a bed. Yet, with Riley's moving in, the girls' room didn't feel like hers anymore. She was stuck with the feeling of not having any place to go.
Footsteps echoed up the stairs, and Tera groaned as she pressed her face into Taylor's pillow. Here comes Aaron. The door creaked open and the footsteps stopped. "Tera?"
Tera sat up at the unexpectedly soft, confused voice to see Riley standing in the doorframe. "Oh, hey Riley." Tera gave her an exhausted smile and swung her legs over the side of the bed. "What are you doing home? I thought you went out with your sister."
"I did. She just brought me home," Riley answered hollowly.
Realization struck Tera. "She turned you down?" Riley nodded.
"Oh, Riley- "
Riley held up her hand. "Please don't say everything is going to be okay. Please, Tera," she whimpered.
"I wasn't going to," Tera lied. "Come on, have a seat." She patted the bed beside her. "You wanna talk?"
"I wanna die," she choked, as she sank onto the bed.
Tera decided not to press. "Where are the others?"
Riley shrugged. "Out. I expected them to be back by now. Sara and I left the restaurant a while ago. We snuck into the apartment and got some of my stuff. I can stop borrowing clothes from everyone." She pointed to a box by the door.
"Was your dad home?"
"No, lucky enough."
Tera stood and walked toward the door. "When I was in rehab the second time, they used to lock us in our rooms and not let us out. It was one of those institutions that was eventually shut down because of abuse charges." With a quiet thump, she shut the door and locked it. "I don't like being cooped up inside much."
"Do you want to go out?"
Riley stared at her. "But aren't you still sick? Wha-what if you collapse or something?"
Tera's brow furrowed. "Were you there when they brought me home after I ran into the rain?" Riley nodded. "You saw me collapse and -- my seizure?" Riley hesitantly nodded again. "Did it scare you?"
"Yeah, I thought you were gonna die," Riley admitted, not meeting Tera's eyes.
Tera sank down into the mattress. "Yeah, me too." Tera shook her head with a sigh. "I should know better than to go out. Aaron would freak, and I'd get sick again. That's always the way it goes. Sorry I couldn't remember you were there. I forget things."
"Me too," Riley whispered. Tera looked at her expectantly. "From before, when we were in... you know. I don't remember."
"You were a little girl," Tera excused with a shake of her head.
"Kari was different."
"Why is Kari different?"
"All of the Japanese kids are different from us. They finished their mission. They did what they were supposed to. We..." She sighed before continuing. "We got sent back. Kari had an easy life until two years ago. They all did, but we haven't. They were chosen because they saw something, we were chosen because we were something." Riley closed her eyes and sighed. "Or maybe because we know more about life than them. How many times have you seen someone die?"
"Too many times to feel it."
"We know what death is. We've seen it, we know it, we can't fear it." Riley's body gave a painful shudder. "Or we fear it too much to care." Riley didn't reply, and Tera continued. "I didn't remember much by the time I got here. I remembered whatever I had in my journal, and that's not a lot. It was too much, Riley. It's okay if you don't remember, as long as you remember you were there."
Riley nodded. "I don't remember my... my, uh..."
"Your what?" Tera looked at her expectantly.
"I've noticed you've made it a point not to say DigiWorld, DigiDestined, and digimon. Why?"
Riley stared at her as if Tera lost her mind. Finally, she looked away, feeling self-conscious. "I've just worked so hard to keep it secret, it's hard. There's a lot of prejudice, not everyone thinks we're good."
"But you're living in an all DigiDestined household now."
"I know, it's just a habit. Please, just tell me more."
"Okay, lemme think. You had Leomon and he looked liked a cross between a lion and a man. I had Apemon, who was a big yellow monkey. Elijah had Starmon, who was like a big sheriff badge with guns and boots. He kinda talked like Clint Eastwood, now that I think of it. Natalie had Wizardmon, a human type who was a wizard. Aaron had Snimon, this big green bug with two sickle things for hands. And Taylor had Unimon, this really awesome flying horse."
"Did they die?"
"Yeah, that's why we got sent back."
"I'm reading the journal you gave Gennai. It makes me remember things. Like you used to tell me stories to make me go to sleep."
"It kept you from crying."
"All the time! Elijah wanted to leave you somewhere, just so he wouldn't have to deal with you anymore. He ended up carrying you a lot."
"Why didn't Eli lead?"
"Because Aaron had hacked the system and read every map possible. Eli knew he wasn't fit for the job. So he folded after beating the crap out of Aaron." Tera smirked at the memory and they fell into silence.
"Tell me more," Riley begged.
"Like what?" Tera asked.
The phone rang, and Aaron grabbed it distractedly as he stared transfixed at the TV. "Hello?" he answered, as he paused the video with the remote control.
"May I please speak to Kaleigh Octavo?"
Aaron's brow creased as he took in the words. He hadn't heard anyone call Riley 'Kaleigh' except the American DigiDestined, when she first arrived. He glanced to the end of the couch, where Tera sat sleepily watching him, stroking Riley's hair as the younger girl slept curled up on her side, with her head on Tera's thigh. "She's not available right now. Can I take a message?"
"Is Gennai Harrison there, then?"
"Yeah, just a second." Aaron stood and handed the remote to Tera before walking out of the room. "Gennai?" he called.
"Kitchen," Tera called from the couch.
Aaron walked into the kitchen. Gennai was at the sink, washing vegetables. "Gennai, phone," Aaron called.
Gennai looked up and Aaron held the phone out to him. "Who is it?" he asked, as he turned off the rap and shook excess water off his hands. Aaron shrugged as the older man picked up the phone. "It looks like it's just the four of us for dinner tonight. Could you set the table in about half an hour, and give Tera the medicines she needs before dinner?"
"No problem, Gennai."
Gennai held the phone to his ear as Aaron went over to the medication cabinet and unlocked it. "Hello?"
"Mr. Harrison?" a feminine voice responded.
"It's Naomi Christien," the female voice whispered softly into the phone. "I was just calling to let you know I was in town. I came in earlier today."
"Oh, Mrs. Christien, how was your trip?"
"It was just fine, Mr. Harrison, I cannot thank you enough for paying for it."
"It was no problem."
"I was also wondering when would be a good time to come by? The sooner the better, Mr. Harrison."
"Whenever is good for you, really. Tonight is probably not so good, because I live quite far out, and I think Kaleigh may be asleep right now, so it may just end up being a waste of your time. Tomorrow, she'll be home after two, most likely. She and a couple of others need to go buy prom dresses."
"All right, I'll come then. Are you going to tell Kaleigh I'm coming?"
Gennai had been prepared for that question and had long since decided he would not be a part of this. "It's up to you."
"Well, do you have any advice, Mr. Harrison? From your letter, you seem to have a lot of experience in these situations."
Gennai groaned to himself as the phone clicked softly in his ear. "Kaleigh doesn't like surprises, I'll let her know before you arrive."
"Thank you, Mr. Harrison. See you tomorrow."
"Okay, I will see you then. Goodbye, Mrs. Christien." There was another click before he turned off the phone.
Aaron softly set the phone back in its cradle as Gennai said his good-byes to the woman. He turned back to Tera, handing her the glass of water and the medicines he had had brought back for her.
"Well?" she asked, as she took the glass and pills.
"It was Riley's mom," he answered, as she swallowed down the medication. Taking back the glass, he eyed her suspiciously, until she opened her mouth for him to see she had swallowed completely. "Your throat still hurt?"
She nodded. "Yeah, it's been killing me all day."
"Don't prod," she ordered, as she turned back to the TV.
"Aaron! Tera!" Gennai's voice echoed into the living room, causing both unsuspecting teens to jump. Riley stirred slightly on Tera's leg, as Gennai marched into the room, looking crossly at the pair. "I hope I wasn't keeping you two from using the phone," he remarked, his eyes shining with amusement.
Aaron looked at Gennai straight faced while Tera feigned confusion. "Don't worry. I don't need to use the phone. Did you, Tera?"
She shook her head, causing hair to fall into her eyes from her loose braid. "No, too tired," she grunted with a shrug.
Gennai rolled his chocolate eyes and smiled softly, though he had somewhat wanted to berate the pair. "Smooth, both of you. Very smooth." Tera bit her tongue to keep from laughing outright. "When did Riley fall asleep?"
Tera glanced down at the VCR to check how long the movie had been on. "'Bout twenty minutes ago. She fell asleep about fifteen minutes into the movie," she answered. "Do you want to finish watching it with us, Gennai?"
"That's all right, thank you anyway, Tera. I have to finish dinner."
"What's for dinner?" Tera perked up, feeling her stomach growl.
"Enchiladas and carneta. Mr. Chirano sent over the carneta."
"Yes! My kind of food," Aaron cheered to himself.
Tera reached out and smacked him across the head. "You're a dork."
"Do you think your stomach can handle real food tonight?" Gennai questioned sincerely.
Tera nodded and rubbed her stomach. "It's settled for the most part. I won't eat a lot." Gennai nodded and reached to touch Tera's forehead, but she flinched away. "I'm fine Gennai."
He shook his head, defeated. "Fine, Tera, whatever you say. Dinner will be ready in about half an hour." He stuffed his hands into his pockets, and, with a last look at Tera, walked out of the room.
"Why can't you just let him check your forehead?" Aaron grumbled, as he sank down with his knees to his chest, his foot brushing against Riley's. Tera didn't answer as she turned the movie back on. "You have a fever, don't you?" Aaron pushed on.
"No, oddly enough, I don't. I just don't want to be touched, is that all right?" she answered, staring at the television screen and continuing to absently play with Riley's hair.
"Yeah, that's all right," Aaron shrugged. "Sorry I asked."
"You're a bitch."
Riley looked down at the sleek, black dress in her hands. "What's wrong with it?" she demanded, running her hand across the velvet fabric.
"It violates the dress code," Kari shrugged as she turned away, avoiding looking at the dresses around her.
Riley looked down at the dress again and scrutinized it carefully. "I guess you're right, but give me an 'A' for effort." She watched her friend avoid looking at the dresses, standing stiff and awkwardly out of place in her baggy black jeans and tight muscle t-shirt. "Come on Kari, this is supposed to be fun."
"Yeah, maybe if I wanted to go to eighth grade prom, but I don't!" she snapped, stuffing her hands into her pockets and stalking away.
Riley dumped the dress back onto the rack and ran after Kari, catching at her heels. "Aw, come on, Kari. This is going to be fun. It's gonna be a whole three more years until we can go to a real nice dance like this. It'll be the last hurrah we have with our friends before we graduate and become the bottom feeders in high school."
Kari stopped in mid-stride and turned back to her friend. "You're forgetting one thing."
"Oh yeah, what's that?"
"You're the only friend I have, and you'll be doing the bump and grind with TK all night."
Riley rolled her eyes as Kari started walking again, and grabbed the other girl's arm, refusing to budge. "There are plenty of guys who are willing to bump and grind with you, but they're all too afraid of you, which they have every right to be."
"They're all pansies anyway!" Kari growled.
"Kari, it'll be fun, I promise."
Kari tried to yank out of Riley's grip. "Who would want to ask me out anyway?" With one final tug, Kari pulled herself out of Riley's grip, and fell backwards into someone passing behind her.
Riley stood over her laughing. "Well, him, for one."
"Huh?" Kari unsteadily sat up and mumbled apologies as she climbed off the person she had landed on.
"Ow," grunted the person, as he pushed himself up on his arms and looked up around him.
"What are the odds of this?" Riley mused. "Hey, John."
The boy looked up at her. "Hey, Riley," he greeted as he rubbed his butt. He glanced at Kari, trying to figure out who had run into him and froze, as she looked back at him. "He-hey Kari."
She looked at Riley. "You've got to be kidding me."
Riley laughed, shrugging. "What? I thought you liked him."
"Can we not talk about this here?"
John looked to TK, who he had been walking with. "Are they talking about me?"
TK shrugged, leaning down to talk to him. "I don't know, dude. Just smile and nod. That's the safest route at this point." John nodded and slowly rose to his feet.
"TK," Riley exclaimed suddenly. Her blue-eyed boyfriend stood erect at the sound of his name. "Come on, you wanna see my dress?" She grabbed his hand to tug him away and Kari watched helplessly as they started to leave.
John smirked as he stood over her. "Something wrong, Kari?"
"My best friend finds pleasure in pissing me off," she sighed, as she stared off after Riley and TK.
He offered his hand to her. "From my past experiences with you, that's not hard," he chuckled. Kari glared up at him before taking his hand and standing up. "No harm done with the fall. You're not going to stab me or anything, right?"
Kari chuckled and a shy grin spread over his face. "I don't stab, I kick."
He covered his groin. "Please don't."
"Gimme a reason not to," she replied, as she brushed off her butt.
"Because then I couldn't take you to prom."
She laughed with a roll of her eyes. "Well, that's not a very good one, because you're not taking me to prom. Lucky for you, I don't feel like exerting myself enough to kick you."
He ran his hand over his ear length jet-black hair and grinned with braced white teeth. "I feel quite privileged then, after what happened with Tommy Shaw."
"I'm not allowed to talk about that out of court," she joked despite herself.
"Kari, will you go to prom with me?" he asked outright, shyly grinning.
"I can't," she shook her head. "I don't want to go to prom."
"Come on, I'll make it worth your while." She turned away, to follow the direction Riley went, but John caught her wrist in one hand. "Okay, so Vail sucks. Prom is going to be a giant orgy and a reason to drink spiked punch. But it could be fun, provided you have the right company. And from where I stand, I'm alone, because my friends all have dates. Not to sound selfish, but I'd liked to have someone to accompany me."
"I don't want to go to prom with you. Or anybody, for that matter," Kari snapped.
"That's not what I gather from that conversation you were having with Riley." She didn't say anything, just cursed Riley under her breath. "Have you been hurt by a guy before?"
Kari didn't answer at first, but her brow creased, and her palms grew clammy. "Yeah, I have."
"Well, me too. I hope, not by the same guy," he joked.
She stared at him. "Hey, yeah, weren't you supposedly going out with Josh Ramos?"
"He broke it off with me," John grinned, but it disappeared as quickly as it had come. "Does that bother you?"
"What do I care who you go out with?" she shrugged, and his grip on her wrist tightened. "It has nothing to do with me."
"If I can convince you to go to prom with me, then maybe it will."
"I don't want to go to prom."
"Tell me what I can do that will contribute to you having a good time," he suggested, releasing her wrist.
She cocked an eyebrow. Why was he trying so hard? "Wear a pink tux and mascara to match."
"You'd have to help me pick out the shades. I'm not good with colors, and I'd like to match your dress." She rolled her eyes. "Is that what you want? I'll do it."
"I should have known better than to suggest something like that. You did wear a dress to school."
"I swear that was a dare," he protested.
"And here I thought all along it was Josh trying to prove he was the man in the relationship."
John smirked. "That too. So you'll go with me?"
"Yeah, I'll go, you don't even have to wear a pink suit."
"Oh, but I was really looking forward to it," he laughed. She couldn't help but grin. "I guess, um... okay so I will see you at school on Monday and we can discuss plans for prom night and whatever." She nodded. "Alright, I'll see you Kari." He turned and started walking away, but turned back and pressed his lips against her cheek before walking off.
"So tell me again why you're setting Kari up with a guy who's openly bisexual," TK asked into Riley's ear as she stood over the jewelry counter, looking at necklaces.
"Because she can't seem to get a straight guy," Riley quipped with a laugh. "Though that makes me wonder about you." He glared at her, but it went unseen. "Because John really likes her and he's a good guy. And just because sometimes he has no problem kissing a guy isn't a reason not for him to ask her out."
TK looked around and watched as Kari approached them. She needs a good guy.
Riley followed his eyes and smiled devilishly as Kari walked up. Kari gave a soft smirk. "Well, I'm going to prom, I guess. I really hate you sometimes."
Riley laughed. "Yes! I knew you would be. Now all we gotta do is find you a dress."
Kari waved her off. "That won't be necessary, I have one."
Kari turned to TK, looking at him expectantly. He held up his hands, fending off her stare. "If you want it, you call my parents. I haven't spoken to them since Christmas, and I'm not changing that."
She smiled softly. "Alright, no problem. I'll do it when we get home."
Riley watched them talk, slightly confused. "What's going on?"
"Kari has a dress that she wants to wear already. No need to shop anymore," TK explained hopefully. "Can we leave now?"
Every sound made Gennai jump and look toward the living room entryway. He stood by the wall, arms crossed and staring out the window. The room was hauntingly quiet, uncomfortable even for him, and he was a very composed man. The woman before him offered very little conversation, and was nothing of what he imagined. She was petite, with styled, dark red hair and a small, young face. Her eyes were large and expressive, unlike her daughter's often guarded, thin, Chinese induced eyes. Gennai thought that, other than that, Riley was the spitting image of her mother.
"Mrs. Christien, I have to tell you that Kaleigh doesn't know you'll be here today," he said, breaking the silence. The woman raised her large ruby eyes from the floor and met Gennai's. "I had to leave early this morning for work, and when I got back they were gone."
"That's okay, Mr. Harrison," the woman shook her head lightly, her voice shaky. "I... that's okay. Thank you anyway." She looked away, but then met Gennai's gaze again. "I heard she changed her name. What does she go by now?"
"Riley Christien," Gennai answered, repeating the name over in his mind, feeling it sounded wrong, yet completely right.
"That's her father's mother's name."
"Where is Kaleigh's father?" Gennai asked curiously.
"He couldn't make it, he may drop in later."
He watched her young face. "How old are you exactly, Mrs. Christien?"
She smiled softly, as though she knew the question was coming and had answered it a hundred times over. "Twenty nine."
"You were fifteen when you had Kaleigh?" he asked, his voice not betraying surprise or any other reaction. She nodded, seemingly shaken by the thought. "That must have been very hard on you."
She laughed bitterly. "Only because I was fifteen years old with a baby." She fiddled with some fuzz on her skirt, uncomfortably aware of Gennai's eyes boring holes into her. "What time is it?"
"Three fifteen. I'm very sorry, I really expected them home sooner than this."
"It's okay, she doesn't know she needed to be home," his guest excused.
The sudden sound of a key entering the lock of the front door caused them both to look up, and brought the woman to her feet. The door swung open, hitting the wall with a thud, and sunlight poured into the already bright room through the open doorway. "We're home Gennai!" Natalie called, the happy sound of her voice mingling with the sound of footsteps and crinkling bags. She appeared, walking past the doorway, carrying a long dress bag.
"Did you find what you needed, Natalie?" Gennai spoke up.
She jumped, not expecting anyone in the living room, but she stopped and smiled softly. "Yeah, I did. Do you want to see?" Elijah came up behind her, pushing his chair to stop beside her. Her eyes rested on Naomi. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize we had company."
"It's okay, I didn't tell anyone," Gennai excused. "This is Naomi Christien. Mrs. Christien, these are two of the older boarders here, Natalie Jarren and Elijah Leery. Kids, where are Riley and the others?"
"They're coming, they're just slow," Elijah replied. "Where's my sister?"
"She and the others went to the movies. They went to see X-Men, and then Tera and Sora are going to a party."
"A party?" Elijah demanded skeptically.
"A sleepover at a girlfriend's house," Gennai answered. "Don't worry, no drugs and wild hoppin' music." Elijah rolled his eyes before turning to wheel himself away, and Natalie turned to follow. "Elijah, can I persuade you and Natalie to take Kari and TK and leave the house for a bit? Perhaps you could go see a movie as well, my treat."
Elijah stopped and glanced briefly at Naomi. "Just TK and Kari?" Gennai nodded. "Okay, no problem Gennai. We'll put our stuff away and then go."
He turned to go, and Natalie followed once again. "You can show me your dress later, Natalie," Gennai called after her. She flashed him an excited smile as they walked away.
"Quite the diverse household you keep," Naomi spoke up, watching the pair go.
Gennai smiled. "The easiest way to teach these kids tolerance was to force others upon them."
New voices entered the house as TK came in teasing Kari and Riley, and the girls quipped in return, coming in with him. Naomi looked distressed; knowing her daughter was among the three, but not knowing which voice was hers. Just wait until you see her, there will be no question then, Gennai thought to himself. "Riley," Gennai called.
"Coming, Gennai," she called and Naomi seemed to flinch at the voice.
Riley appeared in the living room doorway, lugging a dress bag and grinning as TK chased her. She stopped and stared at Naomi. TK slammed into her with a groan. "Ma?" her voice trembled with surprise and fear.
TK stepped back and watched in confusion, his blue eyes flicking back and forth between the pair. Kari walked up beside him.
"I didn't know you were coming today," Riley said, looking to Gennai for help.
"Kari, TK, could you please go wait with either Natalie or Elijah? You'll be leaving again in a few minutes." The pair nodded, and Kari walked away. TK followed after planting a soft kiss on Riley's cheek. "Riley, please have a seat," Gennai said gently.
Riley walked slowly, unable to take her eyes off her mother. Gennai gestured for Naomi to sit back on the couch as Riley took a seat across from her. The cushion of the love seat sank underneath her, causing the nauseating sensation of falling, but Riley ignored it as she focused on calming her pounding heart. Her voice dissappeared deep in her throat.
"Kaleigh, I-" her mother started, and Riley flinched as the purr of the voice sank in her ears. The voice sounded nothing like she remembered. It was older and softer now. But then again, all she could remember was a drugged-up gargle. "Do you prefer Riley?"
Not trusting her own voice, she nodded silently.
"I will leave you two alone," Gennai announced, excusing himself from the room. Watching the two was an extremely painful sight; both deeply feared each other and both visibly hung on to some sort of embittered hatred. He could feel Riley's eyes on him as he left the room.
"Ma," Riley finally spoke, her voice unsteady. "When did you get here?"
"I flew in yesterday. I called when I checked into my hotel, but you were asleep," came the softly voiced answer, as the woman shifted on the couch.
Riley took in her mother's appearance, scrutinizing every detail of her face, and clothes, and body language, trying to figure out the exact spot where she had changed. It was a moment before she realized that everything had changed.
"You're different," she blurted out without thinking. Her mother looked confused. "What happened?"
Naomi took the hint and stared down at her hands, unable to meet the fiery eyes of her child. "After you left, I got straight. I got straight fast."
"On your own?"
"No, the authorities came when you stopped showing up for school. I told them you ran off and that I thought you were letting off steam. I, of course, was high beyond everything, so they gave me two choices when they realized I had nothing to do with your disappearance. I either got clean or I went to jail. I got clean." Her mother's ruby eyes searched her face, and instinctively, Riley stared down at the floor to avoid being entrapped in the gaze. "You're fourteen?"
"What grade would that make you?"
"You have a prom coming up?"
"At the end of the month."
Silence darkened the room as Riley continued to stare at the floor, and her mother continued to gaze at her face. Naomi searched her memory, trying to remember what her daughter used to be. But everything that came to mind was hazy, and the memories that were clear brought tears to her eyes. Her daughter was a beauty, and she had done nothing but scorn her existence. "Riley, where did you go when you ran away?"
"I..." The night she ran was a nightmare that she never wanted to relive. She had refused to drudge it up whenever Sara had asked, and never explained it when TK and Kari brought it up. "I spent the night at grandma's grave. Halfway through the night, a watchman chased me out and I wandered around the streets."
"It was snowing the night you left."
"I know. A policeman picked me up and took me to the station to warm up. I told them I had no idea where my parents were. I told them I was Riley Christien, and they placed me in a foster home within a week."
"Just like that?"
"Well, it wasn't like you ever took the time to have me fingerprinted or anything responsible like that, ma!" Riley snapped, exasperated. "How long did it take you to realize I was gone? A day? A week? What?"
"I'm sorry, Kaleigh." Her mother was suddenly crying, and Riley froze in her seat. In the hundreds of reunion scenarios she's dreamed up, her mother had never cried; Riley didn't know what to think. "I don't remember the night you left. I heard the door slam, and I remember thinking it was just like when your father walked out the night he got arrested. That's all I can remember, no matter how hard I try."
"Nothing else?" Riley whispered, forgetting to flinch at being called 'Kaleigh.'
Her mother wiped away her own tears with the back of her hand, and Riley fleetingly remembered her father. The first and only time she had ever seen him was when she was six and he was in prison. She remembered how he caressed Naomi's hands like he'd never feel them ever again.
"You told me I killed grandma. You said I was the reason daddy went to jail. You said it was because we needed money, but I was takin' it all cuz I was a stupid baby and a lousy kid who never listened to you."
"I never meant any of that, Kaleigh."
Riley looked down at her shoes. "I know. You were drunk." She had accepted a long time ago that none of those words were true. It hurt less to just fear her mother than to hold hate for her and herself.
"If you knew then why'd you run?"
"I didn't know then! I was eight! It took me a long time to figure it out, and to figure out why you hated me so much."
"I've cleaned up Kaleigh-"
"Riley! My name is Riley! And I don't care that you're clean and I don't care about anything you've said so far. Gennai called you for one reason alone and that was for you to sign custody of me over to him so that I can get out of my god forsaken foster arrangement! Got it, ma?"
The doorbell rang as Riley's chest became very tight. Naomi stared, unable to take in the words that had been screamed at her and feeling like she should have known better. In Riley's peripheral vision, she saw Gennai sneak by the room with a grim face as he went to open the door. Riley knew he had heard her outburst, and so had probably everyone else in the house, for that matter.
Riley and Naomi sat silently, the sounds at the front door the only intrusion. Naomi still could not find anything to say to combat Riley's harsh words, and Riley felt suddenly exhausted and worn out as she tried to again calm her racing heart.
"Is this the Harrison residence?" Riley suddenly noticed the new male voice at the door.
"Yes, come in," Gennai answered.
"I'm here to see Kaleigh and Naomi," the male voice continued, and Riley shut her eyes to the voices. Here he came, the one her mom finally caught. For years, before leaving and afterwards, she had imagined the guy who Naomi would finally sink her claws into. A dope addict, a rapist, or a drunk were always at the top of her lists.
Footsteps echoed towards the room, and Riley squeezed her eyes shut, crossing her arms over her abdomen and doubling over to rest her head on her knees. This was the position she would take as she hid behind her bed, between the posts and the wall, when her foster father thundered down the hall before a beating. Just as she would then, she heard the footsteps coming closer, only now it was two pairs of gentle, not angry footsteps. Gennai and her new stepfather were approaching, and her breath caught in her throat and suddenly she couldn't breathe.
That's it, let me pass out before I have to look at him.
"Naomi?" the new man's voice called as the footsteps entered the room. The floor creaked as her mother stood. "Kaleigh? Is she sick?"
The voice sounded familiar in her ears, a dark, honeyed sound off the tongue that came sweeter to the ears than soft music. It was a voice born for singing and whispers, and she knew it from a time longer ago than she wanted to remember.
Easing her body softly from its rigid position, she lifted her head and looked up, then pulled slowly from her doubled over position. In the doorway of the living room, a man appeared, standing tall and firm in the soft glow of the sunlight beaming through the window. He was a Chinese man with black hair that stood straight and spiky. He had a scarred face, one marking his forehead, and a second running down the length of his left cheek. He stood embracing Naomi, who had gone to him immediately, caressing her back as she pressed her face into his chest.
And recognition dawned on Riley. "Daddy?" she whispered in disbelief.
He grinned, and Naomi stepped back from him. "You remember me?"
With some unknown force driving her, Riley jumped off the couch into her father's arms, wrapping her arms around his body and burying her face in his shirt "Daddy!" she whispered into his abdomen, as he rubbed her back softly, as if she was the most fragile thing on Earth. It was a new, but welcome, sensation, and she ached to feel it more.
But he pulled back, and got down on one knee to look at her, sinking to look her straight in the eye. He was still as big as she remembered, a giant looming over her. "God, look at you! You're so big and beautiful," he whispered, with small tears in his thin eyes. The eyes he had given her. "I never thought I'd ever get to look at you again." Something in her chest began to ache, and she choked on her own unshed tears, those she'd been refusing to let spring. This was not the time to go soft.
But it couldn't be helped when he leaned over and pressed a kiss to her cheek more tenderly than TK had ever done, and she fell onto his shoulder and squeezed his neck with her arms.
"Michael," Naomi whispered. "Where's Mia?"
Michael, her father, pulled back in response to her mother's voice and looked frantically around him. "She was behind me."
"The little girl?" Gennai spoke up, concern etched into his features.
"Yes, our... other daughter," Naomi answered.
"GENNAI! DOES THIS BELONG TO SOMEONE?" Natalie's panicked voice suddenly echoed through the house. Gennai turned on his heel and raced towards her room, as Riley's parents suddenly became preoccupied with looking for their youngest daughter. Riley stood back, lost between confusion and a faint feeling of abandonment. Natalie came out of her room, struggling with a squirming young child, with Elijah wheeling himself out behind her "I'm not quite sure where she came from."
Gennai laughed and held out his arms. "This is Riley's younger sister, I should think." With a slightly distressed nod, Natalie passed the fighting child off to Gennai. "Mia, I do believe. Thank you for finding her."
"More like she found us. It was kinda hard to miss her when she was suddenly jumping on my bed."
Gennai turned, walking back to the living room where the Christien family was waiting. He tossed the child lightly into the air and then soundly caught her, eliciting a giggle of delight from her.
"Here you go, Mrs. Christien," Gennai smiled, as he held the small child out to her mother. Naomi took the child with open arms and squeezed her tenderly. Naomi and Michael were sitting together on the sofa, while Riley fidgeted uncomfortably on the love seat across from them.
"You seem to be very good with children, Mr. Harrison," Michael commented to Gennai, who sat down next to Riley, briefly setting his hand on her shoulder as a small comfort.
"Well, that's why I do what I do," Gennai replied.
"I'm not exactly clear on what that is."
"I run a boarding house for troubled teens. This home is a place for kids who have made bad choices or have no where else to go."
"Do you charge parents for this 'haven'?"
"No, this is all out of my pocket."
"That really is amazing," Michael purred in his honey rich voice. "Well, we were just discussing why you called us down here. I can't thank you enough for finding Kaleigh and for calling us, but I get the feeling I shouldn't be jumping for joy quite yet. You want to adopt Kaleigh, not return her to us?"
"I met Kaleigh a few years ago and I've been trying to track her down since, because the situation she had been placed in was intolerable. I wasn't able to find her, but by chance she attended school with two of the students who already live here. The conditions that she had been living in were turning close to life threatening when she was brought to my attention. As of late, she has been living here to escape the bad situation at her home."
"Hold on a second," Michael interrupted. "What kind of intolerable situation are we talking about?"
"An abusive foster home," Gennai replied. Unconsciously, Riley pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, chewing it in discomfort as her parents and Gennai talked.
"How long were you living there, Riley?" Naomi spoke up. Michael looked at his in confusion, but Riley answered before he could ask about her name.
"Three and a half years."
"And they never pulled you from the home?"
"Well, I never complained," Riley shrugged half-heartedly. "And there were no marks or lasting effects, so it was okay. I'd been moving constantly for half of my life. I didn't care anymore, I just wanted to stay in one place."
"It was tolerable, more or less," Riley cut in.
"But why call us down? If you want to adopt her, why didn't you?" Michael questioned, his eyes full of muted regret as he looked at Riley.
"There are obligations that I have to meet before I can bring any children into my care. First is to get permission from the guardian or parents. Riley's foster father refuses to let her come here, but technically he doesn't have custody. You do, unless you legally give her up, which you haven't."
"You want us to legally give Riley to you?" Naomi gave a sort of gasp, a sound not unlike that appropriate for a medieval damsel in distress. Riley sneered inwardly.
"If we say no?" Michael asked.
"That's your decision," Gennai replied, unwavered and relatively unsurprised that the pair weren't going for the idea. He knew this wasn't going to be easy, and hope Riley realized it too.
"Can we have a minute to discuss this?"
"Of course," Gennai answered, picking himself off the couch. Riley followed his movements.
"With Kaleigh," Michael called to stop her. She flinched, and cast a longing look towards Gennai, but obligingly sat down once more. Gennai brushed his fingertips across her forehead as he left. She fixed her eyes on the floor, and her breathing and heartbeat quickened in apprehension. "Kaleigh."
"Please, my name is Riley."
She raised her head, and Michael watched as his wife appeared in her features. "I changed my name when I ran away. I've been Riley Christien since the day I left. I never wanted to hear the name Kaleigh Octavio again."
"Alright, Riley then." He smiled softly. "That's what I wanted to name you when you were born. Your mother wanted Caitlin, and we battled it out for months. We decided Kaleigh was a fair compromise." He looked at his wife. "I guess I won in the end."
"That's not funny," Naomi snapped.
Riley watched his face as he laughed. She wanted this; she wanted to embrace this. Ten minutes ago, what she wanted was refuge in Gennai's home, but ten minutes ago she was a bastard whose father was in prison, and she had no faith in her mother. Now, as she watched the pair, aged 29 and 31, her parents, she felt some burning need to be a part of what they had when they held each other.
"So, Riley. You want to live here, with Mr. Harrison."
Say yes, say yes! her body willed her, screaming all the way. But suddenly, her throat dried and words disappeared. Nod. Agree. Don't hesitate.
"Riley?" Naomi spoke, breaking through the internal screaming.
She dropped her head and stared at her hands in her lap. "Until you got here, I knew the answer. I hated you, and my dad was in jail, and everything was clear. But he's out and you married him, and suddenly I don't hate you so much, like some sort of faith I used to have in you has been restored."
Michael stood up and sat down beside her. "Are you saying you don't know?"
"That's okay. I should hope that it won't be a quick decision. Now, I don't know what happened while I was in jail, and I'm not going to ask because, frankly, I don't want to know. Whatever it is, it's between you and your mama. But Riley, we came here hoping, expecting you would come home. We've missed you very much, baby. And I want to know who you are; having seen you once while I was in jail isn't enough for me, and knowing your only memory of me was in handcuffs disgusts me. But, I don't want you to make a decision now. Obviously you have something holding you here. So don't decide now. Instead, let's just try to get to know each other and maybe some day we can play the family game. Okay?"
She moved her eyes from her father's bright face and looked to her mother, who sat on the couch, avoiding Riley's gaze. She was playing tenderly with the child in her arms, Mia, and Riley thought bitterly of the burns and spankings and other painful things those caressing hands had done. "Okay," she whispered, despite herself.
"So tell me about yourself. How old are you?"
"Are you graduating to high school this year? Or is middle school to ninth grade here?"
"Yeah, I graduate this year. On May twenty third."
"What kind of classes do you take?" Her mother finally spoke, a genuine interest audible in her voice.
"Regular classes like english, algebra, social studies and science, but I also take spanish, art and PE. If I didn't have to, I wouldn't be taking PE, though."
"Do you like to draw?"
"Yeah, my sister taught me."
"Your sister?" Michael asked.
"This girl who lived in the foster home with me. She was my foster father's real daughter. She would take care of me a lot. And she taught me to draw really well."
"Tell me about the home you've been living in."
"I'd rather not."
"I'd rather you would," he pushed. "What has this guy been doing to you?"
"He'd lock me in my room and not let me out for however long he felt like. He doesn't always let me eat. He threatens me a lot and he... he's pretty handy with a belt."
"He beats you."
"Not often, but yeah."
"I don't want to talk about it. I've accepted it, stuff like that happens. Worse things could happen." She raised her eyes to meet his. "I don't want to talk about it."
"It's all right, you don't have to, not right now."
Something ached inside her. But I wish I could.
The night air was warm, a welcome relief to the blistering heat that came during the day, but not by much. The stars twinkled in dark brilliance, shining in the spaces left in the tree canopy. A slight wind pulsed around them, pushing her hair into his face as they sat, her back to his front, he holding her in a light embrace. Kari lay stretched out a few feet off, headphones over her ears as she lay quiet and still. For all they knew, she was asleep.
Riley's thoughts were everywhere; for a moment, they were with TK, flickering on the image of his soft face and the feeling of his distracted lips that were now brushing the hollow of her neck. Then her thoughts turned to her sister, with Sara, and the promise of moving away with her, away from this place, but away from TK. Again her thoughts moved, now settling on her parents, back in their hotel and probably asleep; they had brought back bad memories, her history, but also the chance of an unexpected and different future.
"What's wrong?" TK asked softly, his lips close to her ear. His arms were wrapped loosely around her waist, but she was too tense for the embrace to be soft.
"Distracted," she mumbled as she tried to ease her body against his.
"Thoughts," she answered vaguely, in no mood to elaborate.
"Okay. You don't want to talk?"
"That's fine. What do you want then?"
"Just for you to kiss me."
"You didn't seem too welcoming of that before." She cut him off before he could utter another word, turning and pressing her lips against his forcefully.
"Kissing him isn't going to make your problems go away," Kari spoke up suddenly, as she sat up on her elbow and pulled her headphones down to hang around her neck. "In fact it'll just add more, like syphilis and gonorrhea." TK wanted to pull back, to snap a retort, but Riley's body just pushed harder and he forgot Kari completely as he tried to match Riley's force. She managed to turn her body so she faced him without breaking their kiss.
"KARI! PHONE!" Someone yelled from inside.
Kari sighed. "Now you're just getting obscene. I'm going inside." She stood, but she couldn't be sure either noticed her departure.
TK felt cool skin under his fingers as her shirt rode up slightly, exposing her lower back. His fingers danced across her skin lightly, loving the feel of her cool, soft flesh. As they kissed, his fingers blindly caught a notch in her skin and he fingered it lightly, trying to figure out what it was. She jerked back suddenly. "Don't do that."
"What is that?"
"It's nothing, just a welt that didn't heal completely."
"A welt? From what?" He pulled back completely and moved her hips until he had her in a position to examine the mark.
"I don't remember."
"I thought you said your father never left any marks."
"I never said my foster father did this."
"My mom did that, I just don't remember how." He touched it lightly again and she steeled herself, fighting hard not to flinch.
"Your mom did that?"
"Yeah." She turned and studied his face. "TK, it's no big deal. It's just an old scar, I don't even notice it anymore. It doesn't hurt."
"Then why'd you flinch when I touched it?"
"Because it felt weird to have someone touch it." She turned again to face him, and ran her hand down his long face. "Will you please just kiss me?"
He kissed her fingers when they reached his mouth, but didn't bring his face to hers, staring purposefully at her instead. She felt unsettled under this probing gaze of his fathomless, cobalt eyes, thinking distractedly of how she got lost in them whenever she met them. "What happened when they came?"
"Don't ask about that."
"But I am. You said it was only your mom coming, so who was the guy?"
She smirked playfully. "Jealous?"
"To a point where I can't think," he smiled.
"It was my dad," she smiled and a new wave of happiness washed over her. "My real dad."
He didn't notice the happy quirk in her voice. "Are you going home with them?"
"No..." She sighed. "I'm just going with them. I have no home."
"Why do you want to go? I thought you wanted to be here."
"I do, but..." She moved away from him, pulling her legs to her chest and hugging them tightly. "I need to know if I can go back. I have this weird feeling that I'm missing something I wanted to be a part of. Besides, it's only gonna be until September. I made that very clear to them."
She hesitated, a moment of silence passing between them, before she gave her answer. "I'm moving in September. Well, more like August, so I can help with the move."
"Where are you moving?"
"Boston, with Sara and her fiance, Embry. I'm going to start high school there while they start college."
He gritted his teeth and looked her in the eyes. "So you never had any intention of staying here?"
He sounded hurt, and she hadn't expected that. "Well... yeah. Gennai knew."
"So what? I didn't." He rose to his feet. "I'm going inside."
"TK!" she yelled, as she jumped to her feet. "What is your problem?"
He stopped and turned back to face her. "How could you not tell me before?" he demanded angrily.
"It wasn't any of your business before!" she snapped. "It's not that big of a deal, okay?"
"And were you ever going to tell me? Because it damn well is my business!"
"Yes, I was planning to tell you. I'm not that inconsiderate, it's just I had to get my life in order now before I could plan for then. I haven't made any real plans for it, it was just a scheme, a dream shared with my sister where we could run away to a happier life. A scheme, an idea. It's not real yet, TK."
"It's real to you and you never told me."
"Jesus," she gasped, exasperated. "I'm sorry TK, okay? Damn it, I didn't realize you'd get so uptight about it." His chest rose and fell in angry heaves as he watched her. His eyes were dark and seething, not unlike the day he beat up Jacob. Suddenly and silently, he turned and walked away. "TK, if you have a problem, talk to me, damn it! Fine, asshole."
Kari took the phone from Sora and then, with a running jump, landed half on the couch and half on Tera's lap. The girl and the couch gave painful yelps, and Tera glared as Kari gave her a soft smile, putting the phone to her ear. "Hello?"
"That's me. Who is this?"
"It's Nancy Takaishi, dear."
"Oh, Ms. Takaishi. Hi, how are you?"
"I'm doing fine, Kari. A little stressed, because I've got a deadline coming up."
"I'm sorry to pull you away from your work."
"It was a welcome interruption, sweetie. How have you been? I haven't heard from you in such a long time."
"I've been... okay. I get into trouble a lot, and, well, I've been better."
"Kari, I'm very sorry to hear that. But I have no doubt that you're out there causing all sorts of trouble for your brother and Gennai."
Kari laughed. "You have no idea, Ms. Takaishi."
"So, about your message. It was very unexpected, to say the least. Was there something you needed?"
"Well, I have my eighth grade prom coming up, and I was hoping to wear that dress that I asked you to hang onto for me."
"The black one?"
"No problem. Are you going with a boy?"
Kari couldn't help but laugh. "Yes, though really, I'm going because a friend won't let up about how fun it's supposed to be."
Her voice grew soft and solemn. "Is TK going?"
"Yeah, he and his girlfriend are going together."
"How is he doing? I talk to Matt every so often, but TK has just been so mad that he won't take the phone. I'm beginning to think that Gennai's was a very bad placement for him."
"No, this is a good place for him." I can't believe I'm saying this. "Gennai's is a really good place. TK's just thickheaded, stubborn and gets pissed off too easily. He just needs to cool down, and I know he's been trying to cool down since December, but it's also that he's stressed over the chemo. But they say the cancer's gone into remission again."
"I heard, and I don't think I could have heard better news ever."
"Yeah, he's been excited. He and his girlfriend and me went out to celebrate."
"Who's his girlfriend?"
"This girl named Riley. She's another DigiDestined. She goes to our school with us."
"That's great for him. Oh, I have to go. My editor is coming. It was so great to hear from you, Kari."
"You too Ms. Takaishi, and thank you for my dress."
"No problem, dear. I'm sure you'll look amazing for prom, and tell TK I said congratulations."
The back door suddenly slammed, and Kari watched curiously as TK stomped in and up the stairs. "I will. Bye."
She clicked off the phone and tossed it to Tera, turning to follow TK, when Riley barged in after him, looking angry. "Rei, what's wrong?"
Riley looked up at her as she made her way to the stairs. "Nothing, TK's an asshole."
Kari shrugged as she followed Riley up the stairs to their room. "Well, yeah, that's been my firm position on things for a while. Why do you say so all of a sudden?"
"Because... just because," she snapped, as she burst through the door to their bedroom. Sora glanced up from the top of her bed as Riley stomped in, footsteps thundering on the hollow floor.
"That's not a real reason."
"Kari." Riley turned to face her, her features pale in comparison to her usual complexion. "I'm going back to California with my parents," she confessed, regret hidden behind each word.
Kari bit her lip. "What does this have to do with TK being an asshole?"
"I never had any intention of staying here at Gennai's, or starting high school here. I was going to run away in August and live with my sister in Boston. And that's what I'm going to do. I talked it out with my parents and everything. I'm... leaving at the end of May." She balled her hands into fists and whispered through clenched teeth, "Do you feel mad? Are you going to yell and get all bent out of shape?"
"You're a stupid bitch, you know that?" Riley was taken aback. "You think I'm gonna care when you leave? You're fucked up in the head. Leave, it won't matter, except Tera will get her room back. Good fucking riddance to you."
"Yeah, that mad." Her voice softened. "Why didn't you tell me before?"
"Because it wasn't official or anything. But I made a condition with my parents that if I went with them, I got to go with Sara in August. TK got up and stalked off when I told him. I don't get it? Why should he care so much?"
"Because he's an uptight dick," Kari snapped. "But you should have told him before."
"Why on earth would you go to Kari for dating advice?" Sora spoke up from the top bunk as she looked down at them.
Kari rolled her eyes as she crossed her arms over her chest. "Butt out! Mind your own damn business."
"When you're practically yelling at each other it's a bit hard to concentrate on my homework. Besides, you two are a hell of a lot more interesting than chemistry." Sora propped her elbows on her knees, as she let her legs hang over the side of the bed.
"No, I want to hear what you have to say," Riley replied, silencing Kari with an angry glare.
"Well, Kari's right, you should have told TK sooner, since you leave in two weeks. TK is stubborn, and he gets mad very easily. Sometimes, you just have to be careful around him, but I wouldn't come to this pain anymore for love advice," she jerked her chin towards Kari, "'cuz all she's done in the last ten minutes was call him names over and over again, which is just going to piss you off more. And you'll vent that on TK. Get advice from someone who doesn't hate TK with a deadly passion."
"I don't hate him. That whiny little jerk-off just annoys me."
Riley stamped her foot down on Kari's. "Quit interrupting!" she snapped, as she watched Kari fall backwards, holding her stomped foot. "Okay, so I should have handled everything differently. He's mad at me. I didn't think this was a big deal."
"But apparently he does. And you're treating this situation in a very offhand way. I know this is probably just one of a million things you have to deal with, but you're all TK has going for himself. As far as everything else, he can't play basketball because he's too weak, he doesn't care about his grades because cancer puts that into perspective, and he's estranged from his entire family. He doesn't care about anything except you anymore."
"Okay, you've just laid out TK's psyche for me, but what does that mean? What do I do? He's pissed, and he won't talk to me."
"Let him cool off. He'll either come around or, I hate to say it, he's not worth it."
"But he is worth it."
"Then he'll cool down, you'll cool down and everything will be flowers and happiness all over again," Sora shrugged.
"You give crappy advice," Kari growled from the floor. "I could have told her that."
Sora laughed. "But I managed to do it with a slightly lower count of cuss words. Besides, my brain is mush with finals, so don't give me crap. How's the foot?"
"Just fine." Kari stood, ignoring the apologetic grin Riley offered. "Bitch," she laughed.
"You're not mad?" Riley asked, dreading the answer.
"No," Kari shrugged. "You gotta do what you gotta do. And, apparently, you have to do it in California, or Boston, whichever's good." She clapped Riley on the back lightly. "I'm just jealous."
Kari smiled and kicked Riley's foot, causing the girl to jump and curse. "No problem."
Gennai watched Riley as she fidgeted in her seat, watching Mia play with blocks in the far end of the reception area of the lawyer's office. She sat between her mother and father, both of whom were talking to her, hoping to pull as much information about her life as they could. Her answers were predictably short, as she avoided any real divulging.
Maybe this was too much, he questioned himself, to have within such a short period of time.
"Why do I have to be here?" she broke through their voices suddenly, addressing Gennai as well as her parents. "I really don't want to have to see him again," she continued, visibly shaking.
"Because that's just the way it has to be, Riley," Gennai answered quickly to cut off her parents, their voices being less comforting than his own. "This will be quick, we just have to meet with him, an appearance to make sure I don't have you locked in a closet somewhere," -- Riley shuddered painfully at that -- "and to say you'd rather be with your parents, despite your past of running away from them."
"What if he brings up the whole." she searched his eyes, hoping he'd understand without her having to say it. "The whole, um... you know the whole, not being right thing."
"I see no reason why he would, or why he would need to. That doesn't bring bias in the court, nor is it usually spoken of. Riley, I went through this with Natalie's mom. It will be fine."
Though her father had no idea what they were talking about, Michael's hand moved to his daughter's shoulder, and he rubbed circles on her back. "It will be fine. He won't lay a finger on you." Gennai watched him with a soft smile on his mouth. This man was made to be a father. "If he even looks at you the wrong way, he's dead." Riley tried to smile and somehow, through much force, it came out. "Don't fake it, darlin', it never comes out as beautiful as when its effortless." She blushed and smiled for real, leaning into the hand on her back. Michael turned his eyes to Gennai. "Mr. Harrison, can I have a word with you?"
"Of course," Gennai agreed.
Michael stood. "Just a moment of your time," he continued, as he crossed the room where he and Gennai could talk quietly. Riley watched them go with wide eyes.
"Riley," Naomi began, setting a hesitant hand on her thigh.
"Don't touch me."
"Riley, I'm begging you to give me a chance."
"Then why are you coming with us?" Riley hesitantly raised her eyes to meet her mother's. "Your father and I are a package deal, and I'm sorry if that completely disturbs you, but you don't have to come back."
"I want to know my father," she growled. "I know you already."
"You knew me as a crack-fiend twenty-three year old, who spent most of her time screwing other men for a living. I'm sorry, okay? I did that because I thought it was how I could make money, and I forgot about everything. I'm sorry."
"You had no right to have me."
"You're right. I should have let your grandmother have you. But, then she would have been right that I couldn't raise you properly, and my parents would have been right in disowning me, because Lord knows I couldn't have given you up for adoption. I kept you because you were Michael's child, and I loved Michael more than anything, and he just wanted that baby - you - so much."
"Screwed up people shouldn't have kids."
Naomi laughed. "Yeah, that sounds about right. Riley, I'm sorry. I'm sorry about everything. I don't remember a lot, and that's my fault. Your father doesn't know about any of that, and I'm grateful that he doesn't know, because he's one of the few people who knows me from that time who still respects me."
"It's only because he doesn't know that you cheated on him, and you beat me, and cursed the day I was born. You didn't want me. You wanted him."
"I want you now."
"I don't care." She took a steadying breath. "I was scared when I heard they called you. I was shaking and I cried, and I thought I might as well go back to living with my foster father. I'm not supposed to be scared of you, that's not the way a family works."
"Are you afraid of me now?"
"Riley, I'm not asking you to love me, or even to like me right now. Just don't outright hate me. Please, at least give me a chance."
"You're going to be living with me for three months, and for the summers after that. What are you going to do? Follow your dad around all day?"
"Well..." Riley sat back in her chair, looking away from her mother. Damn, she has me there.
The front doors opened, and Riley glanced up, wishing she hadn't. A large man, limping and supported by a thick honey colored cane, marched proudly in. He had an intimidating presence despite the handicap. Beady brown- green eyes searched the room, darting around under thick, hairy eyebrows that almost met to become one. His almost-unibrow made Riley want to giggle, but she knew the look, and she knew better than to giggle in the presence of that look. It was usually accompanied by a long trip to her room.
"Riley." His voice left no room for hesitation, as he focused on her with his furrowed look. Riley jumped to her feet in response as Sara crept up behind him with a care-worn visage. Obviously, she hadn't had a good morning. "I hope you realize that I'm missing work to be down here and deal with your whining." He had not noticed the woman that had been sitting beside Riley. "You will sorely be sorry when we're through."
"Yes, sir," she answered quickly, stumbling over the words in her hurry to satisfy him. Not that obedient words would satisfy him.
"Excuse me!" Naomi rose to her feet, spitting the words with an angry tone that caused Riley to double take on who was talking. "Who do you think you are, talking to her like that? You, sir, will be sorely sorry, I can assure you."
Riley's foster father looked flabbergasted, stricken that anyone could take such a tone with him, and that this little woman would be the one to do it. "Who are you?" he demanded, hand tightening dangerously on his cane. Riley fought an impulse to scream bloody murder for Gennai.
"Her mother. Who are you?" Naomi matched his tone perfectly, laying a protective hand onto Riley's thin shoulder. Riley didn't hesitate to lean into it.
"Her foster father, who has rights over her," he snapped back, condescending and arrogant, as if he had won over her.
"That would be incorrect, Mr. Conley." Gennai stepped into view, drawing attention to himself.
"Are you her father?" Conley asked, rather disgusted.
"No, Gennai Harrison, from the boarding house. We've spoken briefly," Gennai offered his hand to shake, but Conley ignored it.
"Yes, I remember. I've come to collect Riley, and I really don't have time for any of this."
"Well, in that case this won't take long at all," Gennai answered as Michael stepped beside Riley and Naomi, Mia in his arms. "Because Riley will not be leaving with you. She belongs to her parents, and will be going home with me, as are their wishes. My lawyer has the appropriate papers to verify all this, they're legal and notarized if you have any problem, but I'm sure an ex-officer of the law such as yourself would know the law enough to agree." He handed a set of folded papers to Conley, looking serious and skilled with his business suit and firm face.
Conley stared over the sheets. "You're kidding right? Her parents gave her up."
"We didn't," Michael snapped. "We wouldn't." Riley felt her mother's hand tighten on her shoulder.
"Mr. Conley, I would like you to meet Michael and Naomi Christien. They are Riley's real parents and will be taking her back to California once school is over," Gennai explained. "Great, so Mr. Conley, you're done. That didn't take much of you time, now did it?"
"Sir," Michael spoke suddenly, built up anger evident in his voice. "Did you beat my daughter while she was in your care?"
"Dad," Riley whispered, horror stricken as Conley's beady eyes watched her with fierce intensity. Sara mirrored Riley's astonished look from behind.
"That isn't your business, boy," Conley warned.
"Well, I've made it my business. How dare you strike a child!"
"That is how you raise a child. Your wussy ideas of cherishin' and love certainly didn't keep her in line and grounded at home. Why else would she have been in my care?"
"I suggest you leave without another word."
"And if I don't?"
"You'll find yourself on the wrong end of your profession, Officer Conley."
Her foster father fumed, crushing the papers in one hand and gripping his cane tightly with the other. "Fine, I'm sure it's best for a child to be back with her parents, especially one of that nature."
He turned to leave. "Let's go, Sara."
Sara watched him turn and limp proudly, though slightly less smugly, out the room. She turned to Riley with tired eyes, ignoring the proud expressions of Riley's parents and Riley's own weakened look. Happily, she pulled Riley into a bear hug, then kissed her forehead. She quickly slipped the younger girl a note, then turned and rushed after her father.
Riley looked down at the sheet of notebook paper in her hands and unfolded it.
He belted me last night. I'm going to stay at Embry's. I got a full ride to B-FAC, so I don't need him. -Sara
Okay..whatever. Hmmmm. I don't know. What do you all think?
I really don't have a rant right now. I don't feel too well because my tummy hurts and I'm having a very bad case of writers block. I have five stories that I could be working on and I'm stuck on all of them. Let's see, announcements: there will be two more chapters of Broken, including the last chapter, not including an epilogue. I have updated a lot of my FictionPress account and I was really hoping if you could all go check that out. I started a story, Speak Like A Child and I have NO reviews on it. I'm very sad. Also sometime in the near future I will be putting up an original version of Broken. It will focus around Elijah, Natalie, Tera, Taylor and Aaron (whose name will be changed to Alejandro).
Also special thanks to my beta. You are the coolest person ever and the fic would be very shabby without you!
And last but not least happy forth of july, which is coming up. And for all of you Canadians, happy canada day. I think my beta said it was Monday.
Okay, I'm done I know it was long, but there was some important info there. Oh and if you want to get a hold of me, my IM screen name has changed to TampaGrapeFruit.
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