"And why on Earth should I entertain a single word you have to say?"
Hesitating outside the door, I pressed my ear to it. They were fighting. Vivid flashbacks bombarded me, scenes in my head of lamps being thrown, of shouting, of crying - me crying, them crying. Mostly me. It burned like a salt-infused wound, and yet here they were again. The cycle repeats.
"Because I've been the one looking out for her this past year," he was yelling. "Where were you and Dr Reed Richards? Off sauntering around in your pagoda, whooping it up, free of your own flesh and blood!"
"It was her decision to stay in America! We would have loved for her to come and live with us, but she didn't want to, and that's-"
"Oh, put a sock in it, Linda! Do you really think she would voluntarily move in with the two addle-brained parental failures who shoved her into some cockamamie institution out of convenience - especially when it involved removing her from everything she's ever known?"
"Japan would have broadened her horizons, opened up a whole new world of possibilities! It's not as if she'd have starved, or wanted for anything, and maybe-"
There was a tiny sigh behind me. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
"What, you wanted to hear more of that disgusting display of animosity?"
"But they don't sound like they're in the best of moods... seems to me like a pretty awful time to-"
The door opened.
"Libby! Wh-what are you doing here, and- and you brought friends!"
The eight of us walked in through the door; me, Sabrina, Roxie, Adymm, Ophelia, T.Q., Milnot, and - yes, even Morgan. Not everyone was at ease, but they were behind me, and that stoked the fires enough to help me actually go through with my half-assed scheme.
"Mother," I said softly. When I'd gone far enough inside, I followed up with, "Father."
"Couldn't leave it alone, could you?" His voice was an urgent undertone. "I told you this wasn't something you should be-"
"I know, Dad. And I heard enough outside the door to tell me my assumptions were dead on. But-"
"What is this?" Mother butted in. "There's so many- you all look so serious! Libby, what's going on, why is-"
"Can you stop? Are you ever going to stop and let me talk, or am I going to get kitchenware thrown at my head if I try?"
Her eyes darkened. "That's not funny."
"Never was." Vaguely, I noticed several of my friends were genuinely surprised by this revelation, but I couldn't stop to elaborate or reassure. "Anyway, you took care of that situation, and I don't think there's any point in going back to pick it apart now."
"Libby," she began, then hesitated. What was she going to start with? Then, she threw up her hands. "Nope. Honestly, I'm really not sure what questions to ask you anymore."
My ire was rising. I had to cut this off fast, before I started shouting; there were more important matters. "Start with, 'What do you want out of life?' Might be a nice change of pace from ordering me around and shutting me out."
It worked; her lips were hanging open, as if I'd slapped her in the face. I could tell she'd almost found her voice again when I said, "But my friends didn't follow me here to talk about the past. Current events is the topic."
"What's going on, Libb?" my father put in, even less likely to put up with my mother's bullshit than me and eager to focus on something worthwhile. "You're... you're not dropping out of Columbia, are you?"
"I'm- WHAT?! No way! What are you, high?!"
"That's it, then, isn't it?" my mother sighed. "Oh, I remember the last intervention I went to: Phyllis, from the country club. Those Cosmos started catching up to-"
"No, it's not drugs," I said through gritted teeth. "Or alcohol, or smoking, or internet gambling, to cover all the bases. Can't I get just a little credit, here?"
"Then what's this all about, honey?" My father cast an extremely sharp look at Adymm, then said, "Wait... no, you're way, way too young. You'd better not-"
"Oh my god!" I laughed harshly, blushing. It's so, so unfortunate he'd brought up a possibility that made me blush, because the hue would stick with me for the remainder of this visit, and that only made things more difficult. "No, I- ew! Daddy, like I'd ever think about it without being on the pill - or having at least one-"
"Okay, okay, I believe you!" I think talking about this sort of thing with his daughter was making him squeamish, and he was wiping his glasses on his shirt to give him an excuse to look away. "Then what's this all about?!"
I cleared my throat, glancing around at Adymm, then back at Sabrina. She was doing her best to look insignificant and small, which only made me want to put her in the spotlight and draw attention to how beautiful and crucial she was to me. "Well..."
"Don't stall," said Ophelia in my ear. Her voice was so soft, so strained - why? Pure empathy, or... "Trust me, that won't help at all. Make the incision swift and precise so the healing can begin."
"You and your cracked metaphors," I grunted, rubbing the hell out of my arm already.
"Stop that," my mother snapped. "Do you have something to say to us, or not?"
"I do." My eyelid twitched, and I found myself suddenly losing all desire to make this gentle for either of the bickering brats. "Thing of it is, you should probably be made aware of something, and I thought as long as both of you were together in one spot, it would save me a little time and annoyance. Too bad this is still taking way too long, and I'm annoyed enough to bring about World War 4."
"You're being melodramatic," my mother countered. She was making me angrier and angrier, and this wasn't the way I wanted this to go. But what choice did I have? Linda McSocialite-Evilpants was involved. "Always have been, so why should now be an exception?"
"You mean like when you threw me out of the house?! Did I overreact then?!"
"Um," Sabrina whispered in my ear, but I waved her away; I knew it was a spell of hers, but even without the intervention of paranormality, my stepfather and his arm candy were capable of it.
Then, on second thought, my hand changed directions and ended up clutching hers. I needed support, good support. I felt her squeeze my hand, and it helped.
"You are going to have to stop blaming others for the paths you have chosen," she was ranting. "Your aberrant behaviour led us to place you with that boarding school, and from what I can see, you haven't stopped careening through life half-cocked, playing by your own rules and refusing to understand that there are consequences!"
"Linda, I wouldn't talk about consequences if I were you," my father put in. "Seeing as it's you trying to reconnect with your estranged flesh-and-blood."
"Both of you, shut up!" I shouted.
"David, you didn't see her on that train," she volleyed. Shit - did we have to go there? But I'd known in the back of my head that someday this would resurface, and it was too late to slow her momentum. "Her and that green-haired girl, they were- were-"
"Were WHAT?!" TQ suddenly blurted, gaping at us. Ophelia had a mortified look creeping over her, but I was way too pissed to react to TQ's accusing glare. Roxie and Adymm took a step back so no one would notice they weren't at all surprised. Then I felt Sabrina's hand leave mine - that was the only part I registered clearly. I couldn't bring myself to look; waves of pain were coming off her, palpable and cold, and I promised myself she'd get the full story... when I had a moment.
"You think you've got everything sewn up, don't you, Mother?" I was seething. "'Oh, Libby's a screwup, she's crazy and unpleasant, and then look at what she does, and blah blah blah!' Yeah, well, you know what? While you've been living far away in your lotus garden of happiness, I've been drowning in an adult life I wasn't ready for, so I think you oughtta stop judging and start growing a clue!"
"Liberty Gabrielle Chessler, I will NOT have you speaking to me this way!"
The room went dead quiet, and it was tangible. My face became as red as it possibly could, and just for a split second, the wind left my sails entirely - I was four years old and standing over a broken aquarium, staring at the fish as they gasped for water that was quickly absorbing into the carpet, knowing full well that it wasn't my fault the shelf had given way while I was pressing my nose to the glass. Now, I had tiny cuts all over my arms and legs, beloved pets were dying around my feet, and Mommy only cared that I had created more work for her and destroyed an object that had been paid for with her money.
"So wait," Adymm breathed. "'Libby Gabby'? Seriously?"
"YOU SHUT UP!" I screamed at him, brought back to reality with an ungainly THUMP! "That was never supposed to become public knowledge! If anybody in this room ever so much as writes it down, nevermind-"
"Sure, sure," said Roxie, her hand covering her mouth. Was she laughing at my pain? "Wouldn't dream of spreading this around to your fans."
"You and... and Libby?" TQ was struggling through in the meantime, too pissed and distraught to take in the cursed alliterative horror that is my double-nickname. "What- but why, and when- that's not-"
"Baby, calm down," she whispered. "It's old news, okay? Way, way old news, and not important right n-"
"Oh, it's important," said Sabrina quietly, and at last, I turned to face the betrayal and uncertainty in her eyes. For the most agonising three seconds of my life, she gazed at me evenly, as if not sure what she wanted to say, or if she even wanted to speak at all. "But... but I trust you, Libby."
"Don't say it like you don't, then," I hissed, trying to let my anger abate when I spoke to her. My heart was trying to work up toward my throat, even while panic was creeping in at the corners of my mind. "I- you thinking any less of me, I d-don't w-"
"What a spectacle it was," my mother said shakily, swallowing. Evidently, my friends' reactions to learning my (atrocious) middle name had distracted her for a few wondrous moments, but now she was back like a bad rash. "That's my daughter, though; always has to be the center of attention. I couldn't believe it, with everybody in the subway watching the two of them, groping at each other like, like- urgh, I've never been so disgusted in my life!"
"I know," I said coldly. "I watched you vomit."
Most were stunned; even those who were already aware. As everybody's minds absorbed the gravity of all this, I turned to Sabrina and whispered, "Ophelia thought- I don't know what she thought, but- she thought I was-"
"I trust you," she repeated sadly. "I... and this was how long ago?"
"Months," I semi-lied - I was actually too distressed to remember. "It's not my fault, okay? Actually, it was a complete accident, so I- I don't want you to blame Ophelia for-"
"Why not?" Ophelia laughed bitterly. "You seemed to do enough of that for both of us, even without my perpetual regret."
Stunned, I rounded on her. "What?! No, I- no, I don't blame you for it at all, and you know that! The train went over a-"
"You never wanted it to happen at all, so you really are in the clear. I'm not." Her teeth dug into her bottom lip for a moment before she demanded, "You didn't feel anything? Not even a spark? 'Cause for a minute, I thought I did, but maybe I'm just that deluded, and we always talk about it like it was some huge mistake, b-but- but I was-"
"Don't go there, Ophie," I warned. "You know I'd rather poke a sleeping grizzly bear than hurt your feelings, but I felt no spark! None, not- well, I mean, other than the fact that I don't hate you, and that you were so passionate, and-" I had to take a moment to swallow; this was difficult to phrase without sounding like I enjoyed it. "And you definitely know how to make a girl feel-"
"Friggin' hell, doesn't anybody care what I feel?!" TQ burst out. "Were you just gonna throw me away when you and the Cheerless One got serious? Don't I feel special, now!"
As a shameful Ophelia carefully reassured her significant other, I turned back to mine; Adymm and Roxie were discussing something in an undertone, and my parents were firing deadly barbs back and forth, so it should have been easy to hold a semi-private conversation among the din.
"Yeah, I really wanted to get in the middle of that," I whispered.
"Guess I can see how that would not be the cleverest plan," Sabrina replied, though her would-be reassured expression continued to come off as weak and worried. "I guess I- I'm... are you absolutely sure she's not the-"
"Very," I said with an embarrassed grin. "She's a great friend to have. The respective status of all my relationships are right where I want them, okay?"
After a long, contemplative moment, Sabrina's smile became less unsure. "Hey, how could I argue with that?"
But I think we must have sighed a teensy bit too happily.
"Wait," my mother flung out. Her gaze was moving between the two of us, eyes slowly widening yet more. "Is this what all this is about? Lord Almighty, you have got to be kidding!"
"What in God's name do you mean?" her ex-husband followed up with. "All what's about? Linda, don't act as if you automatically underst-"
"Yes," I said, firm and clear. I wasn't angry, and only the tiniest shred defiant. All other discourse died away as I gained the attention I needed to finally do what I'd gone there for. Full of the rich, warm cordial of my girlfriend's unshaken trust to bursting, I grabbed her hand between both of mine, watching her throat work to swallow a lump of terror and nerves. My words held a much deeper meaning than when either of my parents said them.
"This really is what it's all about."
~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~~*~ END Chapter Fourteen