Chapter Eleven – Roots And Boulders
“Honey, we’ve been worried sick about you. Nanny Josie called telling me how you came home looking like a wreck and how you went to the airport –”
“Mom, about that. I’m sorry I was a bitch at the airport –”
“What? What are you talking about? How is that important?”
“It was just… I needed to get out and they didn’t want to give me a ticket and I couldn’t call the company jet –”
“I’m sorry, mom. I shouldn’t have dragged you and dad into my problems. I wasn’t thinking –”
“Lei, honey –”
“I’m sorry, mom…”
“Leila, honey, stop,” and finally, as the tears began to fall again for the nth time that day, Lei sat on the soft couch, emotionally exhausted, and listened. “I don’t care if you were the biggest drama queen at the airport. I just care that you’re okay. Are you okay?”
“Yes, mom, I’m,” a sniffle that the brunette was sure her mother could hear but that she couldn’t hide, not when she couldn’t breathe. “I’m fine.”
“You don’t sound fine, honey. Where are you?”
“I’m at Sarah’s,” she looked around, but she knew she was alone. Sarah went out just before she called her mother, to get coffee. Starbucks, the model said, because despite all the local coffee shops with their fancy names, sometimes something as simple as a name you recognize from home could keep you from being uprooted and completely blown away. “Back in Paris, mom.”
“You must be so tired. What possessed you to get a last-minute flight right back where you came from?” It wasn’t an accusatory tone coming from the other line, and Lei could hear the concern reverberating. She knew her mother must be in the middle of something or the other and yet, she always came first. Lei never experienced being put on hold, nor did she experience being left behind. That was what was different with her parents. They always found a way to make her their first priority, making up for the first eleven years of her life spent like a criminal on the lam.
“I am tired, mom, but I’m okay now. I just really needed to get out of there.”
“And you couldn’t decide on somewhere a little nearer, honey?”
Lei let herself smile, barely, but it was there nevertheless. “Far is better, mom.”
“Yes, as far as Paris, that is. You are one crazy girl for making us worry about you! And think of what poor Nanny Josie was thinking, you barging in and going out like a madwoman. Her words, exactly.”
It was a soft chuckle she heard coming from herself, this time. It was as if she was still somehow disconnected from reality, but the voice of her mother was finally guiding her back to safer grounds. “Yeah, I’m sure I spooked her out. As well as those guys at the airport.”
“Well, Nanny Josie was just concerned for your well-being. Can’t say much for the airport employees you must have hassled.” Lei heard the sigh from the other line, not sure whether her mother wanted her to hear it or was just too frazzled to keep it in. “What’s wrong, Leila?”
“Honey, I love you. Let me help you here.”
“I just… It’s just…” there was that lump again, in her throat. She hated the lump for making her feel like a pathetic loser. “I can’t go back there. I can’t.”
“What is this about, baby?”
“I’m pathetic, mom. I’m just…”
“You are Leila Charles-Carlson! Do not ever say that!”
“But I am! I’m pathetic…”
“Leila, honey, listen to me. Whatever happened, you can get through this, alright? Let me help you.”
“I can’t go back there, mom… I don’t want to… I just… It hurts, mom, so much…” Tears. Tears everywhere.
“What hurts? Oh my poor baby…” There was that crack in the voice on the other line and Lei hated to hear her mother like that, because her mother was a strong, determined woman and she never broke down. Not like Lei.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, mom. It’s silly and pathetic and… I just don’t understand!” She sounded silly and pathetic, to her own ears and probably to her mom’s too. “I don’t understand how they…how she can do this… to me…” What was building up to an outbreak ended in a soft whimper. Pathetic.
“She? Honey, is this about Audrey?”
Silence. That name. Another torrent of tears.
“Honey, Leila… Okay, I’ll talk to your dad and see what we can do. About you not wanting to go back there,” Hearts beating, and Lei could hear hers and loathed it. “But baby, it’s your senior year!”
“I just… I don’t understand, mom... How…?”
Curled up on the sofa, crying and clutching the phone as if her life depended on it, Lei knew she looked pitiful as pitiful could get. And that was the sight that met Sarah as she came in, coffee in hand, the standard Starbucks logo looking smug and powerful.
Something inside the model broke as she approached the huddled figure, put down what she held, and stroked gentle hair instead. Sobs came and went, like from an injured puppy she saw once when she was a young child, and Sarah reached for the phone that was handed without much resistance.
“Yes, ma’am,” looking down, Sarah couldn’t help but bite her lower lip, “Lei is… she’s a mess.”
Laura Charles-Carlson always seemed like an untouchable woman to Sarah. She was kind but firm. Never gentle but never harsh. Now, she just sounded like a mother.
“She just came to my place last night. Nowhere to go…”
“My daughter is strong and smart and I am proud of her, so I don’t usually ask this of anyone but right now, I need you to take care of her, Sarah. As a friend. She needs a friend, right now.”
“With all due respect, what she needs is you –”
“And I will be there but I can only do so much. Same goes for her father. Until we can all figure out where to go from here, you have a responsibility because she chose you. My daughter did come to your place, didn’t she?” That was the businesswoman Sarah was accustomed to.
“I don’t want her anywhere else.”
“There you go.”
“Audrey cheated on her.”
“I figured as much.”
“With Lei’s own best friend. That Grant bastard.”
Lei was looking up now and Sarah could only stare back.
“Just take care of my daughter. Probably just until the shock wears off. Or the confusion.”
Sarah traced a finger over soft lips. Lei remained as she was. Just looking.
“I will. I promise.”
Kristen was sitting near the kitchen counter, watching her mother make her favorite waffles. Even after all these years and after the thousands of waffles her mother made her, she still would never exchange homemade waffles for anything.
“Mom, do you remember that time when I was maybe about eight? You know, when I kept bringing this friend home and you always made us waffles?”
“Of course, Kristen. How can I forget?” Her mother looked back for a while, hair in a tight ponytail and wrinkles showing on the forehead but the smile remained invigorating. “She was a dear angel, that girl. A little playful, sure, but very smart. What was her name again?”
“Yes, Leila. Lovely name too.”
“She was my best friend for a while.”
“The first friend you brought home too. You know, before her, I was a little worried about you. I thought you weren’t making friends in school. Or around here even.”
Kristen smiled as the image of a brunette girl approaching her as she cried came to mind. The girl who thought she was crying because she had lost a pet she never had in the first place. “Yeah, actually, all the kids back then made me cry.”
There was a comfortable silence for a while as Kristen rested her cheek on her open palm and smiled at memories she thought she’d buried long ago.
“I wonder what happened to that girl,” Carol Sanders said, in a reminiscent tone she always used. A tone that always soothed Kristen with thoughts of bedtime stories and being tucked to sleep.
Kristen bit her lip, smiling, wondering how her mother would react to what she was about to say. “She’s an heiress now.”
“Hmm. I thought you said she’s an heiress now.”
Once again, the elder woman looked at her daughter. Confusion noticeable even around the signs of age on her face. “What do you mean, dear?”
“Leila Charles-Carlson. That’s her real name.”
Confusion gave way to recognition, then disbelief.
“You mean, from the CC empire?”
The younger blonde smiled and nodded as she saw the hints of comprehension settling in on the woman in front of her.
“Oh, really? That’s… Well, that’s definitely something.”
“I know,” a soft laughter, “I couldn’t believe it at first.” Another smile when she thought back on that day at Lei’s house. “I really couldn’t believe it.”
“Well, I see her on TV sometimes and I wasn’t even aware I actually knew the girl, dear. She just seems so extravagant! Far from the dirty girl who ate my cooking.” There was a smile Kristen could see on her mother’s face that she knew matched her own.
“Well, she’s different…and then again, she’s not really that different,” she looked up, thinking. “Like, there was that something when we met again. A familiarity. It was there, but it was confusing ’coz she’s different now.”
“Oh, so you’ve talked to her again?”
“She’s in Wright-Duncan. Transferred.”
“Really? I’m assuming she’s a senior too?”
“That’s quite sudden. Transferring on the last year of high school.”
“It is. It’s really sudden.”
“Well, I just hope nothing bad happened.”
Kristen had no reply. Not when she didn’t want to talk about Lei’s issues with her mom. Her mother was an intelligent, accepting woman, but Lei’s dilemmas were…different.
“Mom, can I invite her to dinner? Maybe next week?”
“Of course, dear,” Carol nodded, then smiled in understanding. “Bring her here anytime.”
“I don’t understand why you’re doing this, Audrey.”
“I never asked you to understand. And if I recall correctly, I also never asked for your opinion,” a hardened jaw was what she gave the woman that sat before her. No smile. Not even a decent greeting to begin with.
“I am your mother, Audrey May! You have no right talking to me that way.”
“You stopped being my mother the day you went off with that fucking lawyer, mom,” Sarcasm was one of Audrey’s specialty. Probably also one of the most endearing traits that drew Lei in to her.
But there was no point dwelling on that at the moment.
The elder woman could not help but sigh. Her daughter was being ridiculously stubborn again. Why was it that she even let herself have a child with that man? It was so apparent how much the girl resembled her father. “Don’t use that language with me, young woman.”
“Then don’t fucking pretend that you care.”
“I do care! That’s why I’m here.”
“You’re here because you’re doing what you do best: ruin my life.”
The elder woman laughed caustically, and it was enough for Audrey to grit her teeth in anger.
“Actually, Audrey, you are the one doing that to yourself,” and with a sharp breath, “Look, what you’re doing here? It’s ridiculous! You are a senior and soon, you’ll have your pick of any, and I mean ANY university in this country. So, why can’t you just wait a year more before you go off gallivanting to some unknown suburban neighborhood? Finish your last year of high school and if you want to go to some college from wherever after that, then fine! I won’t stop you. But this? Audrey, this is just ridiculous.”
“This is what I want,” Audrey was firm, but the anger that she tried to contain was as clear as day to the other woman. Audrey always did wear her heart on her sleeve, one of the many things she got from her father. Something that always reminded Eileen Gaile – once Thatcher – of the man she had married, but never learned to love.
“Well, what you want is rash and foolhardy.”
“And again, who asked for your opinion?”
“I’m here as a concerned parent, Audrey.”
A snort and a smirk, painful and rooted some place deep. “Oh really? Don’t you think that’s a little late now?”
Another sigh and it seemed as if only Audrey could bring out so much sighs from her mother. And the sighs definitely weren’t of the good kind. “I can understand where all this anger’s coming from, but what I do not understand is why you are being reckless when it comes to this. Audrey, you’re a smart girl,” the elder woman shifted a little closer and Audrey moved further back, away as if afraid of being scorched, “so if this is some kind of rebellious move, you should know better than proceed with it.”
“Don’t flatter yourself. This isn’t some scheme to get your attention. And I won’t do that to dad,” at the mention of her father, Audrey’s face mellowed just that small bit but her mother saw nonetheless.
“Then why are you doing this?”
There was silence but the emotions on Audrey’s face were enough to suffice for any loss of words. Anger, hurt, love, pain, regret, love, fear, love. And on top of it all, Audrey was trying so hard to keep everything in, which just made it so much easier for her mother to see.
“I have to do this,” a brief pause, “And I’ve already got dad’s approval. His is the only one I need.”
Eileen stood up, realizing the futility of the situation. Audrey had always been an obstinate girl and if she wanted to crawl her way into a mine pit, then she’d just have to learn how to get out by herself.
“You know what? Do what you want to do, Audrey. I’ve done what I can and if the man you call your father won’t even do his damn job to put some sense into you, then so be it.”
And as her mother walked away, nearing the door to the outside, Audrey said, not loudly but enough to be heard, “I love dad. He’s a great father. He understands me and he loves me. I can’t say the same for you.”
She stayed inside her car, relishing the somewhat cozy aura, despite the fact that she knew everyone was pretty much already aware of her arrival. Because really, how inconspicuous could a red Jaguar in a small suburban high school be?
Lei sighed and leant her head gently on the steering wheel. She wasn’t sure if this was the day she would finally see Audrey within the halls of her new school, but what she was sure of was that she wasn’t ready. Her brief encounter with the raven-haired girl the day before left her reeling in different unwanted emotions, and if not for Kristen’s calming presence afterwards, she would still be in her room, not even contemplating the idea of attending her classes.
She hated the feeling that Audrey left her with: an insurmountable feeling of loss. Lei remembered when she was once a headstrong person, the one breaking hearts instead of the other way around. She remembered being the girl who knew who she was, a Charles-Carlson, an heiress, the girl who made her parents proud. She was once a person who knew what she wanted, and then took it.
And then, she just had to fall in love.
Now, she couldn’t even bring herself to get out of her car because she couldn’t bear the thought of seeing Audrey. She went through all the trouble of transferring schools and living in a place far from what she was used to, and for what? So she could forget all about how the one person she once trusted the most ripped her heart to shreds. So she could forget and forego and move on. So that she wouldn’t have to be reminded every single day of how painful it was to still be in love but not be able to trust the one person that could make her heart just stop beating.
And she wasn’t even close to achieving any of what she had originally meant to achieve for herself.
“Fuck this,” Lei groaned in annoyance and that little hint of anxiety, just as someone tapped on the tinted window of her car. She looked to her left and saw the one person who could probably put a smile on her face even in the midst of everything. She rolled her windows down.
“What’re you doing?” Kristen smiled in that friendly way of hers and Lei couldn’t help but smile back. “Class is about to start and you’re still here?”
“I don’t know if I want to go to class yet,” and Lei saw the look of consternation on her friend’s face, “I know. I know it’s stupid. I’m already here and I look all set for class but I don’t know if my head is,” or my heart, but she couldn’t get herself to say it. “Just… I don’t know if I have the right mindset to get to class.”
Kristen only looked at Lei, an eyebrow raised, and then she stepped back. “Get out of the car, Lei.”
So the brunette did what she was asked to do. After rolling her window back up, she opened the door and stepped out, closing the door behind her.
“Come on,” and with that, the blonde linked her arm to her friend’s, “I’ll walk you to your class.”
“You look refreshed this early in the morning,” Julia teased as she closed the door to her house and greeted the other girl waiting for her just outside her backyard.
Sven’s reply was a groan and a roll of her eyes.
“I see you’ve maintained your very sunny disposition, Sven.”
“Yeah, yeah, let’s just get moving.”
“You seem awfully eager for school,” the redhead poked her friend’s arm as she smiled.
“Whatever you say, Jules.”
They kept walking in relatively comfortable silence. Julia liked walking to school every morning, and she found it even more amusing when Sven walked with her. She was glad Wright-Duncan was just a walking distance away from her house so she always had the opportunity to travel that small distance by foot and relish the safety of the neighborhood. Sven lived a little farther from her house so they didn’t constantly have the chance to walk together, but when they did, Julia always enjoyed it.
Especially when Sven was being her usual grumbling self.
“How’s the band going?” Julia asked, striking up the kind of conversation that she knew Sven would gladly – albeit not showing it – be a part of.
“Wanna give me some more details other than that?” The redhead looked at her friend and it was then that she noticed how out of sorts Sven was. Distracted. More distracted than usual.
Sven shrugged. “We’re practicing. Figuring out some good musical arrangements. Planning on recording a demo some time from now. Nothing huge.”
Julia gazed at Sven, concern on her face but she doubted the other could see, what with looking at anything other than the redhead herself. “Well, that’s progress, right? You’re not excited over the demo?”
Another shrug. “Just plans, Julia. Like I said, nothing huge.”
“So, other than band related, there’s nothing huge going on in your life right now?” and she goaded a little more, “Nothing huge you wanna talk to me about?”
This time, Julia noticed that slight misstep. An off-balance Sven tried her best to rectify, to hide. But Julia saw.
“What?” Her friend still had that indifferent mask on, but as Sven turned towards Julia and then turned back away, the redhead just knew.
She closed a gentle hold on Sven’s arm, “Anything wrong, Sven?”
The other girl scoffed, “Other than what’s already wrong in me to begin with?”
This was Sven’s defense mechanism talking. This wasn’t Sven, Julia’s friend. This was Sven, the girl who turned to cigarettes and sex and drugs to keep from crossing the border to breaking down completely.
Julia was unperturbed.
“What’s wrong? You know you can tell me anything.”
And here, Sven stopped, just outside school grounds. And for once, they stood not side by side, but with Sven in front of Julia, eyes boring into each other. Blue on brown.
“Why are you even still my friend, Julia? I don’t deserve you.”
Julia’s eyes widened in shock, but just as quickly narrowed in barred anger. Where was all this coming from? “That’s bull and you know it.”
“No. That’s exactly it,” a slight pause, an intake of breath. “I don’t know.”
“Don’t do this pushing away shit with me, Sven. It’s not gonna work.”
“Well, what will?”
Julia smirked, in annoyance and that tad bit of affection she always felt for her friend. “Nothing will. You’re stuck with me.”
At that moment, Sven’s gaze shifted from her eyes to somewhere else. And instead of just the usual distraction, it lingered.
Julia was witness, even for that short while, as the other girl not just looked. But stared. Not in passing. But intently.
And for the life of her, the redhead could not remember a time when she saw Sven look at anything like that…other than that one moment in the alley. So long ago.
The day that changed Julia’s life.
Before she could turn her head to look, for herself, at what suddenly caught her friend’s interest, Julia felt warm hands on her cheeks, holding her head in place. And Sven’s gaze was back at her, once again looking at her.
This time, the other girl wasn’t just smirking. Sven was smiling, genuinely. “So, I’m pretty much stuck with you, huh?”
And Julia couldn’t think of anything else. Not whatever it was that Sven was looking at other than her.
Just of deep, brown eyes. And warm hands on cold cheeks.
And how she wanted those hands somewhere else entirely.
Julia swallowed inaudibly to clear her throat.
“Yeah…yeah, you are.”
And that smirk was back again, “Well, can’t say I didn’t warn you, Jules. I’m hell of a lot to put up with.”
“I already figured that out long ago. Guess what?” and this time, the redhead covered those hands with her own, “I’m still here.”
End of Chapter Eleven…
Coming Soon on Of Tears and Broken Hearts:
“I…I wasn’t –” Kristin started to say, but stopped herself. She of course knew that she was avoiding him. That, at least, was plainly obvious to her and apparently, to him as well. What she really didn’t know was the reason why and she surely didn’t know how to answer him if he asked.
“I don’t think this is gonna work, Kris,” and his sudden honesty and frank delivery caught her by surprise. She expected a confrontation, an inquiry. Not this.
Gasps. Pants. Harsh shallow breaths.
She was now just barely aware of where she actually was as she felt the hard concrete on her back, the cold seeping through her bare skin. Her bare flushed skin.
“It’s just…your eyes.”
“They’re a,” and she blushed realizing what she was actually doing, “beautiful shade of blue.”