Chapter Ten ~ Walls

Chapter Ten ~ Walls

A Chapter by aubreydiamond

Juniper waved goodbye from the passenger window of Rose’s wagon as they drove past me and out of the health clinic’s cark park. I waved until they were out of sight, and set off back towards the main road - Valerie’s house my destination.

Twice in one day. S**t. It dawned on me how anti I would have been against this whole situation a few months ago, more willing to hide and wait for the storm to pass. Don't get me wrong, there's still a part of me that wants to disappear from it all, go invisible and cease to exist, but there was a new resident inside of me - and she was powerful. She wasn't taking anyone else's bullshit and she certainly wasn't going to let me wallow in this uncomfortable mess for much longer; there was a chance to get out, and she was leading the way.

It amazed me that it had really only been a few days since this all started. It felt like months had gone by since I sat in the gas station toilet or even attended Luke’s funeral in the public gardens. So much was happening around me my concept of time had been removed completely, and replaced with adrenaline that was keeping me going through it all.

But I still wasn't entirely sure I’d fully come to terms with Luke. I felt like I had processed his death well enough considering how little time had passed, but finding out that the truth was in fact, and always had been, a lie hit me much harder than the loss of him did - because there was no one else I wanted to confront and ask more than Luke himself. But I could only picture the Luke that I knew in my mind, and the Luke that I knew wasn't sick. He didn't hide his demons away from me, we shared them and learnt how to tame them together. But that's where I'm wrong, because he clearly had much bigger demons that he didn't know how to control; locking them away from those who meant the most to him was the only thing he knew how to do. When I say it like that, it makes me feel guilty for being so mad, but if he knew his life was in jeopardy he could have told me so I could have helped made it easier for him. I don't know how, but I would have at least tried.

“Maybe he didn't want to worry you?”

I kept hearing Juniper’s voice in the back of my head on repeat. Was he trying not to worry me? Because if he was he did a good job of pretending like nothing was wrong at all; I would never have known because I was never brought into this whole other side to his personal life - I didn't know it existed. I knew he had a troubled relationship with his mother, but other than that I thought everything I knew about him was everything about him. I'd fallen in love with a façade, and now the wall had crumbled and the other side was visible for all to see. But it had always been there, I had just been so delicately placed so I couldn't see beyond the walls put up around me to keep me out - until now.

What did Luke expect though? That we’d live happily ever after with our children and I’d never notice his health deteriorating? His medicine bottles everywhere? Regular check-ups with the doctors? He must've planned to tell me at some stage, what I don't understand is how he still managed to look me in the eye on the island when he knew things weren't good and make the effort to tell me that they were. That was the lemon juice in the fresh wound, and my anger and frustration boiled every time I thought about it. I still love Luke, but I don't understand his motives or his actions. He took a lot of truths with him to his grave, so I guess there is no way to know what went on behind his closed mind-doors.

But I had bigger things to worry about right now than the unknown. As I marched passed a closed Lazuli's I reminded myself of the mission that I was on and the deal I had been proposed.

Going into the abortion consultation I was not expecting my doctor to offer me a get-out-of-motherhood-free card for helping her sort someone else's debt. In fact, it seemed a bit ridiculous, extreme even, but I kept telling myself that I was getting a resolution sooner than I had expected if I did this, knowing that Carmen was trying to help me as long as I helped her. I'm not sure how I would get Valerie to face this head on, it was only earlier today that I had showed up trying to deliver her a five thousand dollar bill that she ‘apparently’ already paid, and look how that turned out? I can't imagine she’ll be considerably hospitable to me this time round, especially if I hit her with thirty grand. I'll hope for the best that I get her attention no trouble; but I doubt she’ll be able to forget who I am after this.

I turned onto Buckley Road and increased my speed. I can't deny that I was nervous, but the stronger version of me inside had taken the wheel, and she was rooting full-steam-ahead as I crossed the street and stepped onto Valerie’s lawn, which looked exactly as it had done a few hours ago. I marched right up to the door and pounded my fist against the panels, shaking the windows either side slightly with each fist. There was no music playing this time, so there's no way she couldn't have heard me.

I noticed a note on the door that wasn't there this morning. It had one single word written in big letters: OUT. I knew this was her terms for those who wanted weed off of her that she had nothing left, but I wasn't here to buy. I knocked hard on the door again to tell her to hurry up. I wasn't going to leave until I'd seen her face to face.

F**k off!’ Her croaky voice yelled from behind the door.

‘Valerie, open the door,’ I said assertively.

 Before I could say anything else the door had opened, and Valerie’s bloodshot eyes were staring right into my soul. She looked me up and down with the look of someone who’d been pushed to their absolute limits. She glared at me for a second before slamming the door shut again in my face.

I had good reason to just turn around now and leave. Let the doctors chase her down and allow the debt collectors to come and collect all of her belongings instead. But there was a fire under my a*s and I was at my wits end with this crap. I raised my first again and pounded even harder on the door repeatedly until my first began to ache. There was a great fumble from inside, and it sounded like a few things had been knocked off of the table. Before I could register what I’d heard, the door swung open again with double the force. But instead of Valerie’s face staring me in the eye; it was the end barrel of a shotgun.

Valerie was livid as she pointed the gun at me, quivering slightly out of blind rage. Her eyes were as wide as dinner plates and her lips were pursed so tightly together I could barely see them past the metal weapon.

My heart began to race again as she swayed slightly, squinting to aim only a metre in front of me. I'd never been threatened with a gun before, but after everything that had happened to me this was almost nothing. I stood tall in front of Valerie and the gun to show her that I wasn't afraid, even though I was a little. Was she really going to shoot me out here in the open?

I think you need to leave,’ she threatened shakily.

‘We need to talk,’ I growled.

F**K. OFF.’ She yelled and pumped the handgrip of the gun. A single bullet fell out and onto the floor. I'm not sure if she was bluffing anymore, but if any time was the time to get her attention, it was now.

I took a deep breath in.

‘Valerie, I’m pregnant.’

She didn't move. She didn't blink. She didn't breathe. The gun was still less than a metre in front of my face, but I could see it quivering. I went to make a step forward but she stepped closer to me and pushed the shotgun closer too, warning me not to stay where I was.

‘Did you hear me?’ I said angrily.

‘Whoopdy-F*****g-doo for you, you're knocked up,’ she spat. ‘Why should I give two flying f***s?’

‘Because Luke was the father.’

BANG!

The shot gun had fallen from her grip and hit the ground, setting off the trigger firing a bullet into the air. I yelped and jumped back, covering my head unsure of where the gun fired. But a drooping sunflower told me it had knocked one almost completely off the stem.

Valerie was standing exactly where she stood, staring at me with the most confused and confounded expression I'd ever seen on anybody. Her voice had vanished, and she seemed unsure of what to do with herself.

I straightened up and took a step closer, unsure of how she was going to respond. But she just turned on the spot and walked back inside, leaving the door open. My eyes followed her inside until I couldn't see her. I guess this was my invitation in.

I picked up the shotgun before I had a chance to trip over it; it was heavy, cold and deadly all in one. It felt unnatural to hold knowing what kind of damage it could inflict, so I carried it inside with me and rested it on the table where I presumed it had been laying prior.

The house was in a state. If I thought it was a bit messy earlier, it had doubled through the day; stray pieces of paper were littered everywhere in crumpled heaps. Broken shards of pots were scattered about, and a few of the ashtrays had been tipped over. I don't know if it was the pregnancy or not, but the scent of the tobacco had doubled as well, almost making me gag with every inhale. But I pushed through it, making myself present as Valerie bustled in the small side-kitchen and very frantically poured herself some whiskey into a glass and downed an inch of the amber liquid in one. She slammed the cup on the counter and leant into the bench, arms folded and foot tapping in silence.

Here I was again.

I raised my eyebrows at her impatiently, but she was doing her very best not to look at me. I could tell she was internalising and piecing this pregnancy together, and it was visibly freaking her out.

‘So…’ I said. ‘You're not gonna say anything?’

‘What the f**k do you want me to say?’ She snapped, staring at the wall. ‘Congratu-F*****g-Lations? You're another small town b***h who’s up the duff.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ I hissed. If she was trying to anger me she was succeeding with flying colours.

‘You heard me. You're not the first s**t to have a baby in this town, so don't go thinking you're anything special just because you fucked my son.’

‘Oh don't worry, I don't.’ I said nastily. ‘But I find it rich that a sour, old b***h of a woman thinks she knows me better than I do, considering it doesn't seem like you've been outside this f*****g house for ten or so years.’

Valerie shot me a death stare if I've ever seen one before. But I wasn't ready to back down.

‘Oh and you know what goes on in my life then, do ya?’ Valerie snapped.

‘No, I don't really give a s**t actually,’ I said, ‘I don't want to be here as much as you don't want me here.’

‘What are you waiting for then? F**k off. You don't have to be here, yet you are,’ she said sarcastically, holding her arms out, ‘in my home, invading my privacy.’

‘And pointing a gun at someone's head isn't worse?’ I spat. ‘Cut the bullshit, Valerie. You know why I’m here.’

‘Actually I don't,’ she said, idling closer to me. ‘You say you were Luke’s girlfriend, but I never knew you. He never told me about you. How do I know you're not lying just to get s**t out of me? How do I know you're not just some dirty little skank with the balls to show up here and act like you're pregnant? Eh? What do you want? Money? Drugs? Eh? Why are you really here? EH?’

‘BECAUSE I LOVED HIM!’ I screamed at her, she impulsively stepped back a few steps. ‘He was the ONE and only person I EVER gave this much of a f**k about, and up until this morning I thought I KNEW who he was. Turns out that's just a load of S**T isn't it? Now I might have HIV and he NEVER breathed a word about this to me. I had to find out by accident when I saw his prescription. So don't you f*****g DARE call me a dirty little skank when I'm trying to do the best by myself and make sense of this bullshit that I got DUMPED in before I knew what the f**k was happening!!!!’

Valerie stared dumbfounded at me, in complete shock at my eruption. I can't say I saw it coming either…

‘Now there's a chance my life is in jeopardy,’ I said, voice shaking. ‘And lucky for me, you're the only person who would have any idea as to how serious of a threat it is.’ She blinked at me, but didn't move. ‘So believe it or not, I'm asking for help.’

‘What the f**k am I supposed to do?’ She whispered, ‘cure you? I’m not some f*****g miracle worker.’

‘Give me the information I need,’ I said annoyed. ‘What meds was he on? When did he last take them? S**t like that. I need to know so that the doctors can know. Is there a prescription note?’

‘Ah, what the f**k would those white-coats know?’ She spat, turning into the kitchen and grabbing the whiskey bottle again. ‘Bunch of f*****g know-it-all's with too much money in their pockets.’ She swigged out of the bottle disregarding her glass.

‘Well what do you know that they don't?’ I sneered.

‘How good home-grown weed is,’ she laughed to herself a bit too much, making me feel uncomfortable. I stood there stone faced while she cackled. When she looked at me, she rolled her eyes and walked into the lounge. She kicked a few bits of paper about as well as the gardening pot-debris, looking at everything as she went. Eventually, she leaned down and pulled a piece of paper out from under the couch, peered at it while straightening the kinks out, and threw it to me.

‘What's this?’ I said.

‘Prescription,’ she grumbled. It was an identical note to the one I'd come across earlier, except some of the medications were slightly different, and had been dated a just over a month prior to today's date.

‘… Thanks.’ I said reluctantly, not expecting her to be so giving. She ambled over to the table, pulled out one of the dining chairs before kicking all the crap on it onto the floor and slumping into the seat. She proceeded to pull out her tobacco pouch and papers and began rolling herself several cigarettes.

‘It slowed it down,’ she mumbled.

‘What did?’

‘The meds.’ She pointed to the prescription irritably with her eyes. ‘The meds slowed down the disease so it wouldn't kill him from the inside any faster.’ She sighed to herself. ‘I dunno if it made it safe or not, but…’

She finished rolling the first smoke and wasted no time lighting it up before continuing to roll the rest. I just stood there in silence as she rolled her smokes. But I quickly remembered why I came here in the first place, and I wasn't going to leave without at least killing two birds with one stone.

‘I'm - I'm not keeping it.’ I said to her.

‘Okay?’ She said, un-phased.

‘I'm not ready to be a mother.’

Ha!’ She chortled, ‘who's ever ready to be a mother?’ She took a long, deep drag on her cigarette and stubbed it out, then grabbed another.

‘I had my consultation just before… I may be able to get it done faster than normal.’

‘What're they gonna suck it out with a fancy vacuum?’

Jesus, I don't know,’ I said. I hoped not. ‘No, I mean they're going to book me in sooner rather than wait.’

‘Lucky for you.’

‘Well I thought so,’ I said, piecing my words together carefully. ‘I just have to help them with something…’

‘And what is that exactly?’ Valerie said, pretending to sound interested.

‘They want a meeting - with you.’

Me? What the f**k for?’

‘Something about outstanding fees-’

‘Oh Jesus f*****g Christ!’ Valerie slammed the whiskey bottle on the table top and leapt to her feet in a sudden rage. ‘As if the funeral c***s weren't enough!’ She was erratically pacing the kitchen, breaking at the seams. I was surprised that steam wasn't rising out of her ears.

‘Well I don't know about the second bill, but this hospital debt sounds pretty f*****g serious,’ I said, ‘they just want to talk to you.’

‘Yeah right,’ she said sarcastically, ‘just like they wanted to cure Luke - Did they? No! Just kept doping him up on meds that he hated and charging me by the thousands! Why don't they f*****g help people rather than rob us. That's all it is with those fat pigs - money! Money, money, money, money, money!’

‘They are trying to help. They're trying to help me.’

‘Well Maybe you ought to learn how to help yourself, rather than rely on those airheads’ she hissed.

‘Righto, I'll perform my own abortion. Good idea, fuckwit-’

I had to duck before I finished speaking to dodge the glass hurdling towards me. It hit the wall and shattered into hundreds of shards that sprayed all over the floor.

‘WHAT THE F**K?!’ I screamed.

‘Go on, get out!’ She yelled at me, pointing at the door. ‘OUT!’

‘So that's it? That's all you've got? Wow, thanks for all your useless help.’

‘Take the f*****g prescription and f**k off. Don't come crying back here if you're HIV positive. You were stupid enough to sleep with him.’

That was it. I'd hit breaking point. She'd pushed me too far beyond where I wanted to go that I found myself shaking simply at trying to remain quiet. I was rooted to the spot and she was staring at me with her selfish eyes, almost challenging me to fight back. But I wanted to do more than just fight. I reached over the table and took the shotgun, brandishing it my hands towards Valerie. She looked almost amused for a second, smiling at me with a look of mania. But she quickly faulted when she realised I was being serious. I'd never wanted to use a gun so badly before, but She needed to know how much this was affecting me.

‘YOU don't get to play untouchable anymore. You are not above all of this, you are involved just as much as I am, and I am done trying to ask nicely,’ I boomed at her. We were similar height but my rage towered over her. ‘You knew him as well as I did. Better in fact. I know you two always had your differences but he was your son. You know - knew him better than I do, so I know you know what was going on when he left. When he disappeared and when he showed back up. You know.’

Our gaze did not break. We looked at one another dead in the eyes while we spoke. As much as she knew I was bluffing, she knew I could've pulled the trigger at any moment.

‘What good does it do now?’ She said through gritted teeth. ‘What good does any of it do? He's dead. None of it f*****g matters, what could change now that he's six feet under?’ Her eye glistened.

‘It'd do ME good! He lied to me, he lied about everything and now I don't know who he was? I don't know what was going on inside of his head! I don't know what he had going on at the time because he didn't breathe a F*****g word! None of this even happened as far as I was concerned, and I don't understand why!? Why was I left in the dark? Why was it so important to keep away from me? Why, Luke? Why did you give me your lies like they meant nothing, like I meant nothing?! Why did - Why did you DO THIS TO ME?!’ I screamed, and found myself yelling at Valerie. Tears were rolling down my face as I had almost entirely forgotten where I was and who I was talking to. For a moment, I thought I was talking to Luke.

Valerie wasn't looking me in the eye, but towards the floor instead. She had nothing to say to me, and I’m not sure I would've known what to say to me either.

I found myself panting after yelling so much. I tried to catch my breath properly and calm down. I was still holding the shotgun too. It was strange to see it in my hands; I gently put it down on the table so I didn't accidentally set it off. Valerie was still looking at the floor.

F**k. Look, I’m - I'm sorry,’ I said softly, feeling guilty. ‘This isn't me, I'm not a loud, invasive-’ but I stopped talking. My words failed me. Valerie was looking up at me, and her eyes were flooding with tears that were falling down her sallow cheeks. She looked incredibly pained, physically and emotionally. I began to worry that she wasn't breathing, as her face screwed up into a crinkled mess and she began to lower herself to the floor. But it hit me like an ice dagger to the heart when she inhaled and screamed at the top of her lungs, curling into a ball, wailing.

I stood, watching as Valerie crumbled to pieces before me. Her hands helplessly flailed around her for something to hold on, but her body defied her as she slumped on her side, convulsing with each sob. Tears dropped from the tip of her nose and chin onto the floor, one after the other as she cried, and cried, and cried.

It was haunting to watch. My own heart ached as I watched and listened to her cry and reach out for her son who wasn't there. Since his death she had done nothing but create more chaos in her life, and it had all just caved in on her.

I didn't know what to do. I was still shaking because of how angry I was, but i couldn't handle seeing her like this. It was heart-breaking. The woman who I thought didn't give a s**t about anything was clearly struggling beyond my understanding of grief. It cracked as I was yelling at her and all came spilling out until she gave way, succumbing to the torture of loss. I suddenly felt like I was looking at someone who had been at the brunt of life's crap for a very long time, and it was finally catching up on them.

It’s… my fault…’ Valerie whimpered. ‘All my fault…’ She was pulling herself into a sitting position, back up against the counter. She sat there for a while, stifling her cries until she caught her breath. She looked utterly broken.

As much as I wanted to leave and run back to Juniper’s, I couldn't. My sympathy was taking over, and I couldn't bring myself to leave her like this. I stepped a little closer to her, and kneeled on the floor next to her, leaning up against the opposite counter. She looked at me with a look I've never seen in her eyes before - sorrow.

‘It's my f*****g fault.’ She croaked. ‘I was always a s**t mother. I don't blame him for wanting to get away from me.’

‘Were things… bad between you two?’

‘They were never good. I was… too much, on his case all the time. I know I was… so he spent half his childhood in someone else's home. Can't blame him I s’pose.’ She was looking away from me, but her voice was so much calmer. I could tell I was now talking to a different Valerie, one who had let her guard down after what must have been years.

‘On his case about what?’ I said gently.

‘His meds. I didn't want him to miss anything. He hated it. F*****g hated it.’ She took a long, deep and exhausted breath. ‘Hated the way it made him feel. In the end he just refused it. It drove him away from me to his f*****g father. I racked up twice the amount of that debt for his meds. Had to start selling dope to make enough money to f*****g pay rent and the hospital. But he… he didn't want any of it.’

‘The meds?’

‘The f*****g HIV.’ She Barked.

‘Oh…’

‘Or the meds. Neither.’ She spat. ‘We couldn't talk without fighting, so how was I supposed to tell him to look after himself? … I couldn't.’ I could see it in her furrowed brow that she was riddled with frustration and regret. ‘I just… wanted him to be happy. But I know I made it worse.’

I realised in that moment that I had read Valerie wrong from the first moment we met. I had been trying to look at someone who hated the world and everyone in it with a vengeance, but now I see that she is and always has been someone who deeply despises themselves for the things they've tried and failed to do. She was putting the blame for Luke’s death in her own lap, and letting herself believe it to be true.

Luke had hidden the truth about his entire life from me this whole time, yet I understood now that he had also completely hidden the side of his life that I knew from Valerie. She was just as much at a loss as I was but on the other end of the spectrum. She didn't know who I was before the funeral, nor did she know that Luke was a happy, gentle and fun person to be around when he wasn't at home or being forced to medicate himself. She never knew the Luke that I knew, just like I didn't know the Luke that she did, and it had just hit her what a mess she had made of her life.

Valerie wiped her puffy red eyes and sniffled. I could sense she was uncomfortably vulnerable right now. She had broken down in front of me and I could tell she was unsure as to how I was going to treat her after this seeing as we didn't exactly know one another very well. But she didn't know that as headstrong and forceful I could be, I also had a big heart capable of empathy.

‘I remember when I first met Luke,’ I said softly, thinking back to my early years. ‘It was the new-entrance class in primary school. He'd made a paper-mache hat that the other kids thought looked stupid. I thought it was adorable. I told him I liked his craftsmanship, and he asked me what that word meant,’ I laughed. ‘We were joined at the hip after that. He was my best friend, until I grew up and realised I'd fallen in love with him. Then we became something so much more.’ I was looking at my feet as I reminisced, but I could feel Valerie watching and listening to me as I spoke. ‘We did everything together; we studied together, walked together, swam together, watched movies together and so on. It felt so real, so magic. But he had other things going on that I didn't know about. I didn't know he was sick. At all. He hid it so well. I'd have never of known if I didn't come here this morning.’

Our eyes finally met, and Valerie was looking at me with an emotionless face, though I knew she was really taking everything in. I could see it in her eyes.

‘Now that I know what was really going on, I don't know where I stand. I don't know how much I really did mean to him if he never told you about me, or even opened up about any of this stuff. I guess I can't be mad though, it won't do me any good now.’

Maybe he didn't want to tell me in fear of the end of our relationship. I wouldn't have left him though, I would've found a way to stand by him and support anything and everything he went through. Despite that reality, seeing Valerie excluded from his life as well made me think that he may not have known how to tell me.

‘You can be mad.’ Valerie said after a pause. ‘He lied to you.’

‘I know. But he lied to you too.’

She looked at me in surprise for a moment, but then thought about what I said. Her frown told me she knew I was right - he had lied about his life outside of this house, and it was hitting her now how little she actually knew about her son.

She sighed in what I read as embarrassment, lowering her head into her hands in shame.

‘I'm sorry.’ She sighed, voice cracking. ‘I've been an absolute c**t to you.’

‘So have I though,’ I replied. ‘I pointed a gun at you.’

‘So did I,’ she said. ‘Except I actually almost shot you…’

We looked at each other for a moment, and then like a volcano eruption, we burst into laughter. It was a strange yet satisfying feeling, sitting on Valerie’s kitchen floor with her, laughing alongside the woman who I thought despised me. I realised now that Valerie and I were in the same boat, and until today, I thought she had no idea what I was going through. Where in fact, I had no idea what she was going through.

We sat for a while longer, staring at the wall from the kitchen floor, not speaking to one another, but simply letting each other be as we were.

‘You sure about this then?’ Valerie said finally. ‘The abortion?’

‘No,’ I said honestly. ‘I'm not sure at all. But what other choices do I have?’

‘Well, keep it?’

‘I can't. I can't be a mother, not if it means I could be bringing a child into the world with HIV. That's not fair.’

‘It's not a very pleasant experience,’ Valerie said shuffling herself into a more comfortable sitting position. ‘Believe me.’

‘I know it's not. But I'm not ready for everything else that comes with it. There's too much to consider.’

‘Your body, your choice.’ She said. She still looked damaged and drained, but there was a demeanour about her that was a whole lot more relaxed. As if everything had been building up for such a long time that when it gave way, it was the ultimate release.

I already felt differently about Valerie now. I compared the Valerie I was sitting with to the Valerie who pointed the gun at me a few moments ago, and I see two different people. Now, I felt like I could talk to her with a mutual understanding of what we were both going through without yelling at one another. I guess it just took me to come and force her to deal with it for her to crumble and begin rebuilding. But I came here with a purpose, and no matter how hard or emotional it had been, I couldn't leave yet.

‘Valerie, I really need your help.’ I said calmly. She raised her eyebrows to show me she was listening. ‘I need you to come and talk to the hospital. If I don't, I'll go on a waiting list for the abortion. I need to be able to move on with my life, and I can't while this is still holding me back. I know we’re not exactly the best of friends, but you're the only person who can help me right now.’

Valerie considered me for a moment, pondering on my words.

‘How am I going to pay thirty grand back? I don't have that kind of money. Never have. Probably never will.’

‘Look, the doctor never said anything about you actually paying them back, she just said if I got you down there to talk I could get the form I needed.’

‘And then what?’

‘I… I don't know?’

Valerie sighed, and spent a few moments longer thinking. She occasionally glanced at me as she thought, until she began to pull herself back up to a standing position.

‘Fine.’ She said, taking a deep breath and straightening herself up. ‘I've got nothing else to loose.’

‘Thank you,’ I said happily. She gave me a quarter of a half-smile, before searching for her smokes and rolling one with gusto. I grabbed the prescription note and stuffed it into my pocket as Valerie grabbed her car keys and opened the front door. She seemed as eager to get this over and done with as I was.

I couldn't believe my luck. Half an hour ago I was banging on Valerie’s door demanding answers. Now, we’d both cried, screamed and belted our frustrations out on one another and met at a middle point, realising we were almost playing the same role in this s**t show of events. It was a comforting truth that I wasn't alone in this, but a strange one.

We left the house and headed for Valerie’s car. I opened the passenger’s door and kicked the copious amounts of paper and rubbish in the foot-well aside so I could sit properly. The leather on the car seats was ripped and torn, showing the aged-foam beneath it, and the corners of the dashboard was a spider-web haven. Valerie piled in and started the ignition with a huge grunty roar. The car reversed out of the driveway, and headed for the health clinic.

I felt a little awkward sitting in Valerie's car with her, it was most certainly not what I was expecting to happen this afternoon. But I had done most of what I set out to do, and changed Valerie's perception while I was at it. We sat in silence as she drove, smoking out the window, until we pulled up in the car park I had practically just left from. She parked on the most off-set angle ever, and turned off the ignition. I didn't say anything, just hopped out of the car and walked beside her to the maternity side of the clinic.

Nothing had changed in the hour I had been gone. As I walked through the doors the receptionist did a double-take when she saw me arriving. She picked up the phone on her desk and began to mumble something into it while staring right at me.

Eugh, f**k sakes,’ Valerie hissed quietly behind me, looking around the waiting room. ‘This place is f*****g awful.’

‘I know. We won't be long.’ I assured her. She was standing with her arms folded, eyebrow furrowed and her top lip raised in retaliation.

‘Aroha?’ A voice called from down the hall. Carmen was standing in her blue scrubs looking shocked and surprised to see me back so soon. I gave her a half-smile, and she raised an index finger for me to wait a moment. I nodded and she disappeared into another room.

‘F*****g doctors.’

‘It's okay,’ I assured Valerie. ‘She's one of the nice ones.’

I could feel her getting agitated, which I couldn't blame her for, but I wanted to deliver on my end of this deal so I could move on - as well as not wanting to upset Valerie any more than she already was. I'd managed to get her to listen to me and get her down here, I didn't want to mess that up.

Carmen appeared out of the room and caught my eye, subtly jerking her head towards a room to the left that she disappeared in.

‘Come on,’ I said to Valerie and began walking down the hallway. When I reached the door I opened it and let Valerie in before myself, then shut it firmly behind me.

‘Well I must admit,’ Carmen started, ‘I wasn't expecting to see you so soon, let alone within the hour.’

‘Me either to be honest,’ I said, glancing at Valerie who was looking into her lap. ‘Oh, here.’ I reached into my pocket and handed Carmen Luke’s most recent prescription. She unfolded it, looked at Valerie oddly and then began to read the slip.

‘Okay, these meds would have been enough to subdue the severe parts of the virus for a few weeks before needing another dosage. I guess it depends on how frequently he took them, but my bet would be that there's a very low chance of infection. But the blood test will give us more of an accurate answer when it comes back, okay?’ Carmen said. I nodded.

I was safe - mostly. I slumped into my seat out of pure relief that the chances of infection were pretty low. I would still have to wait for the blood tests to come back, but for now that was a fraction of one thing I no long had to worry about.

Carmen folded the prescription and put it aside on the desktop. She turned to look at Valerie, who was looking down at the floor with her arms crossed like a child who knew they were in trouble.

‘Miss Hartley?’ Carmen said grabbing her attention. Valerie grunted to show she was attentive but still refused to look up. ‘You have about thirty thousand dollars outstanding for your son’s medical bill...’

‘So I've heard,’ she said. Carmen frowned at her unimpressively. A drawer beside her opened and Carmen pulled out a rather thick stack of paper and slammed it onto the counter. It had Luke’s name printed on the top of the page.

‘Thirty thousand, nine hundred and eighty one dollars and forty two cents to be precise.’ She said firmly, both brows had risen. Valerie didn't budge. ‘Do you understand how serious this debt is?’

‘Can't be any more serious than the bulls of cancer patients.’ She said, looking amused with herself. Carmen was not looking impressed.

‘Do you think this is a joke? All that medication kept your son healthy enough to live and you don't expect to pay for any of it? It's not some gift we just give out to people, it’s all paid for by the government who you now, in turn, owe a great deal to. So how do you want to go about this?’

Valerie didn't speak for a second, I could see her calculating and holding herself back from lashing out at Carmen. Her lips were pursed and her arms were folded as if in a strait-jacket.

‘You think I’m made of money?’ Valerie said harshly. ‘I'm lucky enough if I've got twenty bucks to my name after I've paid my rent. Never mind food - that's for the privileged.’

‘Have you considered getting a job?’ Said Carmen.

‘I've got a job.’ She spat. ‘I'm a gardener.’

‘Is that a full time job? Or…’

‘N… No.’ Valerie said, looking away. ‘Casual.’

Carmen looked at me with a confused expression clearly trying to get me to help, but I didn't know how to get Valerie to cooperate. I had only just managed to get her to listen to me, and I wouldn't say that was exactly the easiest thing to do. My part of the deal was to get her down here, and that was it, but I also knew she wasn't very flush so I actually didn't have any solutions to offer Carmen, and I wasn't going to flat out tell her that Valerie sold weed for extra money either. I shrugged, and she slumped back into her chair.

‘What about a part-payment?’ Carmen eventually suggested.

‘A what?’ Valerie mumbled.

‘You can pay the debt off weekly at a reasonable fixed price, for example, fifty dollars a week and-’

‘Can't,’ Valerie interrupted. ‘Too much.’ Carmen was losing her patience.

‘It was just an example,’ she said. ‘The point is, you could pay it off steadily at a price that works for you, until it's all paid up.’

‘I'll be dead before that happens,’ Valerie laughed. ‘I’m serious, I won't be alive before I've paid that off. I don't know what to tell you, doc, I don't have any kind of secret family funds or Easter eggs or any of that bullshit. I'm f*****g broke, so good luck figuring it out.’

She got to her feet in a flash and swung the door open. Before Carmen or I could say anything else she had left the room and into the hallway.

‘Jesus Christ,’ Carmen exclaimed, forehead falling into her palms.

A sudden idea struck me… I got to my feet immediately and reached for the door.

‘Where are you going?’ Carmen exclaimed.

‘Just give me a sec,’ I called out to her as I ran out the door and into the hallway.

Valerie was just walking through the front doors out to the car park, so I picked up my speed and ran after her through the double doors.

‘Valerie!’ I called. Her head turned at her name but she kept walking. ‘Wait! Stop!

‘What am I supposed to say Aroha?’ She said turning around, frustrated. ‘I'm f*****g poor, and I have nothing but the benefit and a pathetic gardening job whenever someone's too lazy to prune their own F*****g hedges to get me by. I don't have an income! How am I supposed to solve this s**t?’ She was very distressed and agitated, this had been a lot for her to deal with in one day - But if there was anyone who knew what that felt like, it was me.

‘It's okay, Valerie,’ I said calmly. ‘She was just suggesting ways to maybe, make it easier I guess.’

‘Easier?’ She chortled. ‘Good joke.’ She rummaged in her pockets for her cigarettes and rolled one in lightning speed before sparking it.

‘I sort of had an idea,’ I said. She looked at me suspiciously. ‘What about your weed?’ I whispered the last bit so nobody heard me. Valerie looked at me like I was an idiot.

‘What about it?’

‘Well… you know. Why don't you try and make a deal with the hospital?’

‘A deal to do what?’

‘Exchange the debt for weed?’

She paused at me for a second, and then burst into laughter. A few of the people inside looked at us through the window.

‘Are you serious?’ She laughed. I looked at her with a dead-pan face. ‘You're serious?’

‘Why not? I did a study in school last year about medicinal marijuana. Turns out it has incredible healing properties for a lot of different kinds of sicknesses and diseases, and most hospitals prescribe it to special patients for relaxation. Couldn't hurt to try, right?’

‘No. Absolutely not.’ She turned away from me and puffed harder on her cigarette.

‘Why not? It may not be legal recreationally, but surely they keep some for the special cases.’

‘I have my own regular customers here,’ she said forcefully. ‘I can't go f*****g with s**t now, I've worked too hard to create the clientele I've got. That money gets me by… Just.’

‘Then you know that'll mean they’ll arrest you for refusing to pay.’ I said seriously. ‘Valerie - they have all your information - you're phone, address, everything. If they want to come and charge you they can whenever they want. I'm surprised they haven't already. You couldn't at least try to make a deal to help yourself out?’

She didn't say anything this time, just listening and smoked away on her cigarette.

‘Carmen's bent her own rules and restrictions for me today trying to help me sort out this pregnant situation,’ I said quietly, ‘so I need you to help me show her that you can cooperate and come up with a plan. So that I - we can move on with our lives. Don't you want that?’

She looked at me and the cigarette for a moment, mulling over everything. When she stubbed out her cigarette, I thought she was going to walk away back to her car. But miraculously, she walked past me and headed back into the clinic. I followed behind her at a run to keep up with her fierce march.

Valerie headed straight back for Carmen's office, and have Carmen a big fright when she burst through the door and sat back down without saying a word. Carmen looked at me very confused and flustered. I shrugged as I sat back down in my seat.

‘What have we decided then?’ She said looking from between the two of us. I looked at Valerie, but she was clearly okay with letting me do the talking, reverting back to her stroppy-child pose.

‘How interested would you be in medicinal marijuana?’ I said quietly.

Carmen’s eyebrows rose even higher, but she didn't speak. I hoped I hadn't just blurted that out to someone who is highly anti-weed, and risked Valerie’s security. But Carmen didn't say anything. She gestured her hand to me to keep talking.

‘Valerie isn't exactly in a position to pay the money back,‘ I said. ‘But she has access to marijuana that could be traded in exchange for the debt being lowered?’

I thought she was going to laugh in my face for a second, but instead sat back in her chair and thought to herself, finger tips pressed together. Valerie was now looking at her, waiting her response.

‘I have a fully operating growing shed that can house up to thirty hydroponics at a time,’ Valerie said suddenly. ‘I've got all the supplies I need to help them grow with ventilation and temperature control, and enough of a routine to keep it going as long as it stays hidden. I could give you a couple pounds each cycle.’

Carmen eyed her with a serious look, before hoping up from her desk and locking the door to the hallway yet again, before sitting back down at her desk. I'd seen this before.

‘How serious are you about this?’ She asked Valerie quietly.

‘If you'll make it happen I suppose I can be serious,’ Valerie said. I was glad she had taken my idea on board, at the end of the day, this was for her own benefit so she could at least secure a life outside of prison.

Carmen was analysing Valerie and myself a great deal before she said anything more. I could tell she was fighting with her inner-professional as today had been a day of rule-breaking for her. The kind person in me would tell her not to risk it, but every other part of me was waiting for her to make the deal so we could get on with things.

‘Okay,’ she said eventually. ‘Look, I've already pushed beyond my legal capabilities for Aroha today, so you need to understand too how much I'm risking here.’

‘Do you want the F*****g weed or not?’ Valerie snapped. Carmen looked taken back, but not enough to discourage her.

‘My wife has a very good friend who works in the psychiatric ward. They're often looking for high quality strains to stock for their prescribed patients. I could potentially make a deal with them for you to be a permanent supplier?’

‘Great.’ Valerie said unenthusiastically. I could tell she just wanted to leave. ‘Where do I sign?’

‘Whoa, it's not that easy, Miss Hartley.’ Said Carmen, forcing Valerie to pay attention. ‘You know that this means you will actively have to supply and maintain a steady, regular flow of exchange at a consistently high quality, otherwise the hospital will have full ability to come and shut you down, followed by prison. Are you ready for this?’

Valerie though about it for a moment, clearly she hadn't considered this whole side of things. She looked at me as if I knew what she should do, seeing as it was my idea in the first place, but this was in her hands now. I shrugged as if to say “it's your choice”. She bit her lip in mid-thought while Carmen watched her and waited for an answer.

‘Fine,’ she said. ‘I'll do it. So do I get any kind of protection?’

‘Protection?’

‘Yeah, If the cops come knocking? Gotta have proof it's not for me. If I go to jail it's cause I screwed you over, not cause I got caught doing this for you white-coats.’

Carmen looked annoyed with Valerie’s bargaining, but I could tell that she wasn't willing to rule out the deal yet. I had to give it to Valerie too - she was as cut-throat and demanding as my mother, but it got her what she wanted. Carmen tapped her fingers on her arms a few times before turning to her computer.

‘Fine.’ She said irritably. ‘I can create you a licence to show anyone if they demand to see it.’

She began typing away and a few minutes later, a printer underneath her desk began to making noises. She pulled out the single slip and handed it to Valerie along with a pen to sign. Valerie scribbled her messy signature almost where it needed to go, and Carmen signed hers next to it.

‘If anyone discovers that this is a forged licence,’ Carmen whispered. ‘I'll lose my job, you’ll both be fined and more than likely be incarcerated. No one can know about this.’

‘Why are you breaking your rule book just for us?’ Valerie asked suspiciously. ‘For someone who takes their job seriously it seems like a pretty F*****g stupid move.’

‘I really do take my job seriously,’ Carmen said forcefully, placing both hands flat on the table trying to ignore Valerie's sass. ‘And I love my job, so I'm willing to do whatever it takes to make sure things like your debt aren't holding this hospital back from helping people who actually deserve it. We’ll be in touch Miss Hartley, someone will be over in a few weeks to establish the trade.’ And with that, Carmen turned away from Valerie to end the meeting. Valerie scrunched up her face and mocked Carmen behind her back the way a little kid would. She folded up the licence and put it in her pocket before swooping out of the room to the hallway.

‘Thank you, Carmen.’ I said, getting to my feet.

‘Hang on a moment,’ she said without looking at me. She was typing on her computer and the sound of the printer started again shortly after. ‘I imagine you’ll still want this?’ She handed me the warm paper fresh from the printer. It was an appointment sheet, for an abortion. Next week.

I wanted to say thank you, be incredibly grateful and appreciative that she had helped me out, but for the past ten minutes I'd forgotten about the abortion all together. I'd temporarily focused on helping Valerie that I forgot why I was there in the first place.

‘You're welcome?’ Carmen smirked, looking at me strangely.

‘Sorry… Thank you.’ I said shaking myself back into reality. ‘For everything. I really do appreciate it.’

‘Just contact me if you need anything,’ she said kindly. ‘Anyone who's a friend of Rose’s is a friend of mine.’ She smiled. ‘Take care, Aroha.’

‘Yeah… you too.’ I turned and left the office, heading back down the hallway to reception. Valerie wasn't anywhere to be seen, so I made my way straight for the exit. As I went, I saw Hayleigh and Olivia sitting back in the waiting room, mortified at the sight of me, again. But I walked out of the building as if I didn't notice them; I really didn't give a s**t as to what they were doing there.

I walked down the winding footpath until I was out at the car park again. Valerie was standing not too far from me smoking another cigarette. Head bent down as she read the license that Carmen had given her, looking somewhat calmer. I idly walked up to her and stood to her left.

‘Thanks kid,’ she said hoarsely. She turned to look at me, cigarette bobbing in her lips. ‘You’ve got balls.’

‘Thought you’d prefer to live in your own home opposed to prison,’ I said. Valerie grinned.

‘Touché.’

That was it. It was done now. I got what I wanted and she got a resolution to her situation. We had nothing left to sort, yet it felt wrong of me to just walk away right now. She may not be my favourite person in the world, but she had moved from someone I highly dislike to someone I'm only just getting to know. Besides, she was Luke’s mother, and that would never change.

She was looking at me, but not in the kind of way that she had been much earlier today. She was looking at me with a kind of admiration, and respect.

‘You know,’ she said, stamping out her cigarette butt. ‘I can see why he liked you - Luke. He might not have mentioned you to me before, but he was probably just smitten.’

‘Smitten with what?

‘You. It's probably why he didn't want you to know any of this s**t. Didn't want you to think less of him or something.’

‘I wouldn't have.’

She smiled at me half-heartedly. We sort of just stood there for a while, staring into the sky. I could tell we were both thinking about him, and how much it still hurt that he wasn't here for either of us. I clutched my Rose Quartz and squeezed it tightly. Life goes on.

A lot had happened today. I felt drained and exhausted but overall, good. I'd accomplished more than I'd set out to do, and all I had to do was wait for my appointment next week and things would go back to how they were. Somewhat…

‘You need a lift anywhere?’ Valerie asked me, pulling her keys out of her pocket.

‘No I’m Fine, thank you. I'll get a friend to pick me up.’ I said, thinking how good a debrief would be with a good friend. Valerie shrugged and made her way to her car. She swung  the driver’s door open, almost smashing it into the next car over, and leaned over the passenger’s seat, mucking around in what looked like the glove box. She pulled herself back out and started walking back towards me, ripping a bit of blank paper off of the pretend-license and was scribbling something on it with a black marker she must've found in her car.

‘Here,’ she said handing it to me. It had messy numbers scribbled on it. ‘It's my number. Let me know if you need… anything - I guess. And good luck with the- thing.’ And with that, she marched to her car and started the ignition, driving away without a second glance back.

I immediately reached into my pocket and whipped my phone out and began to craft a message in record speed:

 

[New Message: ZEB

 

Hey. What are you doing at the mo? I'm at the health clinic, reckon you'd be able to pick me up?

 

Sent.

Delivered]

 

Juniper was still at Carzel’s house, and as much as I would have liked to see how Carzel was, I needed to spill my thoughts out to someone who was good at listening. Besides, I hadn't seen enough of Zeb lately, and I really missed him.

Within a few seconds, my phone buzzed with Zeb’s response popping up on my phone's screen. I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear.

 

[ZEB: just now.

 

F**k yes girl. See you in two mins x]

 



© 2019 aubreydiamond


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Added on March 5, 2019
Last Updated on March 5, 2019
Tags: drama, young adult, pregnancy, coming of age, fiction, life, death, love, birth, teenage, comedy, baby, friends, family, murder, drugs, swearing, course language, aroha


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aubreydiamond
aubreydiamond

New Zealand



About
I come in peace! My name is Aubrey, I’ve been a creative witch for as long as I can remember. Writing, drawing and all of the creative outlets have been my source of magic since I could craf.. more..

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