The Changes of Valentine Eaglestone

Authors note:
This is a rewrite of one of the first tales I posted here, so things might feel familiar. Since this will be chapter by chapter, you won’t get all of this at once, but there will be some language, a car accident and a reference to an attempted suicide, so trigger warning. I’m seriously invested in this so please be as constructive as possible. I already know how good a writer I am, please point out how I’m wrong with suggestions on how to fix that. Thanks for at least giving this a look, sincerely Prudiika

You never see the big changes coming. You know, the ones that alter your life forever? They just hit you like a black car with no lights at midnight. Just WHAM, and your life will never be the same. What’s worse is that those changes usually accompany really bad days or situations you wish could be done over. I’m not really sure why I chose the particular spark I did, or why it happened on the night Mom and Dad had to go to some fancy dinner, but it happened. Mom said “no” one too many times and I snapped.

-Valentine Eaglestone

One: The Night Everything Changed

It was a warm summer night, the fourteenth of June to be exact. Rachelle and David Eaglestone were in the process of getting ready for their city’s annual summer gala. It was a chance for the people to voice their concerns, the leaders to pitch their ideas on how to fix the problems brought to their attention and for the city’s elite to decide which solutions to fund or continue funding. David had the unique privilege of being both one of the elites and a Councilman and Rachelle would use the opportunity to help her husband’s political career along, with a few well placed honeyed words. They would even have the rest of the evening to themselves, with both their daughters having plans with friends. 

That was of course before the oldest, fifteen-year-old Valentine, responded to Rachelle’s request: “Remind me who’s picking you up.” With “Sarah”. Now that response sounds perfectly fine, except for the fact that Sarah was only five months older than Valentine. Rachelle looked at her daughter for a moment, before responding. “Sarah’s driving?” Valentine nodded, “Yeah, why?” With a sigh, Rachelle picked up her high-heels and headed out onto their landing, with the intent to make it downstairs. “You’re gonna need to reschedule, sweetie.” 

“But her Birthday party is tonight, and you already said I could go!” Valentine managed to get in front of her mother without actually impeding her progress and put on the most betrayed face she could come up with. It didn’t work. “That was before I knew you would be riding with a new driver, Valentine. I’m not comfortable with that.” That got a scoff. “Sarah’s had her license since Monday! She’s hardly a new driver.”

Rachelle had to avoid copying her teen’s eye roll. “A week’s experience isn’t enough to change my mind, dear.” At this point the two had reached the bottom of the stairs and entered their foyer, just as David entered from the garage. “Change your mind about what?” His two favorite red heads turned toward him, simultaneously a glimpse into the past and the future. They even started speaking at the same time. “Your Daughter-Mom, won’t let…” The bearded man held up a hand and suppressed a smile. “Valentine first, then tell me why.” Valentine suppressed the urge to stick out her tongue and repeated herself. “Mom won’t let me go to Sarah’s party anymore, an it’s tonight!”

“Okay, now why? We gave our permission weeks ago, and she doesn’t need to watch Jenifer.” Rachelle used one of the side tables for support as she put on her shoes and responded. “Your daughter decided to wait until the last minute to inform me that Sarah will be driving tonight. I told her I was not comfortable with that.” David looked back to his little girl. “She’s only had her license since Monday?”

“Yeah, but she passed her first time.”

“That’s good news, but I’m afraid I need to go with your mother on this one, Kiddo.”

Valentine turned the same shade as her hair. “Oh, for Fucks sake! You’re always doing this. You’re always going back on your word. You’ve never let me leave the house except to go to school and I’m tired of this shit! I mean Jenifer gets to go to a sleep over and I don’t?! Fuck. That. You’re going to have to lock me in my fucking room in order to keep me here.” There was a moment of complete silence as Valentine’s outburst registered in everyone’s minds. Then, slowly, David took off his suit coat and hung it on a peg near the door to the garage. 

“Valentine Meredith Eaglestone, get in that room now.” His voice was calm and measured, but the tone was anything but. It was a tone that let the recipient know they’d royally messed up. It had worked wonders on Seamen and Cadets, and usually worked quite well with his little girls. This time, however, Valentine was not ready to back down. “No.” She stood defiantly at the foot of the stairs, daring him to act.

As slowly as he had taken off his coat, David walked toward her. “No? You just used language toward your Mother, that I haven’t heard since I was in the Navy, language you were told never to use, an you think you can tell me ‘no’? Young lady, if you are not in your room by the time I count to three, I will open the front door and spank you in full view of the street.”

That took some of the wind from Valentine’s sails. “You wouldn’t.” David kept coming and Rachelle moved to the door. “One.” Valentine took one step up. “The neighbors would call CPS.” David kept coming and Rachelle unlocked the door. “I doubt that. Two.” Valentine bolted up the stairs. As soon as they heard her bedroom door slam, both parents let out a sigh of relief. Rachelle relocked the door. “What are you going to do if she ever calls your bluff?” David gave her a sad smile “No longer be bluffing.”

David Eaglestone was a well-built man. He could dead lift an armored chassis off a fallen soldier long enough to extract them to safety and had been trained to kill with his bare hands. He had the capacity to seriously harm anyone he struck in anger whether he was trying to or not, so he always took a moment to calm down before disciplining his kids. The act itself was almost always a spanking, bare handed and never at full strength. In this particular case, he added a mouth soaping to the regimen.

When she was allowed to spit out the suds and clean up, Valentine slammed the bathroom door in her Dad’s face, refusing the aftercare that normally followed every punishment. In between cleaning out her mouth and off her face, she managed to snarl: “I hate you and I hate Mom! Just leave me alone!” David didn’t force the issue, though he did put a gentle hand on the door. “Whether you feel like we do or not, your Mom and I love you very much. We wouldn’t discipline you if we didn’t care.” With a sigh, he collected his daughter’s computer and game system’s power supply before leaving her with “We’ll see you in the morning, Miracle Girl.”

Valentine stayed in her bathroom until several minutes after the car had left. Her angry, embarrassed and hurt tears slowly faded to sniffles, as she composed herself. She wasn’t calmed down, not anywhere close, but she wasn’t a hysterical mess either. She surveyed her room, noting the predictable absences of her entertainment. Typical, but it didn’t matter, Dad had left her phone. A wicked smile formed on her lips as she picked it up in time to get a text from Sarah. “Hey, almost there. You ready?”

Valentine returned to the packing she’d started before her mom had asked the question that started this whole mess, as she responded. “Yeah, new plan though. Meet me at the top of the street.” Sarah’s response was just as typical as David’s after punishment actions. “Weird, but okay.”

“Shoulda taken the phone, Dad.” Valentine said as she slung her duffle over one shoulder, opened her window and climbed out into the night.

True to her word, Sarah was waiting at the top of the street under a lamp. She was still dressed for her summer job at the local daycare center with her auburn hair in a ponytail. In addition to her name badge, Sarah also supported a sticker proudly proclaiming her to be the “Birthday Girl!”. A sticker that Valentine couldn’t help but notice as she jogged up. “Awe, they gave you a sticker.” Sarah smiled. “Yeah, I barely managed to talk them out of making me wear the tiara, told the kids it was too small. Anyway, why an I meeting you here?”

“Long story. So this is the new ride?” Sarah raised an eyebrow at the dodge, but followed Valentine’s lead. “Yeah, Gran got it for me. Satellite radio, road side assistance, the works.” If Valentine could have turned green, she would have. “Oh, November can’t get here fast enough.” Sarah gave her friend a little hug. “Well until then, I guess I’ll have to ferry you around.”

“Speaking of which,” Sarah said, checking her phone. “We should probably head out. Wouldn’t want to be late to my own party.” Valentine couldn’t help but smile. “Yeah, that would be embarrassing.”

Two hours later, Valentine exited their local theater in a daze. Most of the other girls that had come to the first half of Sarah’s party, Birthday Girl included, had tears in their eyes. Not Valentine. She wasn’t sure what in the world she’d just watched. The hodgepodge of genres that was now seared into her mind, was so confusing that she was halfway tempted to rewatch it to make sure she hadn’t missed something, despite never moving from her seat for the entire runtime.

Her daze was almost enough for her to miss the fact that she was the only attendee not to have their own car. Almost. Sarah was quick to pick up on the change. “Okay, what’s wrong?” Valentine didn’t look up. “What do you mean?”

“You’re moping. Don’t try to deny it, I know your faces.” Valentine sighed. “I just hate being the only one who can’t drive by themselves.” That got her a wry chuckle. “Its not as freeing as you think it is. Don’t get me wrong, having a car is fun, but it’s been a week and I’ve mostly just run errands or gone to work. Honestly, having a car benefits your parents more than it benefits you.”

“That’s still better than having to wait on them, or bum a ride.”

Seeing that she wasn’t having any luck, Sarah decided to change the subject. “So, What did you think of the movie?” Valentine gave her answer to the window. “It was okay.” Sarah gave her friend a little shove. “No, what did you really think of the movie?” Valentine perked up. “You sure you want to know?”

“Yeah, lay it on me.”

“Okay, you asked for it.” Valentine took a deep breath. “The romance scenes were over acted, the comedic gags were barely funny, the action sequences were forced and the ending came out of left field.” She shook her ticket for emphasis. “I can’t believe we paid to see that.”

Sarah had to stifle a laugh. “You’re more of an action girl aren’t you?” Valentine smiled, “Yeah. The acting may be the same, but the explosions sure do make up for it.” This time Sarah did laugh. “Oh god, my best friend’s a pyro.” Valentine joined her. “Oh don’t act like you didn’t know. Seriously though, you liked it, so that means I like it.”

Valentine had said sincere things before, but this particular one, tugged a heart string. “Awe, don’t ever change Val.” Valentine smiled back, missing the tone at first. “Wasn’t planning on it.” When Sarah failed to completely look away, the red-head added, “Why are you looking at me like that?” Sarah opened her mouth to speak, but what came out wasn’t what she planned. They had just missed their turn.

“Val, I…Crap.”

“What? I mean we all do…”

“No, I just missed the turn.”

“Oh. Don’t worry, I know several ways to get to your house. Just take the second right.” Valentine was suddenly all business, the awkward moment filed away for later. Instead, she conjured up a road map and placed it over the world she was seeing, becoming a human GPS.

Throughout the trip, Sarah was too busy driving and Valentine was too busy navigating to worry about the missed moment. In fact, they were much too focused on the road to talk about much of anything. Unfortunately, the lady behind them wasn’t as focused. It was an innocent mistake, thinking the turn arrow was a full green light, but it resulted in a mild fender bender.

After the shock cleared, the first words out of Sarah’s mouth were “Shit, I just got this car. Daddy is going to kill me.” This exclamation was immediately followed by the roadside assistance kicking on. “Hello, this is Amy from Under-sun. I’ve just been informed that you were in an accident. Is everyone alright?” Valentine and Sarah took a moment to look each other over. “Yeah, we’re fine.” Sarah said after she was satisfied that Valentine was indeed fine. “It was just a fender bender.”

“I’m glad to hear that. Do you need me to send help?”

“No thanks, we can take care of it.”

“Alright, if you need anything else, please push the green button. Thank you for choosing Under-sun, roadside assistance everywhere under the sun.”

With that, the respondent disconnected. A moment later, Sarah turned on her hazard lights and stepped out of the car, followed by Valentine. The girls were met by a very apologetic middle aged woman, with graying hair. “I am so sorry, girls. I was using my phone and saw the arrow and thought it was the full green light.” Sarah managed a reassuring smile. “It’s okay mam. Neither of us was hurt. Let’s go over there and exchange info.” As they moved off, Valentine pulled out her phone. “I’ll take pictures.”

Up the road a truck ran off the shoulder, throwing up a cloud of dust. It continued to increase its speed until the engine was roaring. As he turned the corner leading to the scene of the collision, the driver threw an empty whiskey out the window. The instant it hit the pavement, the bottle was powder. It took a moment for him to realize the flashing lights were on the road and not in the air above it. A moment too long.

Valentine looked up at the sound of squealing breaks and the world went white.

Sarah let out a scream of horror and rushed over. “Val? Oh god, no!” She scooped Valentine’s head into her lap headless of the blood flowing freely from the redhead’s mouth and nose. “Come on say something, be okay.”

Mom, dad “I’m…sorry.” the last thing I said was “I hate you”. Valentine went limp in Sarah’s arms and the wail that followed, shook the stars.

The light moved away, and Valentine found herself in a tunnel. She followed the light with her eyes till it stopped at one end, then she looked the other way. She was treated to a bird’s eye view of an intersection. Half a dozen cops were working around three cars that had been in a collision. Two were forcing a man into a squad car and one was talking to a familiar looking woman and her very distraught teenaged daughter, the rest were doing what ever else cops did in such situations. All she had for reference were cop shows, and that’s when Valentine’s brain kicked back on. Oh, shit. I’m dead.

She turned to look back at the light, but any question of whether she would stay or not, was answered for her. A shadow stepped between her and the light, female in form but otherwise featureless. Somehow it spoke, its voice distorted and reverberating. “What the fuck do you think you are doing?!” Valentine tried to respond out of reflex, but suddenly shadow girl was right in front of her. “We’re not fucking done, bitch. Get the fuck back in there.” The last was accompanied by a shove that sent Val flying backwards.

Detective Carter listened to the phone roll to voicemail for the seventh time, before lowering it to his side. Miraculously, or rather thanks to its fiery case, the cell was in one piece. That was more than he could say about its owner. “Still no luck reaching her parents.” He said as his partner, Detective Chambers, walked back from getting statements. The older man nodded. “Try again in a few minutes, then have dispatch send a car to their house.” DT. Chambers continued walking to where Valentine’s tarp covered body lay. “Hell of an end to your night, eh kid?” He didn’t expect an answer, but he got one.

There was a twitch from under the tarp. At first the grizzled detective thought it was a trick of the light. Then it happened again. “The fuck?” He knelt down and lifted the tarp just in time to dodge the blood Valentine vomited before she started screaming. “Jesus Christ! She’s still alive!?” Carter echoed the expletive before frantically waving the Paramedics over. “Someone get a gurney over here now!”

Sarah had cried herself into a stupor and was just clinging to her mother. Nothing mattered anymore, Valentine was gone. The Paramedics had tried talking to her, her mom had tried talking to her, the cops had tried talking to her, but all they got out of her was “She’s gone, she’s gone, she’s gone.” So they’d put her in the Ambulance to calm down. If being latched to your mother, drenched in blood and tears and hiccupping periodically was calm, then it worked.

When the door was thrown open, Sarah expected to get asked to leave. Instead, she and her mother were sent toward the front of the patient compartment. “Hey, you’re her friend right?” It took a moment for Sarah to realize she was being spoken to. “Yeah.” The Paramedic put her in a wall mounted chair that faced a very much alive, yet worse for the wear, Valentine. “Get her talking, we need her to stay awake. If she passes out again, we might loose her.”

Surprised by this sudden turn of events, the first words out of Sarah’s mouth were: “So Val, what was the last movie you watched?” Despite her pain and the oxygen mask that was currently helping her breathe, Valentine managed to say aloud what Sarah had immediately thought, while also managing an incredulous look. “You were there. Like literally right next to me.” Sarah got a “roll with it” motion from her mother and did so.

“I know, but you have a photographic memory right?”

“So?”

“So, you need to keep talking and Mom hasn’t seen it.” Sarah’s Mom helpfully added: “I’d like to though.” as Sarah urged Valentine on. “Go on, give us a replay.” Which was enough to convince Valentine. “Ugh, the one thing I don’t want to remember right now. Fine, but I warn you it’s gushy.” She let out a shriek as the Ambulance hit a small bump before continuing. “It starts with this girl named Haley witnessing a crime. She then has to go into witness protection…”

David was in a very heated discussion with several international businessmen when the hostess found him. “Excuse me, Councilman Eaglestone?” He excused himself and turned to the young woman. “Yes?” He was handed his phone. “You left this in your coat sir. I’m sorry it took us so long to find it. You have several missed calls from a ‘Valentine’.” She then curtsied at his thanks and headed back to the entrance, as David called his daughter back.

“Valentine, I’m sorry I missed…” He was interrupted by Dt. Carter. “I’m sorry, sir. This is Detective Carter…” David took a moment to recover from having a man answer his little girl’s phone. “You’re who?” Unfortunately, used to such reactions, the Detective repeated himself. “I’m Detective Caleb Carter, Valentine has been in an accident…”

“She’s what!”

“Been in an accident, they’re taking her to Adams Regional. I’m not going to lie sir, it’s bad.”

“Jesus Christ.”

David thanked the Detective, who promised to bring Valentine’s phone to the hospital, and was at Rachelle’s side in the blink of an eye. Rachelle was at first annoyed at having her meeting interrupted, then she saw her husband’s face and heard his tone. “Sweetheart, we need to leave. Now.” They were retrieving David’s suit coat before she asked, “Why? What’s going on?” The response felt like a knife to her chest. “It’s Valentine, she been in some sort of accident.”

The Adams Regional Emergency room was thankfully empty when Valentine was rushed in. Dr. Adams himself was there to meet her and to catch the ending of the movie. “…and she runs across the beach and throws herself into his arms. Cue credits.” His raised eyebrow was met with, “We needed her to stay awake.”

“Good call. What’s her name?”

“Valentine”

The Doctor put a hand on Valentine’s shoulder. “Valentine, my name is Doctor Adams, I’m going to be taking care of you, okay?” Valentine was loosing her battle to stay awake, but managed a week “Thank you.” Sarah and her mom were stopped at the main entrance as everyone else continued to rush the fading Valentine inside. “Is that your blood?” Sarah shook her head. “Then, I’m sorry, but you need to wait out here.”

Sarah gazed past the door that was slammed in her face for an uncomfortable moment. Her mother gently guided her to a chair as she started sobbing again. “She’s going to be okay, sweetie.” Sarah shook her head. “No she isn’t. I felt her die, Mom. I felt it.” Sarah was wrapped in a hug. “But she didn’t die, Sarah. She talked to us all the way here.” Sarah pushed her mother away and stood up again. “But what if that wasn’t her? What if I got my best friend killed and something else came back in her place?”

“Sarah Jane Carter!” Her mother’s words slapped her across her face. “You stop that right now. This wasn’t your fault, and in a few days you and Val will be back to mischief making just like old times.” Sarah just shook her head and collapsed in another chair, unconvinced and still drenched in tears.

Unable to help her baby girl anymore, Sarah’s mom stepped outside. She was about to ask a nearby nurse for her first cigarette in years, when Rachelle and David ran up. “Kimberly? Oh God, don’t tell me Sarah’s hurt too.” Kimberly shook her head, “Sarah’s not hurt Rach, but she’s not okay either.” David nodded understandably before joining the conversation. “So what’s going on Kim? They said Valentine was in some sort of accident?”

Kimberly looked at her friends with sympathy, “She was hit by a car.” Rachelle’s hands flew to her mouth. “Oh God!” At the same time the barrier underneath David’s hand cracked. “How?” Kim took a breath before answering. “She and Sarah were in a fender bender and while Sarah was getting the other lady’s information, Valentine was taking pictures.” Kim faltered as the relief that her little girl was safe and the grief for her friends choked her up. “A drunk driver blew the curve and sandwiched Valentine between the first two cars.”

Rachelle let out and unintelligible cry and David’s barrier broke completely. “Is she…” he couldn’t complete his sentence, but he didn’t have too. “They have her in surgery and she was talking on the way here. That’s all I know.” Rachelle swallowed the lump in her throat and turned the focus to the other girl affected by the night’s tragedy. “How’s…Sarah? You said she wasn’t okay?”

“Shaken up mostly, but she’s convinced herself that the whole thing was her fault. I told her it wasn’t, but it might have a better impact coming from you two.”

The three moved back inside and Rachelle was immediately seized by a sobbing Sarah. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. E.” The distraught girl’s words were choppy and mumbled into a cocktail dress, but Rachelle understood. She wrapped Sarah in a hug and began soothing her hair. “Shh, it wasn’t your fault, dear.” From the other side came David, strong arms shielding Sarah from the pain. “You didn’t do this, kiddo. Don’t blame yourself.” Kimberly completed the triangle, placing a kiss on Sarah’s head. “It’s going to be okay, sweetie.”

The sun was just peering over the horizon, when Doctor Adams returned. Kimberly had fallen asleep against a wall, with Sarah passed out on her lap. Rachelle had at least made it to a chair. Only David was awake to see the Doctor enter. He broke off his multi-hour chant of “Pull through Miracle Girl, pull through.” And looked up.

“You must be the Eaglestones.” The Doctor said coming over to stand before him and Rachelle. David nodded, gently shaking his wife awake. “That’s us.” Dr. Adams’ smile was all the answer they needed, but he gave them one anyway. “I have very good news, Valentine is going to be fine.”

Rachelle let out a sigh of relief. “Oh, thank God.” David hugged her as he asked. “Can we see her?” The Doctor shook his head. “We need to keep her under observation to make sure there are no complications. However, things should go well enough that you can see her tomorrow evening. Go home, get some rest and relax. We’ll call you if there’s any change.”

David shook Dr. Adams’ hand. “Thanks, Doc.”

“It’s my job. Now go take care of yourselves.” With that the Doctor returned to the interior of the hospital, leaving David and Rachelle to relay the good news. “See?” Kimberly said as she helped Sarah to her feet. “I told you she was going to be Okay.” Sarah nodded. “Yeah” I just hope it’s really her.

A compelling opening. I’m hooked.

Really good introduction. You literally throw us into the story.
To be a little more constructive I find the flow is a bit fast but nothing too over the top for the beginning of a story. I could feel that the characters will be developed more later so the small lacks of background don’t bother me.

can’t wait to read more soon.

Thank you for your work.

Author’s note: forgot a disclaimer about violence, it’s in this story too.

Two: Awakenings

Valentine lay in a private hospital room, the picture of serenity. Her chest rose and fell rhythmically and a teddy bear, her knight in shining armor, was underneath her left arm. If it wasn’t for the I.V. Drip attached to that arm or the tube providing oxygen to her lungs, or the slowly beeping heart monitor, she might have been sleeping in a hotel room.

Jenifer Eaglestone exited the bathroom, proud to have woken up to do her business and having remembered to wash her hands. The six-year-old version of both Rachelle and Valentine, slowly closed the bathroom door until only a sliver of light remained. It didn’t matter that the sun was going to be gently glowing through the blinds soon, Valentine needed a nightlight because Jenifer needed one. Back inside the room, the little girl was met with a decision. Mommy was in a chair by the window, the cot she’d gone to sleep in was next to the potty room and Valentine was right in front of her. Where should she go?

A red braid found its way into her mouth as she thought, a habit her family had forgotten about breaking when Valentine got hurt. She should go back to her cot, but it wasn’t very comfortable. She could climb onto Mommy’s lap, but that might wake her up and Mommy spent so much time worrying about sissy that she needed sleep. So the choice was obvious.

First, ninja mode. Keeping to the shadows, Jenifer glided over to the bed. Then, like a hero diffusing a bomb, she climbed up and became Ser Bearymore’s counterpart. Satisfied that she hadn’t caused Valentine any harm, Jenifer slipped a thumb into her mouth and went back to sleep.

Sometime later, Valentine opened her eyes. There was a brief moment of panic that sent a surge through the heart monitor. The noise caused Rachelle and Jenifer  to stir, but they didn’t wake, and the spike wasn’t enough to call the nurses, so for a few tense moments Valentine was “alone”. Then her panic faded as the room came into focus and she could see mom nearby. Things became even better when she tried to move her right arm and found Jenifer attached to it.

The kindergartener had managed to wrap herself around the arm, giving her big sissy access to her belly, access that was exploited. She woke up in a fit of giggles, face positively glowing when she saw who her “tormentor” was. “Hey Jen, can I get my arm back or do you plan on keeping it?” Valentine’s tongue felt foreign in her mouth and she slurred a little, but Jenifer understood.

“You’re awake!” The exclamation was much too loud, but it was none the less true. “Momma, Momma! Val’s awake, Val’s awake!” Rachelle forgave her excitable youngster her failure to use an inside voice and instead wrapped her eldest in a hug, tears of joy rolling down her face. “Welcome back, baby girl.” It was a moment before she realized Valentine had her in a death grip and was crying too. “I love you Mommy. I love you. I love you so much. I’m so sorry I said I hated you. I didn’t mean a word of it.”

Rachelle planted a kiss on Valentine’s forehead. “Oh honey, I know you didn’t mean it. I’m just so glad you’re okay.” She pulled away, but only so she could see Valentine’s face. “Now, does anything hurt?” The teen gave herself a once over. Everything felt fine and like it still worked. “Not right now.” 

“Alright then, I’m going to go find your father and let him know you’re awake.” She picked up Jenifer, who had been dancing around the room telling the entire hospital that Val was awake and placed her in the chair. “Jenifer, watch your sister till I get back.” Instantly, Jenifer was silenced and had fixed Valentine with the most intense stare she could muster. “Don’t worry, Mommy. I’ll keep my eyes on her.” Her actions sent both her elders into giggle fits the six year old didn’t understand.

David thanked the Officer for the lift and strode purposefully into the hospital. As he entered the elevator to go to Valentine’s floor, he almost collided with Rachelle who was coming out. “There you are. I was about to have the front desk page you. Where have you been?” David had made a promise long ago to never lie to his wife, there were things he couldn’t talk about of course, but he wouldn’t lie.

“The man who ran over Valentine was found dead, so they took me to the station to see if I had anything to do with it.”

“Did you?”

“Not according to them.”

“Obviously, but that wasn’t what I asked.”

David sighed. “I thought about it, planned it even. Ran through the engagement over and over again. Would I use a gun, a knife, my bare hands? But I couldn’t let him take you and Jenifer away too. One baby girl was enough.” Rachelle handed him the sketchbook she always carried in her purse. “You thought it, I drew it.” David leafed through the rough comic his wife had made. “Easy there Jane Wick. I’m not even sure panel 240 is possible.” Rachelle smiled as she opened the door to their room. “Well the good news is we wouldn’t have had to find out.”

David looked up in time to see Jenifer bolt to the bathroom and Valentine sitting up laughing. “She’s been doing the potty dance for two minutes, she really took you seriously, mom.” Then the teen’s face sobered. “Hi, Daddy.” David crossed to her and knelt down to her eye level. “How’s my little Miracle girl?”

Once a nickname given because David had been convinced he couldn’t have kids, it was now a testament to her survival. It was also a cue that he wasn’t mad at her. Her voice was returning to normal, but Valentine still spoke very deliberately “Hungry, very sorry about the last thing she said, and wanting to go home.” David chuckled. “You’re forgiven, and I’ll see if the nurses can fix the first problem. Unfortunately, your punishment is they’ll probably need you to stay a few days. You were asleep for quite a while.”

“Really? How long?” There was a knock at the door, as Sarah bounded in, holding flowers and hitting a very relieved Jenifer with her skirts. “Well school starts next month, if that helps.” Valentine’s eyes became as big as saucers. “I missed summer vacation?!” Sarah nodded with mock seriousness. “That’s what happens when you pick a fight with a car.” Valentine sat up straighter and put her hands on her hips. “Hey, it started it.”

David redirected an irate and sputtering Jenifer from her planed reprisal and put his arm around Rachelle. “And they’re back! Come on guys, let’s give them some time alone and let the nurses know Val needs some food.”

Valentine waited until the door closed before speaking. “So, how was the party? I didn’t ruin it did I?” Sarah shook her head vehemently, “No, you just moved it. I-we decided that it wouldn’t be the same without you. It’s gonna be at your house instead, a sort of coming home party.” There was a pause, before Sarah remembered what she was holding. “Anyway, I brought some more flowers. Thought you might like some brightening of your room.” Valentine smiled and snuggled with her bear, voice slipping back into its lisp. “Thanks they’re really pretty. Is the bear from you too?” Sarah smiled back. “No, that would be from Jenifer. We went to Make a Friend and she insisted that you get one too.”

Warmth filled Valentine as she hugged the stuffed animal tighter. “Awe.” In contrast, warmth was suddenly absent from Sarah. “Val, I need you to be honest with me. Is that really you?” The bed ridden redhead cocked her head, “What do you mean?” Sarah took a step back, voice cracking with emotion. “You died in my arms Val. I felt it happen. Then ten minutes later you’re telling Mom about the last move we saw? I need to know that you’re really back.”

Valentine’s face fell. “Oh, Sarah. I don’t know how to prove that I’m me.” Then she set her face, being very careful to get every word out as clear as possible. “But I do know this, you are my best friend. The best in the world and I would never, ever lie to you. This is me, warts and all. I may be bruised and a tiny bit broken, but I’m alive. Believe me.”

As she said the last two words, Valentine’s eyes flashed and Sarah believed her. Sarah would always believe her. Valentine could and would never lie to her, even if she did. Valentine could say that the sky was green and Sarah would know it to be true. Sarah was also compelled to tell Valentine this, her voice devoid of inflection almost as if she were asleep or a robot. “I believe you.”

Sarah dropped the flowers on the table and wrapped Valentine in a hug that threatened to crush the girl. “Oh, I missed you so much. It’s so good to have my best friend back.” As she gently tried to extract herself, Valentine perceived a faint ringing and a funny feeling in her head. Tell her how you really feel, Sarah. Tell her you love her. I can’t, what if she doesn’t feel the sa-

The funny feeling became full on pain and the unexpected insight into Sarah’s thoughts was simultaneously erased and cut off. “What the…!?” Valentine screamed as her hands instinctively flew to her head. Sarah jumped backwards, terrified that she’d hurt her friend. “Are you okay? Did I…” Valentine managed to spare a hand long enough to reassure. “No, I just suddenly have a really bad head ache.” Something warm trickled down her face and she tasted copper. “And a nose bleed?” Sarah bolted from the room. “I’ll get a nurse.”

Valentine was put back into observation for a few days, but they couldn’t find anything wrong. While she was there, a nice doctor helped her get her speech back. Walking took longer and it was a few weeks after she was sent back to her room that she could make it to the bathroom on her own, which led to some embarrassing moments. It was even more embarrassing to learn that the warnings often came just a little too late. Jenifer was very supportive of her big sissy, offering the same advice and encouragement she had gotten just two years earlier. Her parents and Sarah were supporters too, Daddy even got her a job testing the products his company made for such situations, but it was harder to be upset about your “special underwear” with someone so adorable in your corner.

She was walking with a crutch by the time they let her go home, but they still had her go home in a chair. It was purple which was cool and she could move it by herself which was better. That didn’t stop David from insisting on rolling her to the car and helping her into and out of it. Her parents also made her use a chairlift to go up to her room. Despite her bluster, Valentine found it tiring going from the stairs to her room and was asleep soon after laying down, despite the plastic sheet. A sheet she was grateful for when she woke up an hour later and discovered she’d leaked.

By the time school started, she was almost back to her old self. She still needed a cane if she was going to be walking or standing for a while and Jenifer woke up dry more than she did, but she could walk and she could make it if she woke up in time. She even managed to convince her parents that she could fend for herself. She missed the attention, but it felt good to hobble to the bus stop unaided. She didn’t even care that the one condition she’d been given meant that she was wearing and carrying glorified Pull-ups to High School.

Then one day, almost exactly three months after she was hit by the car, Valentine came home from school and just felt off. She wasn’t running a fever or nauseous, so Rachelle just suggested she take a nap. It didn’t help, nor did going to bed early. She barely ate any breakfast the next morning, and was told she could stay home, but decided to power through. In retrospect she probably should have stayed home.

Halfway to school it hit her, a wall of noise that filled her head and made no sense. It was like getting blasted in the face by static and it hurt. Resting her head on the window and dosing helped a little, but it also made her seat a little warmer. “Earth to Valentine, anyone there?” Sarah’s voice cut through the noise, no it chased it away. Valentine looked at her and blinked. “What?”

“I asked if you wanted to go out for lunch today. Susan just offered to drive. Where were you just now?”

“Sorry, rough night. Yeah, lunch out would be great.”

“Was it the headaches again?” Sarah looked at Valentine with concern before turning her attention to her purse. “I’m fine.” Was Valentine’s response, but she did have to scratch the inside of her mouth all of a sudden. Sarah was too engrossed in her search to notice. “If they’ve come back, I’ve got some killer pain meds that’ll…”

“I’M FINE!” The outburst startled both girls, especially Valentine who had never snapped like that before. Sarah put the bottle back into her purse. “Okay.” She said drawing out the word. “Excuse me for trying to help, if you say you’re fine you’re fine.” Valentine put her head in her hands and began apologizing, though she had to stop and scratch/massage her gums periodically. “I’m sorry Sarah. I haven’t been myself since yesterday.”

Sarah went for a hug, “It’s okay Val…” and noticed what her friend was doing. “Why are you doing that?” Valentine forced herself to stop and shrug. “I don’t know. My mouth just feels really weird. It’s like I’m teething again.” That was not a pleasant memory. Sarah handed her a stick of gum. “The only thing weird is that you remember teething. You’re probably just nervous about it being sophomore year. Here, chew this, it will help.”

“Thanks. Wow, that does help. How’d you know?”

“Well you said it was like teething and I’m all out of rings, so I thought gum would work.”

“The things you learn at Daycare.”

“Tell me about it.”

The rest of the morning passed without incident. Well, Sarah’s supply of gum got a lot smaller, but nothing major happened. The girls went from class to class eagerly awaiting their lunch hour. When it came, another incident came with it.

On the way to the parking lot and Susan’s car, Valentine needed to visit the restroom. She was in a bit of a hurry as the urge was a little late and collided with a freshman. Both girls went down and Valentine finished the job her nap on the bus had started. It shouldn’t have been a big deal. She hadn’t leaked, had plenty of spares in her purse and in the nurses office and it hadn’t hurt. But for some reason Valentine’s vision turned as red as her hair. “Watch where you’re going fish!”

The mouth was hers, but the voice wasn’t. It was angry and mean and just a tad distorted. If she hadn’t felt the desire to snap the words herself, the girl would have thought herself possessed. Whether the younger girl thought that was the case or not, she stammered “Sorry miss.” Then bolted away leaving behind a puddle and a befuddled Valentine.

Where the hell did that come from? That’s not me at all. No answer was forthcoming and by the time she’d confirmed that her uniform was unspoiled and freshened up, she had filed the whole thing away for later.

Lunch was excellent, as any outing with the girls or boys is. Valentine and her girlfriends told jokes, talked about boys, shared gossip and voted on which male teacher they thought was the hottest. It was like Valentine hadn’t spent the last three months out of commission. Throughout the meal, Sarah stayed as close to Valentine as possible and acted as her waitress. The redhead had tried to protest, but the others had shot her down. She was the queen that day.

They had so much fun, that they almost lost track of time. What followed was a frantic rush to clear off the table, get refills and return to their car. They made it just in time, despite Susan’s annoying refusal to go above the speed limit, and Valentine and Sarah were in their adjacent seats just as the second bell rang.

Their Teacher shot them a look over her turtle shell glasses. At first the girls thought they were in trouble for being late, but Mrs. Miller was actually on their side. “Girls, I will allow you to bring drinks to class, but in the future please have them in bottles or travel mugs so we can limit spillage.” The girls nodded and responded with a stereo. “Yes, mam.”

“Good, now please take out your Algebra books and we’ll continue where we left off.”

Somewhere toward the middle of the lesson, Valentine was doubled over with pain. It wasn’t quite as powerful as the brief flash she remembered as the car hit, but it was scary close. What made things worse was the kind of pain it was. I can’t be hungry now, I just ate. She tried to ride it out, but that wasn’t happening. Why am I so hungry? Then her body experienced spasms, bringing lunch dangerously close to an encore appearance. Now I’m going to be sick.

Sarah placed a concerned hand on her friend’s knee. “Hey Val, you okay? You look kinda pale.” Valentine shook her head as she raised her hand. “Mrs. Miller? I’m sorry, but I really don’t feel well. May I go to the nurse?” Mrs. Miller was suspicious at first. Despite her affinity, Valentine had shown distaste in mathematics before, but Valentine didn’t sound or look well. “Sure Sweetie, just remember to take a hall pass with you.” Valentine staggered to her feet and then out the door, doing just that and giving a weak “thank you” to both her teacher and Sarah who offered to take notes. She didn’t make it to the nurse.

Violet was dying, she hadn’t eaten in months and it showed. Her skin was so pale it was almost translucent. Her hair once a fiery red, was now a dull brown. Her clothes looked like they were the uniform of a nearby school, but they were covered with dirt and sweat. She shuffled along, shivering uncontrollably and shooting sunken eyed glances at everyone and every thing. Violet was dying, but she also looked like she was going through withdraw.

Jaquez and Javier saw her coming and assumed the latter. “Hey Havi, check out the junkie.” Javier stepped into Violet’s path. “Hey baby doll, shouldn’t you be in school?” Violet looked at this thing that dared to block her path and slurred. “School is stupid, I already know everything.” She tried to move around him, but Jaquez blocked her. “Whoa there, where you going in such a hurry?”

Violet looked this new blockage over. He was nothing, just like the other. “Let me by.” This time her words carried venom, but Javier wasn’t fazed. “Oh no, baby doll. A moment of your time for the poison of your choice.” Violet was poison, she didn’t need it. “Don’t need poison.” Jaquez moved behind her. “Sure you don’t, everyone says the exact same thing. But don’t worry, like my friend said, you don’t need to pay. At least not today.” With a nod, they grabbed Violet and pulled her into a nearby alley.

Violet of course struggled. “Hey, no! Let me go!” Javier struck her across the mouth. “Shut up!” The impact shocked Violet. How dare this cattle hit her! “You…you hit me?!” She smiled, now she could fight back. Her sunken eyes went jet black and she kicked Javier into the street, cutting off his “What the fuck?” before he could finish. Using him as a springboard, she continued backward over Jaquez and sent the would be rapist into a brick wall.

“That wasn’t very nice.” The suddenly very skilled teenager said as she took a stance facing Javier. This time her voice was clear and carried a sinister hiss. Instead of running, the man drew a knife and charged. Violet batted the knife away and grabbed him by the throat. Such little toys were no threat to her. “You like to play with knives? Well check out mine.” Her nails elongated into talons and with one swipe, Javier’s insides were outside.

Twin blossoms of white hot pain spread across her back and Violet stumbled forward as two tiny pieces of metal hit her. What was left of Javier splattered across a building as she whirled to face Jaquez who was on one knee, gun in hand and blood leaking from his mouth. Voice a snarl, Violet pounced. “You shouldn’t play with guns!”

The girl that stood up, looked a lot healthier. Color was slowly returning to her skin and hair. Her eyes though still solid black, were no longer sunken into her face. A face now covered with blood. Not enough. Her body told her. Need more. As if an answer from heaven, the interior of the building in front of her came into focus. Full of beating hearts and warm bodies, the drug den was perfect for what she needed. A lot more.

Val woke up in her bed at home, feeling better than ever. She swung her legs over the side of her bed and stretched luxuriously. Wow, I guess all I needed was a nap. Her face felt a little crusty and her underwear was cold and clammy, but other than that she felt great! She actually skipped into the bathroom to clean up. What she saw disgusted her.

Eww! Total nose blowout. Oh it’s even in my mouth, yuck! Blood was caked all over her face, it was a miracle it wasn’t on her pajama top or, after a quick check, her bed. With the state of her face and of her underwear to consider, Val opted to go ahead and get her nightly shower over with. As she climbed in, there was a moment where her reflection vanished. She didn’t notice.

After her shower, the teen dressed in a new set of pajamas and the night time underwear she both hated and was starting to like, before heading downstairs in search of dinner. Much to her surprise the house was empty and the only sounds were coming from either her or their grandfather clock. Mom and dad should be home by now. She called but no one answered. The kitchen hadn’t been touched since that morning, the dining room table was free of worksheets, art projects or homework and Val was getting scared, very scared. “Guys, this isn’t funny. You guys better be upstairs, because I really don’t feel like playing hide and seek right now.”

They weren’t upstairs.

Val found herself curled up in her closet, body racked with sobs. She was alone. Her family had left her. She was never going to see them again. She was alone. Over and over those sentences bounced around her head, eventually coming out in a wail that would have broken even the hardest heart. Suddenly a musical tone broke through the storm clouds.

Her phone! Of course! How could she have been so stupid? All she needed to do was call them, duh! First she needed to see what Sarah wanted, though. “Hello?” Sarah was mad. “So now you decide to pick up?! Look, I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re parents are pissed and I can’t cover for you anymore.” Val looked at the phone in shock. “What?” was Sarah talking about? “They’re coming home right now and I hope you’re there with a good explanation…” Sarah’s tone did a 180 and she was suddenly very friendly. “…because I want to hear it tomorrow. Sorry about the yelling, mom was in earshot. So where are you? Need a ride?”

“No, I’m…I’m home. What’s going on?”

Before Sarah could answer, Rachelle’s “Mom voice” echoed throughout the house. “Valentine, you’d better be home.” The voice was so powerful, that even Sarah heard it. “Uh oh, sounds like you’d better go. Good luck”

“No wait! I…” But Sarah was gone. Then came the “Dad voice”. “Valentine, we know you’re here. Your book-bag is in the foyer. Meet us in the living room, we need to talk.” There was only one response to that: “Coming!” Followed by the sound of hurried feet.

Val couldn’t maintain the last, so she ended up using the chairlift and her cane. She was glad for the latter as Jenifer seized her legs in a vice grip, as soon as the older girl stepped into the room. In a calm and measured voice, Rachelle told Jenifer to go upstairs and play. The response was given to Val. “I’m gonna miss you Sissy.” It seemed the little girl thought her sister was going to disappear.

“Uhh, hi guys.”

“Thank you for joining us, Valentine. Please have a seat.” Rachelle’s voice hadn’t changed. Val sat in the chair her kid sister had been hiding behind and placed her cane across her legs. “So what are we going to talk about?” David’s voice was the male counterpart to his wife’s, as he answered. “How 'bout school. How was it today?”

Val still wasn’t sure why they were mad. That was an easy question to answer. “It was okay. We’re going to be reading novels in English so that’s cool.” Rachelle leaned forward. “Did you enjoy Science today?” Val got that funny feeling in her head again. “Science? I didn’t have Science today.” Did I?

David’s voice gained some bite. “You mean you didn’t go. In fact, none of your teachers saw you after lunch.” That wasn’t right. “No, I have…I have math after lunch. Mrs. Miller’s class. With Sarah. We sat together.” Rachelle’s voice gained force too. “You made Sarah think you were sick. Then left her worrying about you all day. That’s no way to treat your best friend.”

“Your mother’s right. And having Sarah lie about you two being together, that was just wrong.” Val’s funny feeling had become a headache and there was a ringing in her ears. “She told you…” the pain cut her off and made it sound like she was mad at her friend instead of horribly confused. “Now don’t go getting mad at her. The fact that your friend is playing hooky isn’t a secret you keep. Now, where did you go?” Rachelle’s voice was slowly loosing its calm and David’s wasn’t far behind. “And why did you ignore your phone all day?”

As Val discovered the 27 missed calls and 48 unread messages she had, the ringing and the pain got worse. It was all she could do to stammer: “I don’t know.” This proved to be the last straw. Mom blew first. “You don’t know?! You disappear for five hours, worry us to death, get your best friend in trouble and all you can say is, ‘I don’t know.’?!” Valentine repeated herself, panic building, and set off her dad. “Oh for heaven’s sake! You’re turning sixteen in two months, not six! I’d expect that kind of answer from Jenny, not you!”

Val started shaking. In her head, the day replayed up until the classroom door closed behind her, then nothing until she woke up at home. Over and over again, she stepped out of the classroom and woke up at home. “I really don’t know. I…I can’t remember. I can’t! Why can’t I? What’s…what’s happening to me?”

“Valentine! This is no time for games!” Rachelle snapped only to realize her daughter couldn’t hear her. The green eyes they shared were staring into nothing and the teen was rocking back and forth in her chair sporadically, mumbling incoherently. Then Val started hyperventilating and David gave voice to the thought both parents shared. “I don’t think she’s faking, Rachelle.”

The next instant, he had Val in his arms. “Hey! Miracle Girl look at me. Look. At. Me. I got you, you’re okay.” Val sagged into her Daddy’s arms sobbing uncontrollably. Nothing made sense any more, nothing was real. Her brain just shut off and she was left with basic instincts. Mommy held her too. “Shh baby, Mommy’s here. She’s sorry she yelled. You just scared her.” Daddy stroked her hair. “You scared us both kiddo. Don’t worry, we’ll find out what’s wrong. Then we’ll put this whole thing behind us.”

Mommy took her completely. “Go ahead and call the song bird, I’m going to put her to bed.” Part of Val knew, she was much too big for Mommy to carry her upstairs, but another part placed a memory over her reality and she wasn’t too big anymore. Mommy expertly carried her up the stairs and into her bedroom of twelve years ago. To her surprise, Mommy kept going into the bathroom. “I already took a bath, Mommy.” She lisped.

Mommy nodded, but started the water anyway. “I know sweetheart, but you had an accident while you were panicking and need another one.” Now that Mommy mentioned it, Val did feel a lot more icky than she had before and there was a rather unpleasant smell. When the water was warm enough, Mommy started the tub filling up. “Okay honey, arms up.”

Mommy took her time with the bath, being as gentle as possible and by the time it was done, Val’s eyes were droopy. Mommy had to help her into a new pull-up and pajamas, but Val was too sleepy to mind. She did manage to brush her own hair, but Mommy had to hold her up. When she finally laid down, the girl was asleep almost instantly.

The part of Val that was still big, realized something during this Little vacation. She missed this. She missed the care and attention. She missed not having to worry about anything. She missed the comfort and security. She knew that when she woke up, Mommy, er Mom wouldn’t want to keep treating her that way, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t pretend on her own time. She placed her thumb in her mouth and started sucking contentedly, joining her Younger self in sleep with a smile.

“How is she?” David asked, as Rachelle slowly closed Valentine’s bedroom door. The look Rachelle gave him, broke his heart. “I had to leave the bathroom light on for her. I haven’t had to do that for ten years.” She threw herself into his arms. “Our teenager just spent the last fifteen minutes acting like a toddler, and I don’t know what to do.” She started crying. “I don’t want to lose our Valentine again.”

“We’re not going to loose her. I don’t care how much it costs or how long it takes, I’m not going to let that happen.”

Wow.
Strange story but well written! I hope to see the rest :slight_smile:

Three: If Nothing’s Wrong, Why Is It Getting Worse?

Val was back to herself by morning, well mostly. She would no longer be in a hurry to change in the morning and while she wouldn’t flaunt her Sweet-Dreams or the thiner School-Days, she no longer cared if someone found out she wore them. Ser Barrymore’s place of residence also changed from her shelf to her bed. She would no longer pretend such things didn’t give her comfort.

She still got dressed for school before going downstairs, though. Mom had put on a brave face, but Val wasn’t ready to see how she’d react to her new look on life. Instead she tried to be as normal as possible and saved experimenting how young she could act for another day.

Rachelle came in as Val was tying her shoes. “Good morning Sweetheart. Did you sleep well?” Val nodded. “Like a baby.” “I noticed.” Mom didn’t say it but Val heard it all the same. Her cheeks flushed. “Sorry about last night. I got stuck in a memory.” They hugged. “It’s okay, baby. Any luck with finding your lost ones?” 

Val thought back, but the time skip still happened. It wasn’t as scary now that Mom was here and no longer mad at her, but she still shivered. “No.” She got a little squeeze. “No worries, but you’re not going to need your uniform today.” Val looked up from studying her floor. “I can go to school, Mom.”

“Not today. You have doctor’s appointment and the studio is closer to the hospital than the school.” Val was confused. “How do I have an appointment already? The…incident was only last night.” Rachelle winked “Your Daddy is more connected than you think. I’ve got to get your sister up and changed, put on something you can get paint on and don’t forget to clean yourself up. Hopefully this will all be over with by dinner.”

Eleanor’s Easels was named after Valentine’s grandmother. The sweet old lady had passed on before the girl could meet her, but Rachelle had done her best to keep her mother’s dream alive. Part art gallery and part studio, it was a place where artists could create and display whether they were famous or not. 

Val was given an easel and a smock and placed in a corner with several small children that belonged to her Mother’s current students. She wasn’t the responsible one, Mom had Deidra for that, but she wasn’t about to go to town either. That’s what she started out believing anyway. Then she saw how much fun the little tykes were having.

True, they were getting more paint on themselves than on their canvases, but they looked like they were having a lot more fun than she was. Mom was teaching nearby and Deidra was busy keeping the toddlers from having a paint war, so no one was paying attention to her. Val looked at the rough sketch she had penciled out, then at her cups of paint, then at the brushes, then at the little kids at the table in front of her. Then she stuck a finger into her paint.

She lost herself, but this time it was on purpose. She closed her eyes, held the image she wanted in her mind, then just let loose. It was just as freeing and fun as she thought it would be. She even giggled at the sensations she hadn’t felt for years. She got a lot of paint on herself, but she was proud of what she’d done.

“Valentine!” Rachelle called, causing the girl to jump. “What on earth are you doing?” Val missed the last part trail off as Rachelle saw the last image Valentine had seen, instead she just heard the “Mom voice” and thought she was in trouble. “Painting.” Mom turned away from the image of a truck bearing down on a small sedan and looked daughter over. Her voice softened. “Oh honey, the paint goes on the canvas not you.” 

“It was more fun to paint with my fingers.” Rachelle looked at the painting and then back at Val. “You did that with your fingers?” The evidence was clearly there, but Rachelle needed to hear it to believe it. “Uh-huh. Was I bad?”

“No, Honey, no. It’s just that wasn’t finger paint.”

“Oh.”

They were late for the appointment. Rachelle didn’t want her normally fifteen-year-old to show up covered in paint like a kindergartener and acrylic paint is really hard to get off skin. The clothes would have been fine, except Val had let herself go a little too much, so they had to double back and change. Rachelle tried her hardest to not make a big deal out of it, but it was hard.

The hospital was understanding, thanks to David’s influence they had to be, and soon Valentine was taken to undergo a series of tests. There were a lot of those. There was the standard array, normally performed at clinics. Then blood work and waste samples, which they were assured would be expedited. Finally, Val ended up in radiology for a CT scan and an MRI. Throughout the testing, she managed to stay in a teenage mindset, but Val secretly wished for Ser Bearymore towards the end.

After the tests were done and results were received, Val and her mom were taken to the office of their family physician, Melody Swan. They were given seats on a nice couch and Dr. Swan sat opposite them. The doctor looked through the results before speaking. “Well, I have good news and bad news. Which would you like first?” Val wanted to know the bad news so they could get things over with, but Rachelle needed some good news. They shared a look over giving separate responses, but Dr. Swan didn’t mind.

“Well it just so happens that they’re very similar.” Two separate brain scans were placed in front of mother and daughter. “One of these brains is from a normal teenage girl, the other is Valentine’s. See anything different?” The two shook their heads and the doctor continued. “That’s because there isn’t a difference. We can’t find anything physically wrong. Which is the good news. The bad news is, because we can’t find anything, we don’t know what’s wrong.”

“So, what does that mean?” Rachelle asked as she pulled Val close.

“It means, that unless Valentine drank herself silly while at school, which is highly unlikely, or had a bad reaction to some drug…”

“No! That is definitely not what happened. I was not drunk, and I am not on drugs. I didn’t even take medicine that morning.” Val interrupted with such conviction, that neither the doctor nor her mother would expect the blood work to say any different. Dr. Swan shrugged. “Then there is nothing medically wrong, at least physically. However, based on the incident a few months ago, it might be mental.” Val’s heart sank. “You’re saying I’m crazy?”

“No, I’m saying that you experienced an extreme trauma, your world was rocked to its core and we should expect…after shocks.” Dr. Swan got up and walked over to her desk. “Now, my expertise is general medicine. Which means that I can treat the symptoms of or cure almost anything and/or explain what’s going on. However, mental trauma or Illness needs specialized treatment.” The Doctor took two brochures from a drawer. “Hopefully, what happened was just a fluke, just a bad combination of stress and a 24hour bug. If it does happen again, or if things get worse, or even if you just want a professional to talk to, go see Dr. Evelyn Crystal.” She handed the brochures to Valentine and her mom.

“She is a very good friend of mine and I vouch for her. She specializes in Pediatric and Juvenile mental wellness, but her practice sees everyone. If there is a problem, she’s the one to fix it.”

Rachelle let Valentine drive home. The girl needed a win and the practice so it was a win-win situation. She actually did quite well, considering the lapse in practice the accident had caused. She’d need some more time before taking the test of course, but that was months away. Plenty of time.

The thing is, time seemed to be flowing backwards for Val. She didn’t seem to notice, but Rachelle did. It was subtle things, like taking naps with Jenifer or wanting to have a sectioned plate at dinner, or needing to be reminded of homework. Then Valentine’s monthly resupply came and Rachelle was surprised to find the protection to be closer to the kind Jenifer wore, rather than the discreet underwear her teen normally ordered, and that there was more of it. But it wasn’t until Valentine slept through her alarm and Rachelle walked in to see her teen sucking her thumb again, that she thought about the brochure in her purse.

Rachelle waited until Valentine had gone to school, before dialing the number. She almost didn’t do it, almost gave in to the feeling she was betraying her daughter by going behind her back. Part of her wanted to confront the girl when she came home, convince her to go to the Doc, but then she remembered the last time she saw her teenager sucking her thumb and hit the call button.

The room was meant to make children feel at ease, looking more like a playroom than a Psychiatrists office. The dormant fan was the same crayon one Valentine had begged for years ago, a fact that would have brought a smile in a different circumstance. There were familiar toys in a corner, board games on a shelf and a chest of costumes to add to the image. It was hard not to cry. Sure she missed those days with Valentine, but not enough to want them back. Her Miracle Girl needed to grow up.

Dr. Crystal picked up on her distress. “We can use a different office, if you’d be more comfortable.” The blond looked a little young to be a Doctor, a thought that immediately reminded Rachelle of her late mother, but her blue eyes were kind and her face genuine. Rachelle shook her head. “No, this one’s fine.” The Doctor indicated a plush chair and sat in one opposite. “So, you said you had some concerns about your daughter?”

“Yes, her name’s Valentine and she’ll be turning sixteen next month. Thing is, she’s starting to act like she’ll be turning six. It’s not all the time and it’s not all bad, she and her sister are closer than ever, but I’m worried.”

“When did she start acting younger, and can you give me specifics?”

“Well she had an episode, a blackout, back in September where she lost five hours. She had a breakdown and it was like she was a toddler again. We made an appointment with Dr. Swan the next day and she seemed normal that morning, but when I caught her finger painting, she acted like a preschooler caught stealing cookies. It’s been small things since then, taking her teddy bear everywhere, asking for sectioned plates again, needing to be reminded to do homework before playing, napping with her little sister and she’s also been going through her protection faster than she was.”

Dr. Crystal looked up from her note pad. “Protection?” Rachelle nodded. “Valentine was in a car accident in June and has some toileting issues as a result. I thought she was getting better, but now I’m not sure.” Rachelle started to tear up again. “Dr. Swan said nothing was wrong, but it feels like it’s getting worse and I’m loosing my little girl.”

Rachelle was handed some tissues. “I imagine it does. Trauma doesn’t just affect the victim, it affects the family too. But I wouldn’t worry about her acting younger. Regression is a perfectly normal response to stress in any form. It’s one of the ways the brain protects itself or makes the time to process what happened. It happens to everyone, some just take it farther.” Dr. Crystal pulled a dvd for a popular children’s film out of her purse. “For instance, you would never buy this for yourself or have gone to watch it without your kids, right?” Rachelle nodded. “But I bet you enjoyed it when you took them, and missed that you only got some of the jokes because you were an adult.”

“Yeah.” Now that she thought about it, Rachelle had been just as sorry to see the credits as Jenifer had been, and it had taken a second viewing to notice the jokes thrown in for the parents. The Doctor continued, “For a brief moment, a mere hour and a half, you let yourself go. Some people need more than that. It seems weird or strange or taboo, I know, but you need to put that aside. Talk to Valentine, ask her why, humor her. Show her that you care. Be her Mommy again if she needs it.” Dr. Crystal picked up her notepad again. “Now, if she doesn’t know she’s doing it, or has another episode she doesn’t remember, acting younger or not, then worry. Otherwise just play along, see where things go.”

“So nothing’s wrong?”

“Not from what you told me. I’d have to meet with Valentine to be absolutely sure of course, but don’t try to force her. I’d hate for you to pay for the same answer twice and have your daughter hate you to boot.” They stood and Dr. Crystal walked Rachelle out.

Val came home to find her mom sitting at the kitchen counter turning a box over in her hands. “Mom, are you okay?” Rachelle looked up from the box. “I don’t know, Honey. I thought I was…oh, don’t worry about me. I’m supposed to worry about you.” The teen pulled out the stool next to her mom and wrap her in a hug. “I’m okay, Mom. Really.” She pulled some papers from her bag. “Look, I got a hundred on the exam, and I have all my spares.” She patted her bag for the latter’s emphasis. “It was a good day.” Taking her mother’s hands in hers, she added, “So, why didn’t you have one?”

“Remember last week when I had to wake you up?”

“Yeah, I have like six alarms set now and an agreement with Sarah not to play Road Rage on school nights. Why?”

“You were sucking your thumb.”

“Oh,” Valentine flushed. “Yeah, I’ve been doing that.”

“Why?”

“I don’t really know, I just remembered how soothing it was and started up again.”

“And the other things? the plates, Ser Bearrymore, the change in protection? Did they just happen too?” Val shook her head, “No, I honestly didn’t remember sucking my thumb until you said something, but the other things were intentional. I wanted to see how far I could go.” Rachelle couldn’t stop the shock from showing. “Why? Are you jealous of Jenifer? Do you want to be a baby again? I don’t understand.”

“I don’t either. I don’t want to be a baby or Jenifer, not really… I don’t know how to explain.” Val had pulled away, but Rachelle pulled her back. “Try, Honey. I can’t help if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.” The teen shook her head. “Nothing’s wrong, at least I don’t think so. It’s just…” Val shifted uncomfortably, “Hold that thought and meet me in the living-room.”

Rachelle nodded and relocated to the couch as Val ran upstairs. A small smile graced the woman’s lips, at least one thing had improved. The smile faltered somewhat when Val returned sans pants and clutching her bear, a sized up version of Jenifer’s nightly underwear clearly visible. The infantile teen didn’t notice.

“The night I blacked out and had the panic attack, I got caught in a memory. I remember thinking ‘I’m too big to be carried’ and then suddenly I wasn’t. I was three or four and you were getting me ready for bed. Once I came back to reality, I realized I missed that care and attention. I missed not needing to care whether I made it to the potty or not. I missed being cared for.” Val squeezed Ser Bearrymore. “Sometimes he’s a symbol that I’m loved and cared for, sometimes I like to pretend he’s protecting me from monsters, but I’m always more confident with him nearby.” Val had tears in her eyes, but they didn’t fall, not yet. “That night I scared you, I scared myself, I scared Dad, I probably even scared Jenifer, so I couldn’t just out right ask you to treat me like a little kid.”

“So you started small. Seeing how far you could go before I got concerned.”

“And I spent that time trying to find a way to tell you and couldn’t.” Val buried her face in her bears head. “Maybe we should call that Doctor, Songbird was talking about. I mean I’m clearly a freak, what normal teen likes to piss herself or let loose while playing with their kid sister.” Rachelle pulled the now actively crying girl into her lap. “Valentine Meredith Eaglestone, you are not a freak. Don’t ever think bad about yourself. I’m sorry I made you feel like you couldn’t come to me. I was scared and confused, hell I’m still confused, but that doesn’t excuse me.” She repositioned her daughter so they were facing each other. “Can you forgive me?”

Valentine sniffed. “Yeah.” Rachelle sat her back on the couch and used some tissues to clean off her face. “That’s my girl.” She then handed over the box. “I still don’t understand why or how acting like a preschooler helps you, but I can accept that it does. You can act as young as you need, I just have one request.” Valentine opened the box and her eyes widened. “If you plan on sucking your thumb for a while, use that instead. I don’t want you messing up those pretty teeth of yours.”

Things should have been great then. There was nothing physically wrong, Val hadn’t had another memory lapse and she was almost back to normal. Things should have been great then. Val didn’t have to hide what made her happy anymore and Rachelle made sure there was a balance between what the teen wanted to do, verses what she needed to do just like always. Val got be as young as she wanted and her family, especially Jenifer who loved playing big sissy, was supportive. Things should have been great, things would have been great, but things weren’t great thanks to the night terrors.

The dream is always the same. She is running through the woods, no the trees themselves, using the branches as her road. Below her runs a pack of wolves, a heard of dear, a bear. They are her prey. She pounces, there’s blood in her mouth. She likes it. Then a voice speaks. “What takes life can also give it. Save them from time.” Sarah, Rachelle and Jenifer lie dead before her, their blood is in her mouth. She wakes up screaming and in dire need for a change.

For the last bit of October, the dreams were infrequent. She was just as likely to sleep through the night as she was to wake in terror. Unfortunately, things got worse towards her birthday mid-November. Almost every night ended in screaming, tears and new bedding, and every day she nodded off in class at least once.

Despite her dreams, or in spite of them, Val refused to cancel her birthday pajama party. She’d had eleven of them, she would be damned if there wasn’t a twelfth. It was the same itinerary every year. First, dinner out at whatever place everyone liked that wouldn’t mind a bunch of people in modest pajamas, (which was easy when they were kids) or at restaurant they had to themselves if the Manager tried to raise a stink (this year’s add on). Then to Valentine’s place for cake and presents, board or card games and a movie to round up the night. Val made it halfway through the film.

She didn’t realize that she’d dosed off at first. It was a movie she’d seen before, so payback never paused. It was Sarah that let her know she’d fallen asleep, by nudging her awake and whispering: “Val, you leaked.” Val blinked, looked down, saw that her friend was right and excused herself. She didn’t plan to comeback.

She showered and got into a new pair of pajamas, this time with thicker underwear, then something strange happened. She was brushing her teeth when her mirror rippled. Great I’m seeing things she thought, but she touched it anyway. It rippled again this time from her fingertips and revealed an entirely new reflection. This girl looked just like her, but there ways something off about her, something sinister. She was too perfect, like a character brought back by CGI. Then Val touched the mirror again.

Her world flip-flopped and suddenly there was no reflection. With a shriek, she jumped back, slipped on her rug and fell into the shower. She hit her head hard and saw stars and her neck popped, but otherwise she was fine. She was picking herself up when Sarah came running in. “Oh my God ! Are you okay?”

Val shook away the stars and off the pain. “Yeah, I just slipped.” Sarah let out a sigh of relief. “That’s good, for a minute there I thought you’d broken your neck.” Val laughed. “Please, a little fall like that couldn’t hurt me. I survived getting hit by a fu-“ she choked, she actually choked on the word. “Excuse me, I was trying to say ‘car’.”

Sarah gave her a weird look. “Are you sure you’re okay? It sounded like you were going to say ‘a fucking car’.” Val looked at her friend appalled. “Sarah! There’s no need for that kind of language.” Sarah sat Val down on the toilet. “That’s it, don’t move.” She left, rummaged around Val’s room for a bit then came back with a small flashlight, which she began shining into Val’s eyes.

“What are you doing?”

“I saw this on TV. I’m checking for a concussion.”

“Why?”

“You fell and are acting weird.” Val caught her friend by the shoulders. “No, you’re acting weird. Put the light down, and stop worrying about me. I’m fine, trust me.” The pen dropped and Sarah’s eyes glazed over. Of course she trusted Val, Val would never lie to her. “I trust you.” Val felt funny in her head for a brief moment, but it passed. “Let’s just go to bed and forget this happened.”

Sarah obediently followed Val back into the bedroom and to the redheads surprise, climbed in bed with her. “Sarah, you have a sleeping bag downstairs.” Auburn locks shook in confusion. “Oh, sorry.” Sarah made it to the door and stopped. “Why did I come in here again?” Val was too tired to play whatever game that was. “Just go to bed Sarah, and turn off my light please.” Sarah shook her head again. “Right sorry, goodnight.”

It wasn’t a goodnight.

Tears streaming down her face, Val jerked upright, made to throw Ser Bearrymore, realized she was holding him and cuddled him instead. Rachelle was in the room in a flash, followed by several concerned friends, Sarah included. Momma bear shooed the girls away, telling them to go back to bed because everything was fine. Then she began to stroke Val’s hair, reminding her it was only a dream. She opened the drawer and fished around. “Oh dear.”

Sarah hadn’t left. She cared too much. She slowly brought the pacifier from her pocket. “She needs this, doesn’t she?” Rachelle nodded, “How did you get it?” Sarah shrugged. “I don’t know. I woke up with it in my pocket, and somehow knew it was hers.” She walked over and slipped it between her friend’s lips. “I don’t understand, but if you need it you need it.” She held Val’s hand until the other girl was sound asleep.

“Is this because of the accident? She becomes a baby at night?” Sarah asked as Rachelle guided her out of the room. The older woman shook her head. “Not really, it’s her safe place. She wants to act younger. It helps her cope with whatever causes the nightmares.” She sighed. “Though lately even that hasn’t worked.”

Sarah looked through the cracked door at her sleeping friend. “So, she’s okay? Nothing’s wrong?”

“Nothing physical, she just needs love and support. Keep an eye on her at school for me will you? If she starts acting weird during the day, we should worry, but for now just keep helping me by being there for her.”

“You got it, Mrs. E.” There was no power in the ‘verse that could keep that from happening.

It took some convincing and some puppy eyes, but Sarah managed to arrange for either her to be at Val’s house over night, or Val to be at hers for the remaining days of November, save Thanksgiving and into December. She was determined to keep her friend’s demons at bay even if it made her sick. It worked, for some reason being near Sarah flipped a switch and the nightmares stopped. In fact, nothing weird even happened until the first week of December.

It was Sarah’s turn to host, but Val had an appointment at the DMV after school, so she was waiting patiently in their local coffee shop. Val interrupted her during a particularly difficult math problem. “46.9” Sarah looked up at her beaming friend. “How am I going to learn, if you keep giving me the answers? I take it you passed?” Val wrapped her in a hug. “With flying colors. I’m glad we started spending more time together, you’re like my good luck charm.”

A classmate came over, dressed in the establishments uniform. “I was going to ask if Valentine wanted anything, but it looks like she’s had enough already.” Val playfully stuck her tongue out. “Hello to you too, Derick. And for your information I’ll have…” She never got to finish her thought. Behind both her friends hung a TV and on that TV was a news story, a news story about gangland violence minutes from their school. “I’m sorry is that current?” She asked, moving closer to the screen.

Derick shrugged, “I think so, scary huh. How close it was.” Val snorted. “It was, for them.” There was a ringing in her head. Sarah nodded, “Yeah, it’s not really scary months later.” The ringing got worse. “That’s not what I meant…” The news anchor began to talk about how it looked like dogs had been used. The ringing became pain and the world grew fuzzy. “Sarah, have my parents come back…the dogs didn’t do that…it’s happening again.”

“What’s happening? Hey where are you-“

Nothing.

Four: Revelations

David’s office was on the third floor of City Hall, three doors down from the Mayor himself. It wasn’t the best office, or the biggest, but it did have the best view. A floor to ceiling window stretched from wall to wall and allowed him to look out over the city his family had built. It also offered a decent view of his daughters’ school, wife’s gallery and their home, though if anyone asked it was the three well placed telescopes not the window that did the latter.

As if on que, or in line with his thinking, his phone chimed to let remind him to wrap up what he was doing and go get Valentine. Before he could do that, his brother walked in. “Did you see the news?” Victor asked, not bothering to close the door. He was the younger of the two and more excitable. David chuckled. “Afternoon Victor. And yes, I am aware.” Making a pounding motion, Victor offered his help. “Should I get the crew together, and take care of it?”

“Let me look into it first.” David countered as he slung his laptop case over his shoulder. “If we do have a rogue element in play, you’ll be the first to know.” He guided the younger man to the door. “You’ll have to excuse me, I need to take Valentine to an appointment.” Victor fell into place beside him. “Right, the collision the ass-wipe I took out caused. I’m glad she wasn’t more seriously hurt.”

As soon as they were out of sight of the other city politicians, they were at David’s car. “I am too. She needs to be a bit older before I bring her up to speed on how powerful our family really is.” They embraced. “See you, bro.” Victor walked around the car and was gone. David took the normal way out.

Val looked around the waiting room for the umpteenth time. Same four walls, same reception desk, same play area for little kids and same coffee and Magazines for adults. Well, technically it wasn’t the same coffee they had 20 different flavors of instant for the self serve machine, at roughly 206 cups per flavor. And she’d learned that in the first five minutes.

Dad noticed her fidgeting. “You doing the dance?” Val flushed, but none of the other’s waiting to be seen looked up. “No, I’m just bored. I want this over with.” He gestured to the play area. “You could stop worrying for a few moments.” Val turned redder. “Not in public!” She hissed, before dropping her voice lower than it already was. “Plus, I forgot to bring a spare.”

“Mom insisted I put some in the trunk, I could go get one for you.”

“No! Don’t leave me. That will make things worse.” Val played with her skirt. “Ah, So you’re not just bored, are you?” Val shook her head with a sigh. “No, it’s hard enough talking to you and mom, heck even Sarah. I’m not sure about a complete stranger.” She dropped her voice to a whisper again. “But being near you is better than having Ser Bearrymore.” That got her a little squeeze. “I’ve got your back, Miracle Girl.”

Dr. Crystal came to get Valentine herself. “Valentine Eaglestone?” Val stood up and her dad gave her a parting command. “Be good for the Doctor, Sweetheart.” Val froze and a weird look passed her face as she informed him that she would. Funny thing was, it sounded like she said it twice at the same time.

“So,” Doctor Crystal began, after she got Val settled on the couch. “You’ve been experiencing some unexplained memory loss and some serious nightmares.” She settled in her own chair and continued. “The first is upsetting and unusual for anybody, but it’s especially traumatic for you, I hear.” It wasn’t really a question, but Val took it as one. “Yeah. We did some tests when I was little. I have near perfect recall. One of my earliest memories is mom an dad arguing about who’s I was.”

“Can you tell me about it?” Val looked toward the left corner of the room, “Yeah, but the words for it came later. You have no reason to believe me.” Doctor Crystal leaned forward and gave Val a pat on the knee. “Let’s operate under the rule that everything you tell me is either true, or you think it is and go from there, hows that sound?”

Val smiled, “Okay. So I can’t see this, but Mommy is reading Disney’s version of Cinderella to me. I like how her voice sounds even if I can’t understand the words. Daddy comes home and Mommy is surprised, but very happy so I’m happy too. Then Daddy gets scary. At the time I’m just feeling the emotions right, but Dad’s accusing mom of cheating and she’s denying it. Anyway Daddy gets mad, Mommy gets sad and then Daddy leaves. Not even feeling me move around makes her feel better. We were sad for a long time.”

“You two seem to have a great relationship now, so I’m guessing the story gets better.”

“It’s my favorite. I decide that the only way for Mommy to be happy is to see me, so she goes into labor. The problem is I’m facing the wrong way, so they have to cut me out. It’s way too bright, and I’m crying because the lights hurt and it’s cold. Then Daddy is there, and someone is trying to keep him out. But he’s all ‘Out of my way, I’m the…’” Val paused. “I can’t say the word.” Dr. Crystal looked up from her notebook. “Father?” Val shook her head. “No, he said something before father, that I can’t say.”

“Ah, well no need for direct quotes.”

“Cool. Any way, he takes me from the Nurse, looks at me over his mask and says ‘Hey there Valentine, I’m your Daddy and you’re my Miracle Girl’. He’s called me that ever since. He wasn’t even sure I was his, but he was determined I would be.”

“Well no wonder loosing time was so scary, I can’t remember what I ate last Tuesday let alone being in the womb or being born.” Dr. Crystal turned a page in her notebook. “Let’s go back to something more recent. Do you remember anything after leaving the coffee shop?” Val shook her head sadly “I don’t even remember entering. It was like I teleported from the parking lot to the police station.”

“Same thing happened back in September?”

“Yeah, except I felt really sick before that happened.”

“Okay, we can take things slow. Use what time we have left to move on to your nightmares and just get a general knowledge of what you’re dealing with. Then take things day by day, doing exorcises to help you with your fear and to try and find where your memories have gone. Or, we can try an fix the memory loss first, as it’s clearly bothering you more.”

Val looked confused. “Why wouldn’t I want to fix things as fast as possible?” Dr. Crystal tapped a metronome and an incense candle on the table between them. “I would be hypnotizing you. Many memories can’t be accessed by our conscious minds but show up just fine to our subconscious. Some people are scared of loosing control or letting someone into their minds. The thing is hypnosis isn’t like that, it’s not mind control. Guided meditation is the closest thing. I’m not going to turn you into a chicken, or make you say or do anything you don’t wan’t. You’d be in control the whole time.” The Doc leaned back. “Worst case scenario, it doesn’t work and you just take a dream free nap.”

Val thought for a moment. “As scary as the nightmares were, I haven’t really had one since my birthday. And even if I did, loosing time scares me more. I can remember that I had a burrito with extra rice that day, but not what happened after I left math, and then the last time I don’t even remember making it into the building I apparently left. I’m afraid its getting worse.”

Dr. Crystal got up and dimmed the lights. “Alright lay back and get comfortable for me.” Val stretched out on the couch, finding that the arm had a nice notch to support her neck and head. It was rather comfortable. Above her the fan started spinning and the familiar colors formed a kind of spiral. The cool breeze it generated wasn’t a problem, the Doctor kept her office kind of warm, but Val didn’t object to the fuzzy blanket that was draped over her.

“Comfy?” Val nodded. “Good, now I’m going to walk you through what’s going on, so there are no surprises.” Dr. Crystal moved her chair so she was beside Val. “First we’re going to distract your eyes, that’s what the fan is for. See how it spins? The pretty colors going round and round make a nice spiral don’t they?” Val nodded again. “Good, now we’re going to distract your nose.” There was the flick of a lighter and Val was blessed with the wonderful smell of hot chocolaty goodness. “Hot chocolate? How’d they make a candle smell like that?”

“It’s a magical smell isn’t it? Nice and relaxing.”

“Yeah, it’s my favorite. Mommy always has some for us after school.” Val shook her head a little. “I mean mom.” Dr. Crystal patted her on the arm. “It’s okay if being little helps you relax, that’s what we’re trying to do right? relax you?” Val nodded happily. “Yeah.” She snuggled under her fuzzy blanket and went back to watching the pretty fan and smelling the magical smell. The Doctor continued. “That’s right. So we’re distracting your eyes and your nose, let’s move on to distracting your lungs. Let your breathing slow.” The metronome started swinging. “Just follow the metronome. Tick breathe in. Hold, one, two, three tock and out. One, two, three. Keep breathing like that, let yourself relax.”

Val felt herself sinking into the couch. “Now that we distracted your eyes, your nose, your lungs and your ears, Yes we’ve been distracting your ears with the metronome that’s helping you breathe and my voice which is helping you relax, I’m going to tell you a secret. We’re actually distracting your mind. It’s trying to process so much right now, I bet it wants to only focus on one thing. Find that your breathing becomes automatic, you don’t need the metronome anymore. Instead it starts brushing away your thoughts, all those pesky thoughts that are keeping you from relaxing. Feel them fade away.”

Val jerked a little as she felt herself falling, and felt a gentle pat on her arm. “That’s right, let yourself relax. You don’t need to watch the fan anymore, just let the heavy weight of sleep pull on your eyelids. That’s okay, just focus on your breathing, hear only the sound of my voice and the soft ticking of the metronome. Let those tired eyes close, let yourself drift…”

Val was on her landing. Somewhere below her, the family clock was ticking softly. She needed to go downstairs for something, but she wasn’t sure what. Then she remembered she needed to count them. They were already numbered of course, but Daddy wanted to make sure the workers had done a good job. She started at 100 because she was upstairs and began counting as she walked down. Around fifty she was momentarily distracted by a warm feeling between her legs, but after forty she didn’t care. She never actually made it to one, because at twenty she found a slide and slides were a lot more fun than walking.

There was a soft cushion waiting for her at the bottom, and tired from walking down all those stairs, she decided to take a nap. Someone else woke up.

Violet opened her eyes to see a stupid kiddy fan spinning above her head. What the fuck? Who the fuck has their fan on in winter? Her thoughts were interrupted by a voice from somewhere beside her and she remembered where she was. Oh yeah, the quack dad took us too. “Valentine can you hear me?” Violet didn’t know a Valentine, but if the Quack meant Val…well the little baby wasn’t waking up anytime soon.

Still, Violet could have some fun. Affecting the most convincing monotone she could, she answered yes. The Quack seemed convinced. “I want you to think back to the fourth of September, can you do that?” Could she?! She could remember the day she and Val were fucking born, of course she could remember some stupid day in September. “Yeah.”

“Can you tell me what happened after lunch?”

Violet snorted. “School was boring so I bounced. Went looking for some real food.” She heard the Shrink right something down. “What happened then?” Violet sat up and looked Dr. Crystal in the eyes. “Some gang bangers wanted to get fucked up, we had different definitions of what that meant.” She didn’t get the reaction that she wanted, so she continued. “They wanted pussy, and got claws instead. I tore them, their friends and their entire hideout to shreds.” Man that was a good memory, she smiled as she watched it replay in her head.

“You tore it to shreds?”

“Oh, I fucking destroyed it, bitch.”

“I’m not talking with Valentine am I?”

“Who the fucks Valentine? If you mean Val, she’s not here right now and I’m not taking messages.” That got the response Violet wanted. The Shrink’s next words shook. “So, who am I talking with?” Violet crossed her arms. “Violet, but like a bruise not some stupid flower.”

“Okay, I’ll remember that. So, why didn’t you just run when the you were attacked?” Violet rolled her eyes. “I was hungry remember? Bad people are food, whatever crap they serve at Mexicoito apparently isn’t.”

“Okay, more recently, why the police station? Did you feel guilty?”

“Hell no! That was Val, I just didn’t want the fucking dogs to get the credit.”

“Understandable, I wouldn’t want someone taking the credit for my work either.” Maybe this Shrink wasn’t so bad after all. “Damn straight.” Violet leaned back on the couch. “Any more fucking questions?” The Doc nodded. “Just a couple more, though. Then you can get back to ‘fucking shit up’.” Violet could deal with that. “Fuckin’ A. Hit me.”

“Let’s talk about Val, how do you feel about her?”

“Really, the Baby? That’s what you want to know about? She’s a fucking pussy, a weak ass bitch, I…” Violet heard a command in the back of her mind, one she couldn’t disobey. Be good. That meant answering all the questions, truthfully. Her tone changed from angry to endearing. “I love her to death, okay? She’s everything I can’t be. Kind, loving, the best damn big sissy in the fucking world. I’m just a fucking monster. I have to eat people to stay alive, I swear like a sailor and everyone hates me, the motherfuckers.”

“I’m sure Val doesn’t hate you. You’ve been together for a while, haven’t you?” Violet shook her head. “Since birth, but she doesn’t remember. No one even knows I fucking exist except you. The eating people may have come after I saved us from that fucking moron in the truck, but everything else has been going on for sixteen god damned years. I’m the only reason she ever got into trouble, the fucking angle bitch.”

The next words Dr. Crystal said were only in her own mind. They were genuine and full of concern for her patient, but also a little exited. Had this been a “normal” session, Violet wouldn’t have known what her doctor thought. But Violet was special, Violet could read minds. “I don’t believe it, an actual case of Hyde syndrome! You poor dear, you couldn’t handle the thought of dying as the bad girl, could you? Don’t worry, we’ll take care of your pesky delusion.”

The bitch! So she didn’t think Violet was real either? Violet felt her claws dig into the couch and her fangs drop from their hidden slots in her gums. Oh, that quaking shrink was going to sing a different fucking tune when she was done. Just you wait. Violet made to pounce, but was slammed back into the couch. Her father’s words echoed in her head, this time with force. “BE GOOD!” That didn’t stop her from struggling, but all that did was leave a surprise for Val to find latter.

Dr. Crystal didn’t notice the struggle, she was too busy making a treatment plan. She didn’t even look up when her phone signaled the session was over. “Well Violet I’m afraid that’s all the time we have. I’m going to count backwards from 100 and you’re going to take a nice little nap and let Val take over for a while. Ready? 100…”

At ninety, Violet stoped struggling. At eighty, she started to slide sideways. At fifty her eyes stayed shut. At twenty she stopped hearing Dr. Crystal count.

David walked into the room and saw Valentine sleeping peacefully on the couch. He adjusted the fuzzy blanket so it covered her better and continued over to where Dr. Crystal was working at her desk. “You wanted to talk?” He whispered. To his surprise, Dr. Crystal responded at normal volume.

“She can’t hear us. I have her taking a little nap, she won’t wake for another hour or so, unless I tell her too.”

David nodded in understanding. “Hypnosis.” The Doctor mimicked his nod. “I also changed her, though the kind I have is a little thicker than the ones she was wearing. I hope you don’t mind, the hypnosis was the quickest way to find out what was wrong, but it had an unintended side effect.” David waved dismissively. “As far as I’m concerned, that was above and beyond.” He then leaned forward conspiratorially. “And just between you and me, I never did take to that part of fatherhood.” He finished by leaning back and adding. “Regardless, the quicker she’s back to her normal, happy self, the better. So what did you find out?”

Dr. Crystal gave a wry smile. “Forgive me if I sound excited, I don’t mean to be insensitive. Your daughter is suffering from a rare form of Dissociative Identity Disorder, called Hyde Syndrome. So rare that one of the sources for information also inspired the book, you undoubtedly thought of. But based on our talk, I’m convinced she’s completely separated her moral and immoral sides into two distinct personalities and retreated so far into her mind, they don’t know she exists and think they are twins.”

The Doctor opened her notebook and referred to the session notes. “The ‘Jekyll’ is a girl named Val. She can’t swear, does what’s she’s told and looks after her little sister. The “Hyde” is a girl named Violet, who does the opposite of those things.” Valiant Val and Violent Violet. David meant to only think that, but apparently he said it out loud, because Dr. Crystal asked him to explain.

“They’re characters my wife and I made, for the comic books Valentine used to learn how to read. Valiant Val was the hero, the good girl. Violent Violet was the villain, the bad girl”

“That explains the origin. But I discovered something else. Having Hide syndrome is undoubtedly the result of the trauma she experienced during the accident, but her blackouts are from something else.” She took a deep breath. “I think she was raped.” The chair arm cracked underneath David’s hand.

“I know it’s hard to hear, but it explains the blackouts and is backed up by what she told me. She claimed to have fought her attacker’s, but also mentioned eating them. They most likely forced oral sex on her so she’d last longer, and when the other gang attacked, she escaped.”

“Other gang?”

“Yes. She claimed to have destroyed the place, but we both know that’s not possible. Since the news story triggered her, she had to have escaped in the chaos. The first time she went home, to find some safety and wash away her shame. The second she went to the police because she realized she needed to report what happened. She forgot those hours because the two personalities couldn’t agree with what happened and the reality was too gruesome.” Dr. Crystal closed her notebook. “That also explains the regression. She’s retreating to a time when she had no concept of something like that happening.”

The story made sense, the pieces fit, but Dr. Crystal was missing something, a fact that David had. “She claimed she was at the drug den?” The Doctor nodded. “She had to be.” The rage David had felt upon hearing his little girl had been assaulted was slowly giving way to something he hadn’t felt in years: fear. “I can’t get my head around it. She knows how to defend herself. Do you have her exact words? Why she fought back instead of trying to get away?”

The notebook was obligingly reopened. “She said, ‘bad people are food. I don’t really understand what she meant, but I guess she didn’t have a choice and gave them what they wanted.” The final piece clicked home. “Oh god. Why didn’t I see it sooner?” The Doctor tried to console him. “It’s okay, Mr. Eaglestone. Things like this are rarely noticeable unless you look for them.” David wasn’t paying attention. “All the signs were there.”

“Mr. Eaglestone!?” Suddenly, as if remembering she was still there, David focused his full attention on the Psychologist. “I’m sorry, we need to leave.” His eyes began to glow. “And you need to forget.”

Dr. Crystal woke up on her couch, the fuzzy blanket draped over her. The alarm on her cellphone started playing a rousing tune and the notification told her nap time was over. With a stretch, she stood up and folded the blanket over the back of the couch. Her receptionist sent her a text, “Your five o’clock just showed up. Should I send them in?” She sent the affirmative as she turned her lights back up to full and made a mental note to leave space for nap time more often.

Val was dosing against the passenger window of Daddy’s car. She knew it was his, because he was arguing with someone over the phone, while driving. He wasn’t speaking English, but she understood. “I understand he’s a busy man. It’s a matter of life and death. No, it’s imperative that I speak to him in person. Yes, it’s about the incident. Look if you don’t get me on the schedule, I’m grabbing Victor and we’ll come over their and raise hell till you do. You do not want a bunch of angry Hunters at your door. Thank you, I’ll await your call.”

Val yawned and stretched. “Who was that, Daddy?” David gave her a small smile. “Sorry if I woke you, Sweetheart. There was a problem at one of the factories.” Val nodded, satisfied. “It’s okay.” She shifted, still a little drowsy. “Daddy, why does my underwear feel thicker?” He gave an embarrassed chuckle. “You had an accident during the appointment and it turns out I grabbed the wrong box when I was getting you spares.” Val let her eyes start to close again, that wasn’t a big deal. She’d wanted to try the ones she needed help with anyway. Then she saw something that woke her completely up. “Dad, we missed the exit.”

“If we were going straight home, you’d be correct.”

“Where are we going, then?”

“It’s a surprise.”

Rachelle and Jenifer were playing in the leaves when David parked his car on the street. Jenifer saw him first as she had just successfully ‘tackled’ her Mommy into the pile they’d made. With a squeal of “Daddy!” The little girl bolted across the yard and threw herself into his arms. Then she noticed someone was missing. “Where’s Valentine, did she hafta stay at the doctors?”

David shook his head. “No Honey. Your sister is going to be fine. She should be here any minute.” As if on cue, a purple muscle car pulled into the driveway. “There she is.” Jenifer wriggled free from her Daddy and ran over to pounce on Val as she got out of her new car. “I’m glad you’re gonna be okay, sissy. Play in the leaves?” Even though the last was a question, the kindergartener wasn’t going to take no for an answer and dragged Val over to the pile.

Rachelle walked over to David in disbelief. She kept her voice even, but she was not happy. “You bought her a car? I thought we agreed to wait until everything was back to normal.” David nodded. “We did, and I know I broke your trust going behind your back. I’m sorry.” Rachelle remained outwardly calm, but her voice was a hiss. “So why do it? She doesn’t need it, and what happens if she has an episode behind the wheel?”

David took a moment to think on his next words. “Something came up. Something that means I need to leave for awhile. Something that concerns our family’s safety.” Rachelle’s whole demeanor instantly changed. “And you can’t be specific because of what we’re not talking about.” David nodded. “Okay, So now I know why you bought the car. Having Valentine depend only on me for transportation is stress none of us needs.” She looked at the two girls frolicking in the leaves. “Still I’m worried. She’s had two that we know of, and if she’s behind the wheel the next…”

David gave her a squeeze. “I know, but it won’t. Trust me.” Rachelle sighed. “I do.” She looked back at their girls. “Let’s tell them the bad news.”

Val knew something was up the moment her parents came over, she could see it on their faces. Jenifer couldn’t, but she did pick up on Mommy’s tone. “Girls, your father has something he needs to tell you.” David sat down next to the leaves and pulled Jenifer into his lap. Val sat across from him. “I have some bad news. I’m afraid I have to break the promise I made to never let work come between us. I need to leave for awhile, so I can sort things out.”

Jenifer looked up into his face. “Why do you have to go, Daddy. Can’t you work from your office?” David kissed her on the forehead. “I’m afraid not, kiddo. There’s a problem and I’m the only one who can fix it. Unfortunately I need to do that in person.” Val spoke up next. “Does it have something to do with your phone call?” David nodded. “Yes and I need you girls to be good for your mom while I’m gone.”

Then he said something with unintended consequences. “Especially you, Valentine. Having a car is a big responsibility. I need you to be in control and aware at all times.”

“Don’t worry dad, I’ll be careful.”

Violet found herself locked in a room with Val. “Great, now I’m stuck with Miss Goody Two Shoes. The one person I can’t disobey and he doesn’t even know I exist.” Val looked up from coloring. “Who are you? Get out of my room!” Violet rolled her eyes, this was going to be fun.

Rachelle walked David back to his car. They embraced not knowing when the next time would be. David spoke first. “I hate leaving you to deal with everything on your own.” Rachelle put her head on his shoulder. “I know. I also know there’s no other way.” Her tone became serious. “I know what you are, Mr. Eaglestone. If you’re scared, I’m scared. Go, go keep us safe.” David started to ask a question but was silenced with a kiss. “I’ll tell you when you come back.” It would have been hard to stop him, now it was impossible.

Christmas came on a Sunday that year, so Valentine still had to go to school until the Friday before. This would have been fine, except the school decided high schoolers would have exams that week and Sarah was forced to go home alone. Predictably, the nightmares started again. The Valentine that showed up to school that Thursday was little more than a Zombie.

Sarah set down her lunch tray harder than she intended, thanks to a bump from behind, and startled Valentine awake. “Rough night.” Valentine weekly nodded. “I had another nightmare.” Sarah swore under her breath. “I knew it. How many times does that make?” Valentine sighed. “I’ve had them since dad left and your mom vetoed our sleepovers. But it wasn’t like I was getting any rest before then so no biggy.”

Violet threw up her hands. “Oh for fucks sake! It’s not my fault she can only hear us when she’s asleep. You whiny little bitch, you don’t think I’m hungry too?” Val clutched her teddy for support and pointed an accusatory finger at her sister. “She doesn’t understand what we are, you’re scaring her. Let me try.”

“Hell no! I’m not being confused for some cartoonishly singing counting puppet.”

Valentine put her head in her hands. “It’s like there’s a war going on in my head.” Sarah put a hand on top of her friend’s. “What about that shrink you saw? Dr. Crystal? Maybe she could help.” This time Valentine snorted. “Yeah, cause she was so helpful the first time.” Sarah took Valentine’s hand between her own. “Well you have to try something. This isn’t healthy.” Valentine jerked away. “Try something! Like what!? I have tried literally everything and nothing helped. Ever since I got hit by that car, my life has been spiraling out of control and you know what, I’m done. I’m tired of this all of it!”

Valentine was shaking now, pacing madly up and down their row. Sarah got in front of her. “Don’t talk like that…” Valentine stopped, still shaking but with a face full of determination. “No, Sarah it’s true. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I can’t make it to the fucking toilet on time, I can’t even pass my exams. But you know what I can do? I can make it stop.” Sarah didn’t like where this was going. “What do you mean?” Valentine ignored her. “I’m going to go through with it and you can’t stop me.”

Val covered her eyes and wailed. “Oh no! She’s going to play with guns again.” Violet popped her upside the head, which only made her wail harder. “Quiet down you big baby, remember how well it worked last time?”

Sarah did stop Valentine, she was stronger than she looked and Valentine wasn’t exactly in prime condition. She let her teacher voice out. “Go through with what?” Valentine looked her dead in the eye. “Using Dad’s gun.” Sarah’s fist shot out so fast that Valentine was on the floor before either one of them, not to mention the crowd they’d gathered, really knew what happened.

Sarah hauled a very shocked Valentine to her feet and got inches from her face. “Valentine Meredith Eaglestone, don’t ever think of doing something that stupid or selfish again. I don’t care how dark it gets, how messed up you feel, or whatever hell you’re going through, I know four people that are right beside you, ready to help. We almost lost you once, there is no way we are losing you again. I sure as hell won’t let that happen, because…because…” Sarah’s voice broke and tears flowed freely down her face. “Because I couldn’t survive losing you.” Oh Val, why can’t I tell you how much you really mean to me?

Val and Violet stopped fighting. Violet was the first to register what had happened. “Did she just hit us? Whoa, damn Sarah that was fucking hot.” Val gushed. “Aww, she really cares.” Sarah’s thoughts came through again. “Go on, just do it Sarah.” Val started bouncing excitedly. “They’re gonna kiss, They’re gonna kiss!” Sarah started to pull back. Val wilted, “No, don’t go. Violet do something!” Violet looked at Val in shock, then nodded. “Sorry Dad, But This has got to happen.” She took control, it hurt but she did it. “Oh, no you don’t.”

Valentine’s arms shot up, her hands gently caught Sarah’s retreating head and her lips made the awkwardest, sloppiest, most genuine contact with Sarah’s. An eternity later, they broke apart and Sarah started sputtering. “How? I mean I never told…I didn’t think…I’m so embarrassed right now.” Valentine felt the rush of endorphins that flooded her system, felt the hole she didn’t know she had disappear. “I’m so confused.” Sarah gently caressed Valentine’s face. “Let me help with that.” her lips made the awkwardest, sloppiest, most genuine contact with Valentine’s and the whole room cheered.

This story continues to be utterly compelling. You do have an error though: It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, not Mr. Hide. Notwithstanding that minor point, I am really enjoying this unusual piece.

Thanks didn’t catch the auto correct goof. I believe i have fixed it.

Hey,

great story here. I likethe way you write it. I found the first part with Violet a bit confusing but it’s clearer now. I could sense we will have more explanations later. But one point keep bugging me : during her conversation with Dr Crystal Violet keep hearing her dad’s voice but he didn’t know she is here yet. Maybe you will give us more clues later.

Please keep going on this good story.

Thank you for your work.