Now that her chance had finally come, Delia found herself faltering, unsure of where to begin. Could she really offer any justification for her actions? Should she even try?
She felt the weight of the eyes upon her, waiting for her to speak. Wiping her damp palms against the front of her skirt, she glanced briefly over at Relena. The corner of the blond woman's lips turned up in what Delia supposed was her attempt at a reassuring smile. She looked away from the insincere gesture, her eyes flitting over the well-concealed uneasiness on her lawyer's face.
On the other side of the courtroom, the blond social worker and the green-eyed judge were watching her with varying degrees of curiosity and reserve. Behind her spectacles, the lady doctor's expression was one of professional compassion, as befitted a child psychologist faced with the prospect of listening to a tale of abuse. The other attorney's mouth was pinched, revealing her anxiety of what Delia's testimony might mean to the case.
Gem-bright eyes of amethyst and blue, hard as the precious stones they resembled, assured her of any lack of sympathy from that quarter. Their opinions of her were fixed and she could have cared less. The only person she cared about was glancing towards her then away, as if afraid to let her brown eyes rest too long upon her mother's face.
Delia felt a sudden reluctance to begin, her heart pounding in the rhythm of dread. She didn't want to reveal the pitiful tale of her life to this roomful of strangers. Why should she be in this position? She wanted to grab Laura and flee from the room. She wanted to talk to her daughter in private. She felt her skin begin to itch with the forbidden craving she'd fought so hard to foreswear.
Taking a deep breath, Delia forced herself to calm down. She was furious with herself that even the merest hint of distressed cause her thoughts to turn to the false promise of drugs. She didn't need them! Hadn't that poison caused her enough grief and pain? No, it was time for her to grow up, to be a responsible adult for once in her life. No turning to drugs help her cope, no blaming her problems on others. For though she'd been ill-used, things could have turned out so differently if only she'd been stronger.
Where to begin? Delia cleared her throat.
"I, um..." She paused, her raspy voice nearly unintelligible.
"I don't remember exactly how old I was when my mother left us, me and my father. Six or seven, something like that. I can't blame her for leaving. She used to, uh, you know, hit me and yell at me. But my old man, he was much worse. I remember once, right before she left, that he smacked her around so bad, she lost a few teeth. He always was a mean drunk. Hell, he wasn't so nice the few hours a week he was sober, either."
Delia had lowered her eyes to the hands clasped in her lap as she talked. Her pale-knuckled hands dug into each other, trying to keep the other from shaking apart. She looked up quickly at Laura, seeing that the girl had taken a similar posture. The eyes of the others were still upon her, making her shift nervously in her seat. But those first words hadn't been so bad, after all. Each syllable came easier than the last. She felt a bit strange, like it wasn't really her speaking in front of everyone, like she was somewhere else watching some other woman talk. If only she could hold on to that sense of detachment, maybe she'd make it through this.
"So my mother had to go to the hospital. It wasn't the first time. She was there at least once a month, it seemed. I don't think I ever remember seeing her without a bruise or a split lip. And however bad she looked, she always made sure that I looked just as beat up. We really looked alike and I guess she never wanted anyone to mistake the resemblance..."
She glanced to her own mirror image, sitting with bent head, her narrow shoulders slightly hunched. Delia felt a moment of shock as she listened to her own words. Had that been some part of her motivation? She thought back, as much as she could, to the times when she'd been the most vicious in her abuse. She was amazed to realize that she'd always hurt Laura the most after she'd been worked over by her pimp or some asshole John. She shuddered, feeling the phantom sting of her own mother's hand, the eyes blazing with anger from a ruined face. A sob caught in her throat.
"Maybe, maybe she was jealous of me, still being pretty when she looked like hell. She'd always said I was pretty, her pretty little girl. Maybe she was jealous. Maybe I was jealous..."
Delia paused as her voice broke. She looked towards her daughter. Laura had raised her head and her brown eyes were filled with confusion. Delia looked away again, knowing that the explanation was pathetic and worthless. How could a mother be jealous of her own child? Seen through the bright clarity of sobriety, her actions were inexcusable. She refused to look at Duo and Heero, sitting behind Laura like a two-man jury. She was fully able to imagine their appalled expressions. She inhaled on a wavering breath, squeezing her hands ever tighter, as though trying to lend herself strength.
"I tried to hate her, my mother, for hurting me. After my father beat her that last time, she went to the hospital, her mouth bloody from the knocked out teeth. She went and never came back, and at first I was glad when she was gone. But, though I didn't realize it at the time, she'd been protecting me. She'd been protecting me from my father and I didn't know it until she left.
"It took him about two weeks to realize that she wasn't coming back. I must have been seven. I remember that he looked at me and said, 'Hope that bitch taught you how to cook before she split.' So there I was, trying to cook, not even tall enough to reach the top of the stove. But I managed and he was happy for a while, only hitting me when he was drunk, ignoring me otherwise unless he was hungry.
"But, one night, he stumbled into my room, humming some strange tune. I could smell the whisky on him from across the room. I asked him if he was hungry and started to get out of the bed to make him something to eat. He said he was hungry but not for food. He said he wanted something else."
Delia could hear herself rambling incoherently and tried to make herself stop. But the words were rushing from her in a flood, as though relieved to finally be heard even if it was by those anxious to condemn her.
"I didn't understand what he meant. If he didn't want food, what did he want? I asked him that and he just laughed. I remember the smell of the whisky when he grabbed me and tried to kiss me. I might have thrown up, I don't know. I fought him cause he was grabbing at my nightgown, pinching me, and he slapped me so hard I fell on my bed. My ears were ringing and I didn't realize what he was doing, not even when I felt him lifting up my clothes."
A pained sob whispered into the silent courtroom. Delia felt numb, trying to distance herself from her own memories, but the cry reached her ears, the familiarity of the sound wrenching her into the present. Her eyes honed in on the tears streaming down Laura's face. Her own heart ached for the pain she was causing the girl. She knew that Laura was crying not only because of the horror of the tale, but because she was being assailed by her own recollections of abuse at her mother's hands. Delia felt a blinding flash of self-hatred, realizing the sheer depth of her heinous actions fully for the first time.
"He raped me," she continued. There was no need for any self-indulgent dramatizations of the act. She wasn't there to pander to any morbid curiosity the others might feel. And surely Laura didn't need anyone to tell her what it was to have your childhood painfully ripped away by uncaring hands.
"My father raped me several times a week from then until I ran away when I was twelve. After the first couple of years, it stopped seeming so strange to me. I'd stopped trying to fight him off after the first few times and by the time I was ten, I didn't even cry anymore. But, when I was twelve I got pregnant."
Delia heard whispered ripples of shock and confusion. The horror from the assembly was palpable. Could it be true? Was Laura a child of incest?
"No," she said, answering the unspeakable question. "I never had that child. I..." Delia paused, surprised at an unexpected rush of pain. It had been years since she'd thought of that lost life, the child to which she'd never had the chance to give life, which she'd never had the chance to destroy. For those few, short months, she'd held the baby to her heart like a beautiful secret. She wanted to have it, something that she could love, something that could love her. It had been a dream, fragile, precious, and easily shattered.
"I was so young that my body couldn't handle the strain of being pregnant. I was sick, constantly, and was unable to do even the simplest task for nearly four months. I couldn't cook, I couldn't clean, and I certainly wasn't able to stand my father's abuse. One night, I threw up on him and he beat me until I was unconscious. He left me, lying there in my own bile, and I only woke up because of the horrible pain in my stomach. The sheets were soaked with blood but I was too weak to even call for help.
"Incredibly, it was my father who saved my life. Since he couldn't get anything from me, he went out an hired a prostitute and brought her back to the house. She must have smell the vomit or the blood or something because she found me in my room. She promised to do my father for free if he let her take me to the hospital. He must not have been too drunk cause he let her take me. I'd miscarried the baby."
The doctor had been amazed that she was still alive, she'd lost so much blood. But she had lived, though her survival had seemed more like a curse at the time rather than a gift. Her young body would heal but her heart had been broken. Would things have turned out differently if the child had survived? Would she, still young and capable of hope, have been a good mother to that unknown babe? Delia turned away from the useless speculation.
"I ran away from the hospital, like my mother had done all those years before. I don't even know if my father would have come to get me, but I didn't want to wait to find out. So, there I was, twelve years old, on the streets with no money. When my old pimp, Ice, found me one day, eating out of a garbage can, of course I went with him. What else could I have done..."
She paused, hearing words spoken in her own voice, stinging with malicious intent.
'How old were you when you started whoring for Smoke?'
She'd been so self-righteous, revealing Duo's past to the judge, trying to destroy his life as she felt he was destroying hers. But he, too, had been forced as a child into a life of whoring, selling his body just to survive. She hadn't let herself think, at the time, how alike they really were. They were both just children when fate had decided they weren't worth her concern. What right did she have to use his old life against him when she was just as guilty?
And, really, wasn't he better? Duo had been treated just as harshly. She could image what he'd looked like as a boy, how pretty he must have been, and she knew full well the type of men who liked to fuck pretty little boys. In some ways they were worse than the straight ones because they often harbored some deep seated self-hatred of their own queerness and took it out on those they use to satisfy their lusts.
But the braided man hadn't turned to drugs for comfort. He had never laid a hand on Laura in anger or hate. Delia had seen them together, Duo and her daughter. She could see how much they loved each other. When was the last time the girl had looked at her with such love and trust? Had she ever?
She felt a rush of guilt for what she'd done. Though she couldn't be sorry for wanting her daughter back, she was ashamed of revealing his secret when she had so many of her own. Delia knew she deserved no sympathy and expected none. So when she finally looked up, she was amazed to find herself looking a liquid pair of amethyst eyes, clearly struggling against the empathy that was lurking within their depths.
For the space of a heartbeat, Delia and Duo looked at each other with total understanding. Two old and tired souls who'd known too much pain and anguish at too young an age. They were children of war, a nameless war against innocence that was fought by the forgotten in dark, dangerous shadows. Who knew? In some other place, at some other time, they might have been friends.
Then Duo's gaze shifted to Laura and when he looked back at the woman on the stand, his eyes were devoid of even pity. Once again, the battle lines were drawn. Understand her he might, but in no way would he surrender his claim. His eyes narrowed, declaring his utter determination and resolve.
She met his steely-eyed gaze with a small nod. Delia wanted her daughter back. She could not let Duo and Heero win custody. It was unthinkable and unbearable that she could lose Laura forever. No, they were enemies and there was no chance or desire for any call of truce.
But for a moment, Delia felt that she'd found something she'd never had. She'd found at least one person in the world with whom she shared some common ground and she was saddened by the loss.