Laura had felt silly as she’d run from the courtroom, had felt as though she was acting like a baby for letting the judge’s question upset her so much. But she couldn’t stop her tears and, rather than let her fathers see them and get angrier than they already were, she had fled to the bathroom.
Do you love your mother?
The question rang in her head. She did but that didn’t mean that she wanted to live with the woman. Laura felt a sudden cramp in her stomach, which made her bend almost double with the pain. All at once, the rush of memories of her rape came flooding back as strongly as they had when she’d been forced to speak about it in court. She’d managed to block out the images of that horrible night for so long, but now it was as if the dam she’d erected in her mind to protect herself from the truth of how deeply her mother had betrayed her had been forever destroyed.
Once again, she could feel the bruising grip of the man’s hands, smell the fetid stench of his unwashed skin, see the cold cruelty in his eyes. But, even as the pain seared her, it cleansed her as well, leaving behind a scorched path from which new memories could spring. Pleasant thoughts rushed in to fill the void, thoughts of remembered moments in time with Duo and Heero and how much she longed to go back to them. And the love she still harbored for her mother was allowed to take root, even though the bud was still tender and extremely fragile. Maybe, just maybe, in time she would be able to look her mother in the eye and not experience the fear she still felt in her presence. But that day had not yet come. Now, she just needed time to heal and she knew that there was only one place she could do so.
Laura raised a hand to her face, intending to wipe away her tears and steel herself to return to the court room when a gasp interrupted her musings. She looked up at the sound and her own sharp intake of breath was overwhelmed by the sudden thunder of her heartbeat pounding in her ears.
She froze, staring at the woman who, just moments ago, she’d promised herself that she would try to forgive. But, for the first time in almost a year, she was completely alone with the one person who should have loved her above all else. The one person who’d caused her nothing but sorrow. Every mature thought of pity and sympathy that had sounded so good in her head vanished in a blinding wave of panic. There was no Duo or Heero here to help her, this time. There was only Delia, who stood between her and the safety of those that loved her.
Delia’s heart ached at the terror in her daughter’s eyes. Did the girl think that she would hurt her? Never! She’d promised herself that never again would she cause her child pain. All she wanted was a chance to talk. She deserved that, at least.
“Laura,” she began, holding a hand out before her in unconscious supplication. Laura flinched away, recoiling from the remembered blows administered by that hand. Delia sighed, and lowered her arm to her side.
“Laura,” she tried again, “baby, I just want to talk to you. That’s all.” Laura paused in her retreat, but her eyes remained wide and watchful, like a small animal ready to flee from danger at the slightest provocation. As this was the closest she’d been to Laura in days, Delia let her eyes drink in the sight of her daughter, noting every detail of her appearance with a clarity she’d never known before being freed from her dependency on drugs.
“You look so pretty, baby. Just like a little doll.” Laura wore a simple blouse and skirt, one of the several outfits thoughtfully provided by Dorothy for the hearing. Her legs seemed long and coltish under the hem of the skirt and Delia realized that Laura had grown several inches since the last time she’d really taken the time to notice. Her hair covered her head in a short, neat afro and Delia longed to run her fingers through the tight curls. She found herself stepping forward, the desire to touch her daughter quickly becoming an ache.
“I can’t believe how much you’ve grown. Has it really been that long since I’ve gotten a good look at you?” Delia moved forward another small step.
“What do you want?” Laura asked, refusing to move away from Delia’s slow advance even though her entire body was trembling with fear. The older woman stopped at the girl’s hostile tone, a look of annoyance flashing briefly over her face.
“I just want to talk, Laura. I just want to tell you how much I love you and that I want you to come home with me. That’s all. Can’t...can’t you just talk to me for a little while?” Delia’s voice grew husky with the threat of tears.
Laura looked closely at Delia, feeling as though she was seeing her mother for the first time. Though still fairly young, Delia wore the ravages of her life on her face and in her eyes, and suddenly she seemed like an old woman. Old and small. Laura realized that her mother was, in fact, not a big woman, and that she was nearly matching Delia in height. Any prettiness that Delia may have once claimed had been swallowed up by her harsh existence. Her shoulders, which had once seemed to blot out the light when the woman had bent over her as a child, hand raised to strike, were now bent and weary.
And in that moment, Laura looked at her mother and was unafraid.
“Yes,” she said softly, still awed by the realization that the person who had held her in the grip of terror for so long was nothing more than a sad, aging woman. “Yes, we can talk. What do you want to say?”
“I...” Delia paused. Now that she’d been given permission, she wasn’t sure how to begin. She ended up just repeating her previous plea. “I just want you to come home to me, Laura. Would that be so bad? After all, I am your mother and I love you.”
Laura’s eyes turned cold at the halting speech.
“You love me? Maybe you do. But, I can’t just forget everything you did to me. Not just like that. You remember what it was like, when you were a little girl, and you wondered how hard your mother would hit when you got home. Or, you wondered whether tonight was the night that your father would come into your room and rape you again? I heard what you said up on the stand about how your parents hurt you. I didn’t know and I’m sorry. I feel sorry for you. But...”
Laura broke off, watching the tears on Delia’s face and feeling matching streaks of warmth upon her own cheeks. Every time she thought about how her mother had hurt her it made her mad. So mad she wanted to hit something, hard. And now, the object of her anger was standing before her and her emotions swelled within her. A torrent of questions, questions to which she’d wanted answers for so long she could barely remember not having them, flowed from her in a torrential flood.
“Why?!” she yelled, so loudly that Delia flinched. “How could you do that to me? I’m your daughter! You’re supposed to love me! How could you hurt me? Why did you hurt me? I want to know why? Why?! Why do you hate me?!”
Delia starred at Laura in shock, the girl’s words resounding in her ears. They seemed so familiar and she wondered where she’d heard them before. But as Laura continued to shout out her frustration and distress, Delia realized that they were the same questions she’d screamed in her own mind when her mother and father had subjected her to the senseless abuse she’d suffered at their hands. She’d wanted to know what she’d done to deserve such treatment but had never had the guts to ask for an explanation. A flash of intense pride rose in her heart at Laura’s bravery even as she cowered under the knowledge that she did have any answers.
“I just wanted you to love me, that’s all,” Laura continued, her entire body shaking with the force of her sobs. “Why couldn’t you love me like I wanted to love you?”
…like I wanted to love you…
Delia wrapped her arms around her middle, feeling as though her insides were trying to claw their way out of her body. Laura had wanted to love her? My God, what kind of person had she become that her child had had to force herself to love her own mother. Mere words were not enough. Words could never be enough. She rushed forward, heedless of the consequences and pulled Laura into her arms.
The girl went stiff for an endless moment, and Delia was deathly afraid that she would pull away. But in the next instant, Laura slumped forward, resting her head against her mother’s shoulder as she poured out her grief through her tears. Delia hugged the girl to her, holding her so tightly it was as if she never intended to let go.
”Baby, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry.” Slowly they began to rock, the irrevocable instincts of mother and child taking hold. Laura didn’t return Delia’s embrace, instead keeping her arms folded against her stomach. But Delia didn’t heed the silent snub. All she could feel was the unbearable joy of finally holding her little girl in her arms again.
“It’s okay, baby. Shhhh. It’ll be alright. This will all be over soon and we can be together again. And it will be good this time, Laura, I promise. I won’t make the same mistakes I did before. I want to be someone that you can be proud to call your mother. I want you to be able to love me. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, whether you believe me or not.
“It may have been Ice who got me hooked on heroine, but I know that I can’t blame anyone but myself for not trying to beat my addiction, for your sake if not my own. But I’m better now, Laura. I’ve been clean for a long time. I’ve got a good job and a nice place to live. I fixed it up with the hope that, one day, you would come to see it and that you would like it there. I hoped that you might even want to live there.
“So what do you say, baby? Can you forgive me? Do you want to come home?”
Laura’s cries had quieted as Delia spoke. She tried to picture what life would be like living with her mother when she wasn’t high and looking for an excuse to smack her around. Could she be happy living with her mother? Should she give the woman the chance she seemed so desperately to want?
These thoughts chased themselves through Laura’s mind while she stood pressed against her mother’s chest, feeling her heartbeat and the warmth of her skin, and smelling the freshness of her perfume. But her confusion vanished when Delia said the word “home.” The ache in her chest and the images that flew through her mind told her that that word had only one true meaning for her. She raised her head, breaking Delia’s hold, and stepped away.
Looking at her mother with bright, sad eyes, she said, “Home is where Duo and Heero are. I can’t leave them. I don’t want to leave. I want to believe you, mommy, but, I’m tired of wishing for what might be. Those dreams I use to have, that I was living in a pretty home with warm sunlight coming in the window that I could look out of and see trees and birds and kids playing... Those dreams I use to think were so stupid when I had to pick pockets and dig through garbage just to find something to eat, when I had to hide from the gangs because if they found me they’d hurt me, when I never knew if you’d be home and if you were, how hard you would hit me.
“They weren’t stupid. They all came true. With Duo and Heero, all of my dreams came true and I can’t give them up now. I’m sorry, mommy. I do love you, but, I can’t come home with you. Please don’t make me.”
Delia couldn’t see through the tears clogging her vision. Laura appeared like a shadow, insubstantial and liable to fade at any moment. The unfeeling cruelty of a child. Never had a philosophy held more truth. Delia felt her heart being ripped to shreds and crushed under the girl’s merciless heel. Hope flew away, becoming nothing more than a sweet memory. But an old emotion rushed swiftly into the resulting emptiness, one that was almost comforting in its familiarity and that she welcomed in that moment like a missed friend.
Laura had bowed her head, unable to stand the acute pain that shrouded her mother’s face from being denied with such finality, unable to stand the fact that she’d put it there, even though she knew she must. But sudden pain made her head jerk up and she winced as Delia captured her arm in an unbreakable grip. Laura gasped at the dark anger that had replaced her mother’s anguish. And the fear that she’d thought gone for ever battled to reestablish dominance in her mind.
“Ow! Let go, mommy. You’re hurting me!”
“Hurting you? Hurting you?” Delia squeezed tighter, a smile flitting across her lips as Laura grimaced in pain. “Well, how about how you’ve hurt me? I’ve done all of this, everything, for you. And you have the gall to stand here and tell me that you don’t want to come home with me where you belong? You ungrateful little bitch! I’ll give you something to be scared about!”
The whispers that Delia had worked so hard to silence grew in volume. She’ll never love you. She hates you. You have to hurt her before she hurts you! She’d managed to ignore them for months, had learned to force them out of her head without resorting to drugs, had succeeded with nothing but her own strength of will. But the determination that had seen her through rehab and had allowed her to rebuild her life into some semblance of normalcy deserted her in the face of Laura’s absolute rejection.
Delia saw her hand rise on its own accord, feeling unconnected to the movement. She stepped outside of herself and shouted at the woman who stood poised over the young girl, ready to strike. Don’t do this, she shouted. This will be the end. It will ruin everything! But when her hand descended against Laura’s cheek with a resounding slap, the feeling that shot through her was as akin to satisfaction as it was to horror.
Laura barely stumbled under the blow. It wasn’t that Delia’s strikes had become weaker, but, rather, that she’d become stronger. Her arm was released suddenly and Delia stared at her in shock, as though it was she who’d been hit. Laura raised her hand to her face, pressing her palm to the stinging flesh. Already, the rage that had suffused her mother’s face was being supplanted by an expression of shocked dismay. Delia looked down at her hand and then back at Laura’s cheek, her eyes uncertain.
“Did I hit you?” Delia whispered. She looked at her daughter, searching her face as though she didn’t know the answer. Laura lowered her hand, the darkness of her skin nearly hiding the evidence of Delia’s momentary lapse of reason. She stared at the older woman for a long moment with unreadable eyes, then, without a word, Laura walked around her mother and headed for the door. Seeing her last hope of a normal life walking away, Delia sprang forward and grabbed Laura’s shoulder, spinning the girl back towards her.
“Laura, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean it, baby. You know I didn’t mean it! Please, let me make it up to you. Just come home with me and I’ll prove to you that I can be a good mother. I’ll show you how much I love you!” Laura pulled away with a violent jerk.
“Stop it! Just stop it! I don’t want to hear anymore. I just want to go back to my real home. Please, mommy, let me go. Don’t make me hate you, mommy!”
Laura ran from the bathroom, banging the door open in her haste. Delia fought down the hysteria that threatened to steal her breath and gave chase. If only she could talk to Laura again, surely she could make the girl understand!
But her path was suddenly blocked by a large form, and she was forced to stop short before she plowed into it. Chest heaving with exertion and emotion, Delia glanced up, planning to quickly rid herself of the obstacle and to resume her search for her daughter, when she found herself looking into a sea of raging amethyst.
“Duo,” she whispered before the tall man grabbed her arm, gripping it so tightly that she thought it might shatter under the pressure. He lowered his face until it was but mere inches from her, his attractive features twisted into a menacing scowl. His fury was so palpable that Delia could feel it seeping into her, stealing her courage and her will.
“Stay away from her, you sick bitch,” he growled quietly. “I swear to God, the only way you’ll ever get near Laura again will be over my dead body!”
He turned away abruptly and stalked back towards the courtroom, towards which Laura had fled. Delia stood in the hallway, staring at Duo’s retreating back, trembling so hard she thought her entire body might shake apart.