Chapter 17

The Pros and Cons of Home

"Did you hear what I said?" Katy Cornwood demanded impatiently into the cordless phone.

It was Tanya's first night back, and she'd barely even unpacked when her oldest friend had called with the enticing proposition of dishing about everything Tanya had missed while she was gone. It was back to their world, back to the glittery life of mindless shopping and gossiping that Tanya used to revolve her life around. Strangely though, Tanya was having a hard time concentrating. Strange especially when these were all the favorite things she used to love to do.

In fact, she had been staring dreamily out her window, remembering that one time the whole family had squabbled over the pet frog the Junior Marshalls had raised when Katy had called her attention. "Sorry, what was it?" Tanya asked apologetically.

Katy let out a long-suffering sigh, miffed. "You weren't listening to me," Katy said sulkily. "I ran into Kyle Sames at the country club last week. Apparently, he's been working out all summer, and he's got the body to prove it," Katy enthused, giggling. "He was looking so cute!"

"Hmm….?" Tanya repeated distractedly.

"God, what's wrong with you, Tanya?" Katy burst out accusingly. "It's like living in that godforsaken farm the whole summer sucked you dry. Why didn't your dad send you somewhere cooler, like Bahamas, anyway? Or you could even have gone to the south of France with me. He totally ruined your life!"

"Katy, it's not that like that," Tanya protested. "I actually had a blast living at the farm. Everybody was really nice, and generous, and friendly…" She paused. "I met this guy…" Tanya trailed off softly, a blush already tainting her cheeks.

Katy was quiet for a moment, but her increasing intrigue bubbled over until she could take it no longer. "I knew it! Now you're talking!" Katy crowed. "Why didn't you say so earlier? What's his name? What does he look like?" Katy asked away excitedly. "I can't believe I've been talking to you for half an hour without mention of this!"

Tanya adjusted her position on her four-poster bed, anticipating a very long conversation. "His name is Zack. I first met him in the airport, and he was so unbelievably rude, which is a pity because he's just so good-looking…"

Katy was a great listener, oohing and aahing at the crucial moments, and shrieking her oh-my-gods when the moment called for it. Tanya felt like she was reliving her summer's escapades as she told Katy about the best and worst parts of it.

"Wow," Katy sighed dreamily as Tanya was wrapping up how she and Zack had said goodbye. "He sounds really sweet! And you, my dear, obviously have got it really bad!"

"I know," Tanya groaned. "I can't believe I might never see him again. And don't you tell me it's just a summer fling because it's not! Not when it feels like this," Tanya said despondently.

"Aww, shit. I feel for you," Katy commiserated. "But you have to pull yourself together, girl! Tomorrow's the first day of school. You can't put your life on hold until you see him again."

"You're right," Tanya said glumly. "I just miss him."

"I bet you do," Katy said consolingly. "But don't you worry your dark-haired head about it! You need your beauty sleep!"

Tanya laughed. "I know," she said, yawning. "I'm so tired. Night, Katy!"

"Bye Tanya. I'm glad you're back."

I'm not, Tanya sighed. But I hope I'm getting there.

-

-

"What are you doing, Daddy?" Tanya asked, momentarily forgetting her pact to never speak to her father again. She was just too surprised at the ridiculous picture he painted. Wayne Richardson was a sight to behold in his usual businesslike uniform of suit-and-tie and stern, intimidating face. He moved with the graceful air of someone who knew what kind of influence and authority he commanded.

It was all just quite funny when all this was paired with a bright, flowery apron to match and his best efforts were directed to a bright pink silicon spatula and a bunch of pancakes in the frying pan.

"Damned stupid apro-" Wayne muttered, adjusting the ribbon of the apron he'd likely borrowed from the kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Frion. He started with a surprised jolt as Tanya came in, transforming from angry to sheepish in two seconds flat.

"Hi, honey," Wayne said tentatively. "I thought I'd make you breakfast. For first day of day luck."

"Oh, Daddy," Tanya's face scrunched unwillingly in affection. Maybe she was just an old softie at heart, but old habits would never die. She was just like a little kid seeking her father's love. And once you throw a bone to a dog, he'd be stupid to say no.

"I thought it would be kindergarten next to all the legal matters and accounting I take care of everyday," Wayne said gruffly, waving his callused hand towards a plate heaped with buttermilk pancakes. "But turns out Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes are a lot tougher than they look."

Tanya's face broke out into an involuntary smile. "Aww, Daddy," she said, touched. "You remembered." Mickey Mouse had been her idol when she was five years old. "But I'm older now, Daddy. Instead of asking for Mickey Mouse toys, I ask for thousand-dollar designer shoes instead," Tanya said lightly with a small smile.

"You know that I do love you, kiddo?" Wayne said, his voice muffled. He looked distinctly and endearingly embarrassed as he said the words he'd hardly ever spared her.

"This doesn't make things right between us, Daddy," Tanya said honestly. "Because what you did really hurt me. But just for the record… I love you too."

-

-

It was the longest day Tanya had ever experienced. Her friends talked to her just like always, wanting to know how her summer went so that they could in turn, brag about theirs. People traded class schedules and backdoor gossip, and everyone seemed so excited to see each other while really, just secretly sizing the other person up. Normally, Tanya lived for this. She'd ride on the first day bandwagon by wearing something utterly fashionable and expensive, and be right smack in the midst of the gushing and giggling.

But not today. She just didn't see the point. Tanya drifted through all the pleasantries with a knowing smile to herself, basking in the afterglow of a summer that Bahamas or the Mediterranean could never compete with. And everyone who knew her noticed the change in her too. It was a passing inquiry on what the twinkle in her eye was for.

Tanya simply just felt- Different. High school wasn't her world anymore, nor was her existence anchored solely by credit cards or the nearby shopping mall. She'd been exposed to something brighter, and better, and she'd learned quite a few things alongside, too.

"Hey, Tanya," Katy bounded up to her on the outside steps of their small private school. School had let out, and everyone was milling around. "Jenny Craig told me there was this guy looking for you awhile ago. He said his name was Harry."

"Bill?" Tanya repeated quizzically. "Are you sure? She might have gotten it wrong. Maybe she means Henry. Henry is our new chauffeur."

"I don't know. She did the mention the guy was pretty cute."

"Well, Henry's in his early twenties. I guess he's not bad looking. If you go for the rugged, musician types with a goatee kind of thing," Tanya said, wrinkling her nose. She much preferred tall, dark, mysterious boys. With intense blue eyes. And a killer smile, with that smirky quirk, Tanya added for good measure. And a penchant for annoying her. Oh, especially that.

"That should be the one," Katy shrugged. "Catch ya later, Tanya. Call me when you get home, okay?"

"Will do," Tanya replied, smiling at her friend.

Leisurely, she made her way to the dark tinted luxury sedan that escorted her to school and back everyday. She was thinking about the phone call Martha had made the day before. It had been so good to hear from them, although it was a pity she'd barely spoken to Zack before the line got cut off.

"Good afternoon, Henry. Let's go home, please," Tanya said, closing her eyes as she sank into the plush leather interior of the luxury vehicle.

"Right away, ma'am," A confident, deep voice drawled back at her.

Tanya's eyes snapped back open.

"Zack?" Tanya gasped, stunned. Her hand snapped to her open mouth. "Oh my god!"

"Hey, princess." Zack smiled back at her, affection crinkling his eyes. He opened his arms and Tanya practically raced into them.

"What are you doing here?" Tanya let go of him long enough to ask. She stared at him in a mixture of disbelief and elation. "How did you get here? What did you do to the driver? Do your parents know?"

"Whoa, one at a time, Tanya," Zack said, laughing. "Well, to answer your question, I took a late flight last night. Yes, my parents know, and I'm staying at a friend's. I talked to Wayne this morning and convinced him to let me pick you up. Surprised?"

"Very. And don't forget happy," Tanya said, smiling back at him.

"Well, that's not the end of it," Zack told her, looking very smug. "I have something to show you." He let go of her hand and climbed over the seat to get into the driver's seat.

"Where are we going?" Tanya laughed, scrambling in after him.

He gunned the engine, and gave her a sideways grin that stole her breath away. "Haven't you ever heard that patience is a virtue?"

Tanya scowled. "Well, patience was never my favorite virtue," she replied darkly.

Zack threw his head back and laughed. "God I missed you. Brat."

"Missed you too, jerk," Tanya grinned, without missing a beat. "Even if it was just two days."

"Was it just two days?" Zack cocked an eyebrow. "I could have sworn it was longer." And for the next half an hour, they talked about everything under the sun. They talked about what was new at the farm, and Tanya's first day of school. They talked about L.A, and the Marshalls, and Tanya's grimy, old Health teacher. They talked about catching the latest movie, and chocolate chip ice cream cones (Zack's favorite). But when Tanya asked him how long he was staying or how did he get the idea to come to L.A., Zack changed the subject and asked her one of many touristy questions.

"Zack, why do you keep changing the topic?" Tanya said, finally frustrated. "I mean, I know Sunset Boulevard is pretty cool, but even I know you wouldn't talk about shopping for more than two minutes."

"I have my reasons, I promise," Zack said, eyes telling her to please understand. "But first, take a look. We're here." Zack killed the engine and swept the structure that stood before them with a majestic gesture.

"UCLA?" Tanya asked, totally confused. "What are we doing at the University of California, L.A, Zack?"

"This is where I study. Or at least, I will be."

For several long moments, Tanya couldn't comprehend what he was saying. But when it hit her, it hit her hard.

"Oh my god, Zack. You're gonna be studying here? It's your dream! I'm so proud of you, Zack," Tanya blubbered emotionally.

"Yeah. And it comes with some pretty damn good fringe benefits, too."

"Really?"

Zack shrugged. "For starters. I get free room and board. And a partial scholarship grant. And, wait am I missing something? Oh yeah. It's only a few bus stops from you."

Tanya smiled. "You better not have moved here for that, Zack!"

"I didn't," Zack assured her. "But it was definitely included in the list of advantages. I got a 1400 on my SATs. And apparently, Aunt Deana had been convincing my parents all summer to let me go to college. She knew someone up at UCLA, who she convinced to at least take a minute to review my case along with other financial aid cases. Then they called me." Zack beamed.

Tanya's eyes filled with tears, ignoring the stinging jolt of surprise at the name she'd been blocking for the past few days. "I'm really proud of you, Zack. This is your dream, and you deserve it."

"That's me. I'm living the dream," Zack said, looking at her significantly. Tanya's heart melted. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him.

He kissed her back with what felt like either forever or nothing at all. It was hard to tell. Tanya's mind was in overdrive.

"Hey," Zack said gently, pulling back from her. "I've got something else to show you."

"More surprises?" Tanya joked. "Harry." She looked at him sternly.

Zack laughed. "I take it you heard I was looking for you. But, well, if I'm Harry… Then that makes you Sally."

Tanya made a face at him. "You're so cheesy, I love you anyway."

"I know, sweetheart. I know." He ruffled her head with one hand.

"Zack, stop it! You're messing up my hair, doofus!" And so resumed the playful bickering for the rest of the ride.

-

-

"So where are we going again?" Tanya wanted to know, rubbing her sleepy eyes blearily. They'd been driving for roughly twenty minutes, and now the sky was darkening. It looked like it would rain, and pretty thoroughly too.

"Um. The house of a friend I'm staying with. We're nearly there," Zack said, rubbing her back comfortingly.

"That's nice. Which friend is this?"

"Um."

"Anybody I know?" Tanya said suspiciously. She had a sneaking suspicion about this. Zack had averted his gaze and was staring steadfastly at the road. His fists gripped tightly on the steering wheel.

"Yes," Zack said uncomfortably.

"It doesn't happen to be a female right? Whose name starts with a letter D?"

Zack looked back at her helplessly.

"Zack!" Tanya shouted, outraged. "How can you do this to me?" She wanted to know, crossing her arms in defiance. "I am NOT talking to that woman!"

"That woman," Zack reminded tersely, swinging to face her, "is your mother." He looked out his window. "And it's too late. We're here."

Tanya first turned to the squat, medium sized brick townhouse they pulled up at, and then at Zack to glare at him. "I can't. And I won't."

"Yes, you can. At least just talk to her. You two can't part on such bad terms for your whole life like you did last time," Zack said reasonably, calling to memory of how Tanya's last words to her real mother was "I don't ever want to see you again!"

Tanya winced, torn between her conscience and her own personal betrayal. "Fine. But only to tell her to stop calling me. Or my father. Or my house."

Zack sighed. Rain started pouring down hard, true to Tanya's prediction. They ran out the car and towards the temporary shelter of the roof above the front door. Zack didn't look very happy as he rang the doorbell to Deana's modest townhouse, but he squeezed her hand in support as they walked up to the front door.

"Hi, Tanya. Zack," Deana said tentatively, smiling. "I'm glad you could make it this far." Tanya thought bitterly how surreal it was, like they were casual acquaintances meeting up to have a good chat. Like nothing was wrong, when in reality, everything was going wrong. Even the weather outside was terrible, raining buckets with lightning slashing the sky as a dramatic effect every so often.

Deana looked like she had first had when Tanya met her, a funky middle-aged woman in her early thirties with pretty reddish hair and an understated yet funky outfit screaming personal style. Before Tanya had found out Deana was her mother, they'd been good friends. They'd gotten along remarkably. Tanya could even say she admired her. It was hard not to.

They sat in tense silence at a homey, round table in the small kitchen. Tanya stared daggers at a vase of flowers while Deana bustled around, jittery and making cups of coffee for a lack of something to do.

"So. You live here now?" Tanya said dully. She shifted her eyes to the windows. Still raining, raining, raining.

"I just moved here. I thought I'd live close by so that we could maybe spend more time together. If you're not busy, I could drive out Friday nights and catch dinner or a movie with you." Deana raised her eyes up hopefully at her.

Tanya looked away. She had to admit, that was a pretty big gesture. But she couldn't bring herself to reciprocate it. Not yet, anyway.

"I'm busy," Tanya said curtly.

Deana hid her hurt by taking a long sip of her coffee. When she looked up again, she looked determined. "I know you're mad at me, Tanya, but I'd really like it if you gave me a chance," Deana said carefully.

"I don't want to."

"Can't you ever forgive me?" Deana pleaded, losing her boldness. She looked close to tears. Beside Tanya, Zack stood up and left the room.

"I just- can't!" Tanya burst out. "I'm sorry, I can't. You've hurt me too much." She stood up so fast she nearly knocked the chair over. Across her, Deana was crying silent tears. Tanya couldn't take the sight of it anymore. Guilt was burning through her gut. She had to get out of here.

Tanya stumbled outside, tears streaming down her own face. Zack stood outside the front door, watching her. "Let's just go," Tanya said, crying. "I want to go home, Zack."

"Tanya, I love you, but I really wish you hadn't done that." Zack let loose a deep sigh.

"What she did was wrong!"

"What you're doing is wrong, too. You wanted a mother your whole life, Tanya. And now, here she is. How many kids would kill for this chance, Tanya?" Zack asked angrily. "It's a dream come true. But what do you do? You just throw it away," he hissed. It was harsh by Zack's standards, but it was effective. Point made.

Zack paused, trying to get his breath back. Then he asked her in a very calm voice, "Tell me, Tanya. Would you rather she was dead after all?"

"No! Of course not! But, I can't," Tanya sobbed, her voice raw.

"Yes, you can," Zack's voice was gentle. He sounded like he believed in her. And right that moment, Tanya needed that. "She loves you a lot, Tanya. That's all there is to it."

Tanya sank down to her knees, hugging them towards her chest as she rocked herself back and forth, crying all the while. Zack leaned down beside her, with all the love and concern in his eyes, but he didn't touch her. Above them, the darkened sky crackled then quieted, the sudden rainstorm evacuating just as fast as it had descended upon them.

Gradually, her tears subsided. She wiped at her damp cheeks roughly, and tried a leaky smile.

"Beautiful," Zack whispered, watching her.

Tanya smiled, a genuine one now. Then slowly, she got up, dusted the seat of her skinny jeans off, and fixed herself.

"You okay?"

"I'm good. Now, excuse me. I have something to tell Deana."

Invigorated by the newfound calm that descended upon her, Tanya strode inside to the kitchen, where Deana was alternating washing the teacups and blowing her nose into Kleenex wipes.

"The new Sunset Mall is going to be opening next month," Tanya said casually, struggling to keep her face impassive. Deana whirled around, looking disbelieved at Tanya's appearance. The tremor of hope on her face egged Tanya on. "There's going to be a huge sale in honor of the occasion. If I'm not doing anything, and you're not busy… maybe you'd like to go together. For old friendship's sake. Black belt shoppers and all that."

Deana's face broke out into a slow, overjoyed smile. "I'd like that. I'd really like that."

"Okay. See you round, Deana."

"See you," Deana echoed.

Tanya whirled around, and stepped back outside. The sun was beginning to shine again as Zack took her hand, smiling down at her as they walked back to the car.

"Brat," Zack teased, tweaking her nose.

"Jerk," Tanya shot back, swatting at his hand playfully.

Zack hugged her to him, laughing. He placed a soft kiss on her forehead.

So things weren't perfect. She used to live in a sheltered, overprotected bubble world, where her biggest problem was whether to buy that particular Fendi bag in shades of lavender or mauve. She used to be carefree, lighthearted, and ignorant. But what the heck was that life for? There was no reality, no family, no love, no sunshine after the rain.

Which was, in Tanya's opinion, looking to be one of the best things about life. Living in a bubble world was alright for a while, but it got boring. And now she'd broken out, she couldn't ever imagine going back, only going forward. She was definitely looking forward to what the future might bring, rain or sunshine. She had her friends, her family, Zack, and peace of mind. It was a comforting thought.

Life was good.

-

-

The End.


Author's Note: Hey folks! That's it! Fin. I hope you guys liked it. If you find it lacking or dislike it, I'd really appreciate it if you tell me how I can improve it.

So, I finally did it. I finished this story. That's it, no more sequels or epilogues. Getting this far was tough enough for me, lol :) This is for all you guys who are still reading it. And to old readers who are still reading, thanks for sticking by. I'm sorry I was such an undependable updater with this story. But I really am glad I got to finish it finally. I wrote the whole story when I was 13-15, but I can say this rewritten version is much better than that! Lol.

So, one last request! If you're reading this, pretty please review! I'd really really really like it! Thanks guys! See ya round! ;)

Thanks guys!! :) :) :)

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