Epilogue - Origins - 4: Valerie

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Make sure you read the last chapter - Zane's Origin - BEFORE this one! It won't make sense otherwise. Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoy :)

“Valerie!” Taro almost stumbled into the kitchen to show off his recovery. Even though he was reckless, he always had a way of making me smile. And I was grateful for that.

“Slow down, will you?”

“Listen,” he began, out of breath and swatting wavy blond strands from his line of vision. His ADHD was shining through. “I know there’s an errand today, and I want in.” He’d been trying to get back into everyone’s good graces, but to be honest, I don’t think he ever left them.

“Take it up with Betty,” I responded, piling beans into the coffeemaker for Betty. Nole was didn't believe me when I told him, but she's even crankier in the morning without her coffee.

“Come on, Val,” Taro whined, rolling his eyes. Predictably, he took a deep breath and used the flattery approach. “We all know you’re the one the makes the decisions around here Miss Doctor.”

“Ha!” Sure I was pretty good at minor procedures and some first aid, but I was by no means the decision maker.

A new pair of feet entered the kitchen, but Taro let me know who they belonged to without my having to look.

“Zane, you need me on the run today. Come on, tell her.” He was grasping at straws.

Although Zane liked to keep to himself, he actually responded to Taro. “No.” Well, it was something for Zane anyway.

Taro let out an audible sigh, resting his arms and head on the countertop next to me. “You two haven’t changed. It’s like you’re the same person.”

I stifled a laugh at the thought of Zane and me being similar in any respect. Taro was just trying to trick me into agreeing to waive his recovery time, so I didn’t bother. “What am I supposed to do? Garden with Suri?"

"Why not?" I joked.

He squinted at me, unsure if I'd really meant it. "Okay,” he conceded, putting his palms up in surrender. “But next time either of you need anything, don’t come crawling to good ol' Taro.”

“Oh no,” I mocked, prompting him to shoot me a sour look. Taro wouldn’t remember the argument anyway, so I liked to push his buttons.

With fake solemnity, Taro slouched and exited the kitchen, leaving a heavy awkwardness in the kitchen. By the sound of it, Zane seemed to be shuffling around for breakfast, but I didn’t turn to look. I don’t know why, but our relationship was always so strange. Truthfully, I think he looks down on me, and unlike Taro, he did hold grudges. The renewed tension between him and Nole was proof of that. What worried me was not knowing if he still disliked me.

Thinking back, there were only two emotions that stuck out from that day: fear and despair. It was only four years ago, but Zane was so young back then, so innocent. His friend literally died in his arms. The very friend who died protecting me.

That’s the last time I saw Zane cry. The only time actually. Since then, I’d blamed myself for leaving Betty’s side. She kept on telling me to stay close, and I just wandered away, managing to get someone killed in the process. I killed someone. When Betty stumbled upon us, I could read it on her face. I would never forget the way she looked at Zane, who was desperately trying to shake the bloodied man awake from a sleep he’d never wake up from.  

Subtly, I glanced at the seventeen-year-old Zane in the kitchen, trying to decipher any form of resentment he had for me. If there even was any. Four years would seem like a long enough time to get over something, but not something like that. I was too afraid to bring it up regardless.

Clearly distracted, I fumbled and knocked the box of sugar packets to the floor. Even worse, Zane turned and saw that I had been staring at him. Keenly avoiding his gaze, I grabbed the scatted pouches at my feet, my ears burning from embarrassment. The room became utterly quiet except for the sound of brushing paper against the tile.

“Do you want me to pour you a mug?” I asked, keeping my head down and trying to recover from my humiliation. “Freshly brewed,” I added, immediately chastising myself for doing so.

I clenched my eyes shut as I waited for a response, but there wasn’t one. Compared to the stinging silence, one of Zane's signature scoffs or a grunts would have been music to my ears.

After gathering all the packets, I hesitated before raising my head. Zane wasn’t there.

Half relieved, half disheartened, I breathed through my nose and finished brewing the coffee.

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