Little Lies 25

Several long and brutal hours later, the baby was placed into my arms. “Isn’t she precious?” I cooed happily. “She is. She looks just like you.” Johnny rested his head on top of mine while we both admired our daughter. “I should go let your Mom know that you’re ready for visitors and I’ll call my family while I’m at it. My grandma will burn down half of the town trying to get here.” He snickered. I was only half listening, all of my attention was focused on our newborn. “Hurry back.” I murmured then realized he was already gone. “Good, now I get you all to myself.” I snuggled her close to my chest.

10

Johnny came back a few moments later with my mom in tow. She fussed over the baby for a while then we heard a loud cough. “Hello.” Nancy waltzed in and stood at the foot of my bed. “I didn’t know if I was welcome in here or not. I decided to take a chance on it.” Lucky for her, I was feeling generous. “Of course.” She gave me a grateful smile. “Lovely. Could I speak to you alone? Only for a moment.” She appeared anxious. “I think that would be okay. As long as you’re not offering me something to drink.” I raised my brows in jest and Nancy’s cheeks turned bright red. “I’ll go see what kind of snacks are in the vending machines.” Mom kissed me on the forehead and quietly slipped out of the room. “I’m staying.” Johnny dared his mother to say otherwise.

11

“Very well.” Nancy nodded and moved closer to me. “As I watched my son pace the waiting room floor while you were in labor, I realized that if he ever lost you or the baby that he wouldn’t be able to get through it. It would change him…for the worst. I should’ve never taken it upon myself to meddle in your life.” She pursed her lips then finally said the words I thought I’d never hear. “Valerie, I owe you an apology. I’m so very sorry.” She told me sincerely and squeezed my hand. “I’ll never be able to make up for all of the horrible things I put you through but I promise that I’ll be on my best behavior from now on.” She glanced at the bassinet that held our bundle of joy. “I want to be in her life.” Johnny put his hand on his mother’s shoulder. “I was hoping you’d come to your senses.” He chuckled warmly.

12

“Did you already decide on a name?” She asked. I looked up at Johnny and he grinned. “Yes. We’re going to call her Lemon.” I informed her. “Lemon?” Nancy repeated with a grimace. “Lemon…Zest?” She sighed then surprised us with a small laugh. “I suppose that’s rather cute. But maybe the next child can be named after me?” I gave her my best fake smile…the one I used to save especially for my clients. “Sure, Nancy. That’s what we’ll do.” It was one last little lie.

The End.

Little Lies 24

“You’re living…here, son?” Nancy wrinkled her nose in disgust as she looked around our small home. “With her?” She narrowed her eyes at me and sat down at the table. “We made a deal. Does this mean the you’ll be paying me back…with interest?” I snorted and shook my head. “No. I can’t. Besides, Nancy, we both know that the money was to keep me from talking about how you drugged me. It wouldn’t be good for your political career if that little piece of gossip got around, right?” I gave her a nasty smile. “Blackmail? I didn’t think you had it in you.” She almost sounded as if she were in awe. “Me either.” I shrugged.

7

“Okay, I’m getting really tired of hearing this woman’s voice, Val. It’s like nails on a chalkboard. Why are we here?” Mom groaned and checked her watch. “I have to get to class soon.” I cleared my throat and looked over at my husband. “We got married yesterday and we’re going to raise our child here together.” Johnny gazed back at me proudly. Our mothers stared at us in shock then both started talking at the same time.

8

“I can’t believe you got married.” Mom pouted. “I would have liked to have been there. Did you not think of my feelings at all, Val?” I tried to apologize to her but I couldn’t be heard over Nancy’s high pitched wailing. “You can’t be serious!” She shrieked. “That baby is not yours! It can’t be! It could be your father’s for all you know.” Johnny sighed and buried his face in his hands. “But if it is and that’s a big if…then the two of you can’t raise it! You’re no more than children yourselves. Someone else will have to do it. Like me! I can’t let it grow up in the slums!”

9

“Mother! That’s enough! If you make one more threat, you’ll never see this child. We’ll cut you from her life just as easily as you cut me from yours.” Johnny told her but I’d already had enough. “I can’t listen to this anymore…I should’ve known that neither of them would be reasonable. I’m going to lie down.” I didn’t make it very far though. A slow trickle of warm fluid ran down my legs and puddled around my feet. “Johnny!” I called urgently from the hallway. “Get my hospital bag! It’s time!” My mom ran to me with a bewildered expression on her face. “Time? It can’t be time! You still have four weeks left!”

“Mom…my water broke.”

Little Lies 23

We sat up and talked all night and by dawn we’d reached a decision concerning our future. We were going to get married. That same day. Johnny was able to get a rush on our marriage licenses by using Nancy’s name. It was the least she could do for us…even if she didn’t know it. By mid afternoon, we were being wed by a judge with Eva and Queenie as our witnesses. “Are you sure you want to do this?” I whispered to Johnny before we went any further. “You’re going to be stuck with me forever now. That means no more deals with your mother about marrying other women.” It was meant as a joke but it came out catty. Still Johnny laughed it off. “Come on, Val. You know you’re the only girl for me.” With that being said, we exchanged our rings.

4

After the ceremony, Queenie approached Johnny. “Out of our whole family, I only ever had hope for you.” She clutched his arm and slipped a piece of paper in his hand. “Do better than the rest of us. Make something out of yourself…something real. Nothing worth having comes easy so work hard. Make this old lady proud.” She kissed his cheek and then headed towards the limo waiting for her. “What was that all about?” I asked curiously. “You’ll see.” He grinned mischievously. “I have a big surprise for you.”

5

We took a taxi to the older part of town and got out in front of a dusty trailer with a small yard. “Where are we? Who’s house is this?” I looked at Johnny in confusion. “It’s ours. A wedding gift from my grandmother.” He showed me the deed that Queenie had given him earlier. “It was my Gramps’ place before he went into the oil business. She held onto it and kept it fixed up real nice…just in case. There’s even a nursery.” He winked at me. “Is your Grandma psychic or something?” I giggled. “It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if she were. You should meet her friends sometime…they’re a bit odd.” I nodded my head but I wasn’t really listening, I was already making plans for the house. “I can see it now. We’ll raise our daughter here. We can put a swing-set there. And over there, we can have a garden.” I told him in a dreamy voice. “And one day I’ll build us a bigger house. But for now this is home.” Any thought I had about ever leaving Oasis Springs quickly vanished. “Home.” I repeated. “I love it.” He lifted me up and carried me over the threshold. “Welcome home then, Mrs. Zest. It’s time for us to consummate our marriage.”

6

We took a taxi to the older part of town and got out in front of a dusty trailer with a small yard. “Where are we? Who’s house is this?” I looked at Johnny in confusion. “It’s ours. A wedding gift from my grandmother.” He showed me the deed that Queenie had given him earlier. “It was my Gramps’ place before he went into the oil business. She held onto it and kept it fixed up real nice…just in case. There’s even a nursery.” He winked at me. “Is your Grandma psychic or something?” I giggled. “It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if she were. You should meet her friends sometime…they’re a bit odd.” I nodded my head but I wasn’t really listening, I was already making plans for the house. “I can see it now. We’ll raise our daughter here. We can put a swing-set there. And over there, we can have a garden.” I told him in a dreamy voice. “And one day I’ll build us a bigger house. But for now this is home.” Any thought I had about ever leaving Oasis Springs quickly vanished. “Home.” I repeated. “I love it.” He lifted me up and carried me over the threshold. “Welcome home then, Mrs. Zest. It’s time for us to consummate our marriage.”

Little Lies 22

It was only two days later when Mom called for me to come downstairs because I had a visitor. I groaned loudly when I found Johnny waiting in the living room for me. “I should’ve known that Malcolm wouldn’t keep his big mouth shut!” I cried out. “I came straight here from the airport. I got here as fast as I could.” He told me solemnly. “Oh is that so? You should go back because I don’t want you here!” I hissed at him. “Val, please don’t shut me out like that. I’ve missed you so much. I lied when I said I never loved you.” When I slapped him across the face, it took us both by surprise. “I’m sorry.” I apologized. I only half meant it. “No, don’t be. I deserved it. I deserve worse actually.” He rubbed the sore spot gently. “That’s something we can agree on at least.” I muttered.

1

“So does your mother know too?” I crossed my arms and stared daggers at him. “I don’t think so. But knowing Malcolm, it won’t be long.” I swore under my breath. “What if she tries to take the baby from me? She would do something like that…wouldn’t she?” My lip trembled when I spoke. “She drugged me! So that I couldn’t stop the wedding.” He turned ghostly pale. “I had no idea. I can’t believe it. Is there nothing she won’t do to get her way?” He mumbled softly. “I promise I won’t let her hurt you again.” All that did was fuel the fire. “Yeah right!” I pointed my finger in his face. “And what exactly would you do about it? Run away like a coward again?”

2

“That’s not fair.” He frowned. “I thought you used me and finally got what you wanted. But I know the truth now…that has to count for something. Val, please. I’m so sorry. For everything.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “Why did you lie about marrying Morgan?” He sighed uncomfortably. “I’m not proud of it but I made a deal with my mother. After six months of marriage we agreed that I would divorce Morgan and go on with my life. If that’s what it took to be with you then I was going to do it. She was waiting for some kind of business deal with the Fyres family to happen. I couldn’t go through with it though. I knew I couldn’t ask you to wait for me. Then she told me about the check. You know the rest.”

3

He gazed down at my stomach then with a little smile forming on his lips. “What are we going to name her?” I turned away from him to hide my tears. “There is no “we” in this, Johnny.” I declared hotly. “You may not like me right now, Val, but we’re in this together.” He came up behind me and put his arms around me. “Like you?” I huffed. “No, Johnny…I hate you.” He buried his face in my hair to keep from laughing. “Liar.”

Little Lies 21

I felt guilty taking Nancy’s money in some ways but it changed everything for us. More than seven months went by and during that time we moved into a small apartment with a waterfront view. Mom began nursing school and I took college courses online. Life went on and while it wasn’t great, it was good. It was hard to not think of Johnny but I was able to push him from my mind and focus on the child I was carrying…until I ran into Malcolm on the same day I found out from the doctor that I was having a little girl.

4

“Valerie, is that you?” I turned to face him and his eyes widened when he saw my large stomach. “Oh boy.” He gasped. “Girl actually.” I grinned at him. “That’s great. Good for you. How far along are you anyways?” He asked. “Around 33 weeks.” He raised his brows once he did the math. “Does Johnny know?” I shook my head and bit my lip. “No. I haven’t spoken to him since the day before he got married.” Malcolm gave me an odd look. “What are you talking about?” He snorted. “Johnny never got married…I did. He wasn’t even at the wedding.”

5

I stared back at him shock. “No kidding.” I muttered. “Yeah. He got into a big fight with mother about you the night after and ended up leaving town. Grandma gave him some money to travel and last we heard, he was in London.” He shrugged. “If he’s finally free from Nancy’s claws then why hasn’t he tried to get in contact with me?” I was mostly talking to myself but Malcolm seemed to have answer for me. “He was upset about the lies you told him but he wanted to work things out but the real slap in the face came when mother told him that you were always after his fortune. She said that you came by and wouldn’t leave until you got a check from her.”

6

I could feel my blood boiling with anger. “That’s a lie! She’s the one who bought me off!” Malcolm shrank away. “You don’t have to explain it to me. I know how she is.” I took a deep breath to calm myself down. “Oh. The baby is kicking.” I murmured. “May I?” Malcolm took a step closer with his hands out. I nodded and smiled. “Wow. I can’t believe I’m going to be an uncle. Hi, baby Landgraab.” He cooed at my stomach. “I have a favor to ask you.” He glanced up at me in question. “Please don’t tell anyone you saw me. Especially Nancy.” He struggled to keep his face neutral. “I’ll do my best.”

Little Lies 20

I awoke to the sun pouring in through the blinds of the motel room. “Mom, are you here?” I called out hoarsely and was met by silence. I glanced at the clock and my heart nearly stopped. It was three in the afternoon. “No!” I groaned miserably and dragged myself out of the bed. As soon as I stood I was hit by a wave of nausea. It passed by the time I made it to the bathroom but still I rifled around under the sink for the pregnancy test I bought when I first started sleeping with Johnny. “This is crazy.” I whispered to myself. “You’re not pregnant. You can’t be.” The result I got five minutes later begged to differ. I had the worst luck.

1

“I’ve been waiting for you! Where have you been?” I asked as soon as I heard the door open a little while later. “I went out to get a few groceries. Did you just get up?” My mom stood in the kitchenette with her hands full. “Why didn’t you wake me? You knew the wedding was today!” I whined and hugged my knees. “You came home and went to straight to bed last night without saying a word to me. Then you slept for nearly twenty hours, Val. I figured you were sick! I went out to get medicine and soup for you!” She slammed the plastic bags on the counter and I began crying.

2

“What’s got your panties in a bunch now?” She sat next to me on the bed. “Oh, I don’t know…everything!” I wailed. “The man I loved married someone else. I’m pretty sure his mother drugged me and then there’s this!” I held the pregnancy up for her to see. “Babygirl…I don’t know what to say.” She murmured and stroked my hair. I snorted derisively. “That’s a first. What am I going to do?” She sighed heavily in response. “The same thing we’ve always done, Val. Survive.” Then she frowned. “Wait…you think you were drugged? By Nancy?” I nodded slowly. “Yeah, I’m almost sure of it.” Mom jumped up and grabbed her keys. “Get dressed. We’re going to pay that psycho a little visit.”

3

Nancy came out on the porch when we got there and put her hands on her hips. “I knew you’d show up eventually but Johnny isn’t here, Valerie. He’s on his honeymoon. It’s too bad you missed the ceremony though…it was beautiful.” She grinned. “What did you make my daughter drink yesterday, you crazy cow?!” My mom shouted. “Just a little something to help her sleep. It was completely harmless.” Nancy admitted. “How dare you! You could’ve hurt the ba-” I elbowed Mom in the side and shook my head at her. “What will take to make you both go away? Money?” Nancy pulled out her checkbook and started to write in it. “How about $50,000 if I never have to see either of your faces again?” Mom and I shared a look. We really could use it. “Okay.” I answered softly. “It’s a deal.”

Little Lies 19

Before we knew it, fall was upon us which meant that our time at Sunset Acres was finally up. My mother and I left without putting up a fight and we were now staying at a pretty questionable motel until we found something more permanent. I spent my days crying, eating, and watching soap operas from bed. Then one evening Mom came from the club with news that hit me like a hurricane. “Why are you back already?” I asked her with my mouth full of pretzels. “Val! The wedding is tomorrow at noon! Johnny’s going to marry that girl!” The bag fell from my hands. “What? No!” I yelped and felt like I was going to be sick. I ran to the bathroom and upchucked everything I’d eaten in the past hour. After brushing my teeth and running a comb through my hair, I threw a sweater on over my nightgown and grabbed the keys to my mom’s car. “Good luck, babygirl. Go get your man.” She grinned at me and waved goodbye.

13

When I got to the Landgraab’s I pounded on the door and rang the doorbell repeatedly until Nancy finally cracked it open. “Johnny doesn’t want to see you. Go away.” She tried to shut the door in my face but I barreled past her into the house. “Johnny! I need to talk to you! Right now!” I shouted at the top of my lungs. He came down the stairs and sighed when he saw it was me. “Johnathan! You better get this riffraff out of my house before I call the cops!” Nancy pointed to the door. “You need to leave.” He told me flatly. “Not until you tell me why you’re going to marry Morgan. I thought you loved me.” I whimpered. “Do you think you’re the only one who’s ever lied, Val? I lied to you too. I never loved you.” His grandmother clucked her tongue disapprovingly from the couch behind us. “Stay out of this, Grandma!” He shouted before turning on his heel and retreating to his room.

14

“That can’t be true.” I spoke mostly to myself then I turned to Nancy. “It’s not, is it?” Instead of gloating she looked as if she pitied me. “How about some coffee?” She chirped suddenly. “Uh…okay.” She took my arm and led me to the kitchen. “Why are you being nice to me?” I asked as she poured a cup for me and one for herself. “Because you’re no longer a threat to my family.” She admitted with a shrug and sat beside me at the bar. We were both silent for far too long then she said, “I’m sure you’re a really nice girl, Valerie, but my son deserves the very best.” I drained my mug and placed it on the counter. “I am the best for him. I’m not perfect but no one will ever love him as much as I do and I’ll prove it to you, Nancy. I’m going to stop the wedding before he makes a horrible mistake that he regrets for the rest of his life.” I promised her.

15

“Hmm.” She muttered as she finished her own drink. “I think I’ll make us some tea now. Something to soothe our nerves and keep us from going at each other’s throats.” She chuckled and began digging around in her cabinets. A few moments later, she brought me a new cup and urged me to drink it fast. It smelled funny and not long after taking only a few sips, my stomach began gurgling. I blushed as a loud burp escaped my lips. “I’m so sorry. It must’ve been something I ate earlier.” I mumbled then covered my mouth. “You should go home and rest, Valerie. I’m sure I’ll see you first thing in the morning.” She gave me a reassuring smile as she walked me to the door. “You definitely will. Thank you for your hospitality.” I told her politely. She grinned at me and I noticed there was a little twinkle in her eye. “It was my absolute pleasure.”

Little Lies 18

The disappointment on Johnny’s face nearly killed me on the spot. “No.” He shook his head in response to Malcolm’s question with his eyes never leaving mine. “I don’t have a girlfriend anymore.” The music stopped then and the bar patrons peered at each other in confusion. “Dance!” One of them screamed at the stage. I ignored him and took a step closer to Johnny. “Please believe me when I say that I’m so sorry.” My lip trembled when I spoke. “I wouldn’t have cared if this was what you wanted to do with your life.” He motioned to the pole with a grimace. “But why lie to me about it, Val?”

10

My mom came over to me and put her arm around my shoulders. “He really is quite a catch. I just hate that I had to meet him like this.” She whispered into my ear. “Might as well tell him everything and hope like hell that he’ll be able to get past it. Let the truth set you free, babygirl.” It was the best advice she’d ever given me. “I’ve lied so much that even I began believing what I said was true.” I finally admitted out loud. “I was an escort until a short while after I met you. I never slept with any of my clients though…I had rules.” I told him. “When we started becoming serious, I quit and never looked back.”

11

“So when my father said he knew you…it wasn’t a mistake?” He asked with an unreadable expression. “No.” My answer was nearly inaudible. “Ha! Just wait until Mother hears this! She’s going to absolutely love it!” Malcolm burst out laughing. Johnny covered his face with his hand. “I swear…if you even so much as think about telling her, I’ll break your skinny little neck!” Johnny threatened. Malcolm laughed again and cracked open bottle of champagne. At least someone was enjoying themselves. “You never worked at the library either, did you?” Johnny smirked at me. “No.” I sighed miserably. “And why are you here tonight? You quit the escort service just to become a stripper? How is that any better?” He began grilling me. “It was only a one time thing. My mother asked me to help out with this bachelor party. Is it yours or his?” It was my turn to question him. “I don’t think it matters at this point. It’s over between us.”

“Please don’t say that, Johnny!” I wailed. “I’m so sorry! I never meant for you to find out this way!” He stood up and clutched his car keys in his hand. “That’s just another lie, Val. You never meant for me to find out at all.” Then he turned to his brother. “Let’s go or you’re walking home.”

12

I ran across the stage in my heels and nearly tumbled down the steps trying to get to Johnny before he left. “Wait! Please don’t go!” I cried as I tried to avoid knocking into tables and chairs. I made it to the exit just as he did and threw my arms around him. “Stop.” His voice was muffled by my hair. “Not until you tell me that you still love me and we can work this out.” I slid to my knees and held onto his legs. “Get up, Val. You’re embarrassing me and more than that, you’re embarrassing yourself.” He looked down on me in disgust. I let him go then and watched him walk away. “Valerie.” He called from the door right before he ducked outside. “Yes, Johnny?” I gave him a hopeful smile. “As much as it pains me to say it…my mother was right about you.”

Little Lies 17

Two weeks went by and I began seeing Johnny less and less. It made me worried that his mother was continuing to sabotage our relationship from behind the scenes. He reassured me that he was just busy with work and family stuff but still the bad feeling I had didn’t go away. Plus it didn’t help that my mom was completely stressing me out about us finding a new place to live together. I didn’t want to tell her yet but I was planning to finally branch out on my own…with or without Johnny.

7

“There’s a bachelor party and the new girl called in sick! What am I going to do?” Mom whined when I stopped by to see what was so urgent about the last text she’d sent me. “Look, you can’t text me and say it’s an emergency about any and every little thing.” I sighed and shook my head. “I actually worry about you. Sometimes.” I added. “Anyways…just get out there and do the show alone, you’re more than enough woman for any guy.” I snickered. “Normally that would work but these guys requested someone young. I’m all that’s here tonight. You could help me though.” She turned to me with pleading eyes. “No. Not happening.” I refused immediately. “Please, Val. Just this once. We need the money to move. I can’t do this without you.” Then to my surprise, she actually broke down and started to cry. “I’m getting too old for this shit.” She sniffled. I took a deep breath and instantly regretted the words that flowed from my mouth. “You better not EVER ask me to do this again. And I’m not doing full nude.” She glanced up at me with a grateful smile. “Do whatever you’re comfortable with, babygirl.”

8

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.” I mumbled into my hands and gave my mom’s reflection a hard stare in the vanity mirror. We had about five minutes to finish getting ready. “I’ll owe you one, Val. You don’t know how much this means to me.” She twirled one of my curls with her finger. “You’re such a good daughter. I wish I was more like you. Strong-willed and smart. You’ve always deserved better than me.” She whispered then laughed and dabbed at her eyes. “Crap, I’m going to ruin my makeup.” I was touched though. It was rare that we ever had a genuine moment like that.

9

A booming voice echoed throughout the room then. “I’d now like to present to you The Amazing Grace!’ Mom flung her trench coat to the floor. “It’s showtime, babygirl.” She winked at me then flounced through the red curtains that lead to the stage. “And now I’d like you all to welcome a very special newcomer! Grace’s daughter…The Goddess, Athena!” I walked out and gripped the cool metal pole in my hands then I looked out into the audience. There were only a few people in the crowd but sitting directly in front of the stage was Johnny and right next to him was Malcolm. A mischievous grin spread across Malcolm’s face when he recognized me. “Brother…isn’t that your girlfriend?”

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