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Balancing a box of pizza and drinks in one hand and a gift in other, it was a miracle that Valeria reached his doorsteps intact. Memphis for once was well behaved staying by her side and sniffing around the place curiously. It had been a really long time since she had seen Caleb last- thirteen years to be precise. Adalie Marchand had been a great friend and they had shared many memories growing up together. She had perhaps been one of the few to whom Val had confided a little about the tough pressure exerted by her father and her desire to escape from it. She had achieved her dreams at the age of eighteen and hadn’t come back except for a few times.
Though Paris had technically been her home, she never felt like she belonged there. Too much had occurred- with her brother’s death, followed by her mother and Val felt she couldn’t really come back without being confronted with those haunting memories. Yet, she did come back occasionally and whenever she had been in the city, she would hang out with Adalie and her little boy.
It was perhaps why the news of her death had affected her and though Val had been in New Zealand on a vacation at that time, she had left everything immediately to fly back home. The funeral had been perhaps the last time she had interacted with Caleb in person and though they had spoken once a while though social media, she had never seen him after.
It was why Valeria had been astonished to learn that he was currently in Evermore at the Ailward Manor and deciding to visit him, had come along with her husky. It took a bit of maneuvering on her part to ring the bell with her elbow and when the doors finally flung open and explaining the purpose of her visit, she was finally directed to wait in a room. She had been in the process of placing the boxes down when she heard someone enter. Turning around, Valeria couldn’t help the warm smile that flickered across her face “ Salut Caleb” she began in French, a language she rarely ever spoke preferring to stick to English or the occasional Spanish “ Je viens porter des cadeaux. Tu te souviens de moi, n'est-ce pas? (I come bearing gifts. You remember me don’t you?)
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Caleb knew that he couldn’t much longer take advantage of the Ailward’s hospitality, especially now that the doctor had cleared his concussion and the lingering symptoms were starting to dissipate into everyday life. Caleb wasn’t sure what it was about this place that felt different than the last twelve towns and five cities he’d lived in after leaving Paris in his early twenties. It wasn’t that it was quiet. There were enough people to make traffic on the streets and noise in the buildings, but at least for right now, he sensed a cohability and urge to make things work together that didn’t seem to exist outside the bubble. People greeted him by name, even those he hadn’t met yet, and often with a smile. Not everyone, of course, there were those who like him enjoyed their personal space and others who seemed to have much more mysterious reasons of wanting it, but Caleb couldn’t help but wonder to himself if he could be happy here. Perhaps, it would be okay to stop wandering for a little while. He was at his desk reading a book when the smell of pizza wafted through the door. It was almost evening, but a little early for dinner time. A knock stirred him from the depths of his sixths library loan in as many days, The Theory of Magic, nonfiction, this time.
Caleb looked up, curious to see who had brought ham and pineapple pizza so far from the kitchen. As far as he knew, food was recommended to remain in the dining room or at least, downstairs. Although, he’d walked up them with an apple and no one had said a word. “Entrez,” As he spoke, the sweet sound of French met his ears and a woman who looked to be in her mid thirties strode through the door. She looked somewhat familiar, but not enough to ring any bells in Caleb’s head. Although, having a concussion didn’t really help matters. “I apologise,” Caleb tilted his head. “I don’t remember. Although, I must say the pizza smells incredible.”
Val could still remember the excited sparkle in Adalie's eyes as she had proudly presented her baby boy to her. Highly cautious and a little wary, she had refused to hold him and had instead settled with a "he is red" which had satisfied her friend since her grin widened and she proceeded to describe her birthing experience in detail.
Information Valeria could certainly do without.
Now as she beheld that same smile in Caleb's features, her eyes softened a little though she was at a loss as to how she could introduce herself. She knew so much and so little of him, that over the years her memories had formed a disjunct picture of sorts- the boy from his mother's innumerable e-mails and messages and the man as he stood in front of her. Some details matched up though, evident from his fondness for the specific pizza she had placed on the table. Val could even now recollect some distinct conversation with Adalie teasingly complaining of her son's weird pizza taste with a grumbled 'was margarita too bland for him?'
Shaking away from the haze of those memories Val turned to the present and held out her hands with a smile "I am..Valeria Aldridge. Your mom's old friend. I used to occasionally come to visit you all in Paris. I live here in Evermore and heard about the incident and you being in town. How are you feeling?" Her curious gaze swept over his frame for a moment, relieved to see him almost recovered. As Memphis attempted to move towards the box, she held on firmly to her collar "And this is my husky Memphis. You better guard your food or she'd finish it off in no time." With a mock disgruntled glance at her dog, Val shrugged "Although she is trained, she often does not bow down to humans like us. Unfortunately, there is nothing anyone can do about it"
As odd as it might be, Caleb liked his pizza the French way and while the Italians may have invented it, his people had certainly put their own spin on it. So, to have the familiar smell of French pizza waft through the door he knew that this Valeria Aldridge must at least have lived for a time in his beloved country. The name was starting to sound familiar, but not in a way that he knew she was a friend. Caleb had always had a good memory for faces, but names could get foggy. It made sense that she was someone his Mama had known. It made him curious if perhaps this is what his mother would have looked like in the flesh. Perhaps, with darker hair and a few more wrinkles around her eyes and nose. He stood from the desk and offered her a hand to shake. “I am Caleb, but that seems familiar to you, oui?” He nodded, and opened the pizza box.
Chocolate and marshmallows! His favorite! Dessert pizza.
Caleb knelt down and scratched the dog. He was fond of puppies and this one seemed to be particularly beautiful. “Belle chienne. Beautiful dog.”
He didn’t have much as it came to plates in his bedroom and so far had been eating with the others in the kitchen at the manor, but Caleb did still have a pile of clean napkins and for an informal desert, that seemed to suit him just fine. “I can get plates, unless you would rather visit the kitchen or perhaps walk the dog?”
Memphis woofed at the pizza box that he was holding, but Caleb chuckled and shook his head. “Non non. Not for you. Chocolate is not good for dogs.” He ruffled between the pet’s ears and found himself victim to a pair of begging eyes and sweet whine as she pawed at his leg. “You’ll have to ask her. I would not want to hurt such a cute dog.”
The Paris of her memories seemed far away. When Valeria had left home, she had made sure that she wouldn't return unless the occasion really called for it and in all her years of wandering the globe, she had gone back a total of two times. Her family did keep in touch, regaling her with the odd anecdotes of everyone but she had never spoken to her father again. But no matter how many people she knew lived there or how familiar the language was, Paris had never been her home. She never really had a home till she had been dragged to Evermore by Max's desperation.
Val was very glad of the life she now lead, but it also felt good to have some connection to her past once in a while. At the mention of his own name, a large smile danced across her lips "I do actually. I had come to visit your mother in the hospital after you were born." Adalie's message had been the first time since her departure that she had considered going back. Paris never held good memories for her- it had been the place that had snatched away her mother and her twin, the place that had transformed her father from a fun-loving parent to a cold autocrat and destroyed most of her childhood and to go back would have been like stepping into those moments all over again for her.
As Memphis tried to sniff the boxes, Val suggested that the move to the kitchen. There would be more space to sit and eat comfortably and they could always raid the well-stocked fridge of the Ailwards. Gesturing for him to lead the way, they walked along, Val often having to reign in her husky who was very curious about their surroundings. "I have a superpower, I can say no to her" She chuckled as Memphis tried her begging eyes at her and got nothing in turn. "What happened to you? I heard you had an accident, but I don't know the details I hope you are recovered now"
Caleb had his own history with leaving home and had been making excuses to leave Paris since his teen years. One way or another, he usually ended up staying. Typically, it had something to do with his Aunt, who despite her constant reassurance she could live on her own, always managed to get into some situation which didn't suit either her health or age. He still remembered the time that he'd picked her up at the hospital when she'd had a heart attack. He'd only been sixteen and only had a permit to drive. Despite how much he hated the hospital, he stayed every night during the week long ordeal. It had given him plenty of time to think seeing as he hadn't slept much. Being in Evermore was some kind of relief, although, he knew she got bored with only her nurse and the neighbors stopping by to visit.
This was a good place to breathe. He had been taking care of others for a long time and now there was a way to put aside the weight in entailed, although, his Aunt received weekly video chats. She'd raised him and he owed her.
Caleb took the pizza box and ventured down the stairs. The kitchen in the Ailward's home was spacious and there were frequently people there. It was a gathering place focused on food and family. He'd been taking most of his meals in his room, but it was fascinating to explore the house when it was quiet. It had real history, it seemed.
As they took a seat on two of the barstools with dessert and napkins, he was surprised. "I had no idea you knew my mother that long ago. She..." He tilted his head. "didn't speak often of friends, but I suppose most of her time was spent either reading me adventure stories or painting. Sometimes both at once."
As a child, he'd loved the old western tales with cowboys and Indians, and horse races down train tracks.
Truthfully, even now, he was often happy to settle down in the evening and watch an episode of The Lone Ranger. It was a personal favorite.
"I think she worried much about burdening others." Caleb said. "But, all the same, I'd love to hear some of your stories."
She was missed, to be sure, and his family had never been the same after she died.
"What is the craziest thing you ever did together?"
There was so much he didn't know about his mama. Hearing about her as a teenager was bound to be interesting.