Posts tagged story
Posts tagged story
DEAREST ASSHOLE WHO SPAWNED ME AND/OR CONTRIBUTED TO MY DEVELOPMENT AS A MALIGNANT GRUNTING BIPED,
I GOT YOUR PACKAGE YESTERDAY. THANKS FOR THE CARD AND THE IDLIS. EVERYBODY REALLY LIKED THEM ALTHOUGH THE STAFF HAD TO KEEP THE CHUTNEY JAR AT THE DESK BECAUSE IT’S GLASS.
THIS HUGE WEIRD HIPPY CLOWN GUY I KNOW ATE MOST OF THE LEFTOVER CHUTNEY BY HIMSELF. IT WAS ABSOLUTE DEBAUCHERY AND HORRIFYING TO WITNESS. HE WANTS TO KNOW IF YOU CAN SEND A RECIPE. I THINK HE’S IN LOVE.
THE SHIRT WAS REALLY NICE BUT IT DIDN’T FIT SO I GAVE IT TO JADE. I HOPE YOU DON’T MIND. SHE SAYS TO TELL YOU THAT IT IS, AND I QUOTE, “OHMYGOD PRETTY.” IT LOOKS GREAT ON HER. YOU’D LIKE JADE A LOT IF YOU MET HER. I THINK WE’RE SORT OF FRIENDS NOW? I GUESS I MIGHT BE MAKING SOME PROGRESS DEALING WITH OTHER PEOPLE MY AGE, BUT DON’T FLIP OUT.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT GETTING ME ANOTHER SHIRT. I HAVE WAY TOO MUCH STUFF HERE SO NO NEED TO MOM OUT OR ANYTHING. I COULD USE SOME MORE SOCKS THOUGH, THE PLAIN BLACK ONES THAT COME IN A TEN PACK. PLEASE NO COLORS OR PATTERNS, I HAVE ENOUGH OF THOSE AND I DON’T REALLY WEAR THEM.
THE POSTER IS OVER MY BED NOW WHERE I CAN LOOK AT IT WHEN I’M IN MY ROOM. I AM GOING TO ASK DEUCE TO SIGN IT NEXT TIME I SEE HIM. HIS KID’S IN HERE TOO. I THINK IT’S OK IF I TELL YOU THAT, SINCE CAPTOR DOESN’T CARE. SMALL WORLD HUH.
EVERYTHING’S GOING FINE. WE TALKED ABOUT MY YEAR’S GOALS IN THERAPY TODAY AND IT WAS ALL RIGHT. I DIDN’T GET MAD TODAY.
I MISS YOU.
SORRY I DIDN’T COME SEE YOU WHEN YOU WERE HERE. I’M NOT READY YET I GUESS. THAT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. YOU KNOW HOW I GET.
ANYWAY THANKS FOR NOT ABORTING ME. THAT WAS SWELL.
PS - I DIDN’T SWEAR ALL DAY. JUST FOR YOU.
TC: HeHeHeHeH i WaS aLl HaViNg ThIs ArT tEaChEr In HiGh ScHoOl WhO wAs AlWaYs HoLdInG. sHe WaS cUtE aS fUcK wEaRiN tHoSe SwIsHy HiPpIe SkIrTs AnD sCaRvEs AnD sHiT aNd WhEn ShE’d BrAiD hEr HaIr ThE wHoLe ThInG wAs ThIcKeR tHaN mY fUcKiN wRiSt. MoThErFuCkIn GoRgEoUs.
bUt YeAh ShEd BaKe ThAt ShIt InTo BrOwNiEs AnD mAkE lIkE a HuNdReD tRiPpY fLoWeR pOtS mAdE tO lOoK lIkE yOu WeRe PlAnTiN yOuR bEgOnIaS aLl InSiDe SoMeBoDyS sKuLl, DuDe, It WaS aLl KiNdS oF wHiMsIcAl, FrEsH aS sHiT. tHeY sOlD lIkE hOtCaKeS aT tHe FaRmEr’S mArKeT.
We GoT tO bE gOoD fRiEnDs, Me AnD hEr. FuCk If I cAn ReMeMbEr If We GoT uP tO aNy FoOlInG aRoUnD oR nOt, BuT eVeN iF i cOuLd, tHaT sHiT’s PrIvAtE, yO, a GeNtLeMaN nEvEr TeLlS. ;o)
CG: EXCEPT WHEN SOMEONE ‘ASKS NICE’, RIGHT FACEACHE?
TC: wElL, YeAh. xo)
TC: hOw aBoUt yOu kArBrO? HoW’d yOu lIkE HiGh sChOoL?
CG: HOW DO YOU THINK I LIKED IT?
CG: LOOK AT MY FUCKING HANDS, GAMZEE.
TC: wHoA GrOsS HaHa!
TC: iT’s LiKe yOu lOsT A FiStFiGhT WiTh FuCkIn eDuCaTiOn iTsElF dUdE!
CG: I DIDN’T LOSE JACK SHIT, ASSHOLE. I GRADUATED EARLY ON THE MERITS OF EXTREME ANXIETY AND PANIC ATTACKS AND WENT ON TO MY FRESHMAN YEAR IN THE LOONY BIN.
CG: MAJORING IN BEING A USELESS FUCK. IT’S A NATURAL TALENT.
TC: aW BrO.
Under a cut for content and length. Mind the tags, y’all.
You’re eight years old and your alarm clock says it’s time to eat breakfast, but when you raid the fridge there’s a bunch of stuffed animals crowded inside, cold balls of plush that look like giant cartoon dicks and butts lining the shelves and spilling onto the floor when the door opens.
:33 < *wonders what a purrson is supposed to do when a nice friend says rude things*
:33 < *especially when they dont make any sense and probably werent even really talking to you*
:33 < murrrrr….
You’ve been around the room five times already and you can’t find the fucking door. It’s not your eyes—well, maybe it is, maybe you’re finally going blind the way you used to have nightmares about, but that’s not the whole problem.
Like, the door’s not where it should be. Your turntables aren’t where they should be. The pile of shitty swords he bought off some otaku bullshit website isn’t where it should be. Bro’s studio equipment, shrine to Rainbow Dash and various milk crates full of movie props are gone. The novelty purple unicorn dong with the sparkles and the suction cup that winds up wobbling away in the center of the coffee table most weekends is nowhere to be seen. You’re vaguely unsettled by this because that fucker travels. You make a mental note to check the shower before you step in tomorrow morning, if there even is a shower tomorrow morning.
Okay, so Bro cleaned the apartment. Fine. But who’s coming over that’s so tight-assed about the decor that he’d need to empty the place out? He’s had a couple girlfriends like that before, the type who’ll fuck him on the couch but the minute you go stomping through the living room on your way to the kitchen and grumble at them to keep the ironic anime noises down, they get all bent out of shape. Or more bent out of shape, in the case of that redhead contortionist chick who always called you David. David, what the fuck, that isn’t even on your birth certificate. Maybe she went whining to somebody once she pulled her ankles out of her fashion mullet.
Bluh. You just plain do not get Bro sometimes. Most of the time.
Okay okay all of the time but you’re going off into a tangent here, stop that. Just find the goddamn door and you can go back to your room where shit is likely to be where it belongs.
Still no door. Fuck, the walls don’t even have posters anymore. There’s no smudged window with a cheery view of the laundry-line bedecked rooftops of Houston’s finest housing project.
You start to be afraid, for the hundredth time, that he might have packed up and left while you were sleeping. Which is stupid. You’d have heard him boxing up his studio and unbolting the TV from the wall. You’re a light sleeper. You definitely would have noticed someone coming in to remove a whole window and oh yeah the fucking door to your bedroom.
Wait, how did you get out here without a door? Shit’s getting surreal. Is this is a dream? You’d pinch yourself but you are fairly sure you signed a stupid contract about not doing that, or something.
“Hey asshole,” you finally call, trying to sound casual. He’s probably lurking somewhere waiting for you to give up. “Points for follow-through, but I’m not really getting the joke.”
“Dave?” a female voice comes from behind you. Somebody managed to sneak up on you in your own apartment? How embarrassing.
“Did you just say something, Dave?”
She doesn’t look like a cleaning lady or a furniture mover, and she’s definitely not one of the suits from the county. Short Asian girl, kind of scruffy. She has that itty bitty build that makes the weeaboos cream their unwashed jeans. Oh fucking god, it’s one of Bro’s novelty chicks who stick around way longer than strictly necessary. And check it out, she’s a furry, too. She’s got a headband with blue monster fur cat ears sticking off it.
“Jesus fucking christ,” you groan, more to yourself than to the girfriend. “Where does he dig you people up?”
“What are you, ten? Is he fucking you or babysitting you?” Or both, you don’t add. There’s hilariously transgressive, and there’s creepy and disgusting.
“Huh?” she says again. Master conversationalist, this one. He sure can pick ‘em.
You shake your head. Never really worth asking, you don’t care, you have bigger shit to attend to. “Never mind. Is my brother around?”
“You mean your older brother?” She asks, hesitating a little. You try to focus on her face, maybe try to figure out how old she really is, but the harder you try, the blurrier it all gets.
“No, my siamese twin. The one I keep him in a fucking basket and he gets out and eats people. Keep the fuck up, lady, he gets bored faster when they’re dumb.”
“Dave…” the girlfriend says, “You’re kind of scaring me.”
“You should see what he keeps in the fucking broom closet.” You get ready to call her Mom, that always freaks them out, but your heart wouldn’t be in it, so you take the path of least resistance and just go back to searching your apartment.
“Maybe…. Maybe you should go back to your room?” Girlfriend asks, all fidgeting and looking at the floor.
“Yeah, that was sort of the plan until somebody stole my christing door.” you wave her off. “That’s some straight up ninja twilight zone shit, even for him. Let me guess, he left you here with a hidden camera. All smug in the hallway recording my confused flailing so he can send it to America’s Funniest Home Abortions and try for the fifty thousand dollar grand prize. Lame, lady. Go back to the club and find someone who knows a D20 from a dildo this time. You do not belong here.”
“I don’t have a camera!” the furry scowls. “Want me to show you the way I got in here?”
You think about this for way too long. “Sure, take me backstage of the magic show. I’m suddenly genuinely curious for no discernible reason whatsoever.”
“Okay.” The furry takes your hand like you’re five years old instead of twelve. Wait. Ten? No, twelve. You are definitely twelve. She leads you down the hallway that should open on the kitchen but it goes somewhere else instead. There’s a desk and a blonde lady sitting behind it where your refrigerator should be. She looks up.
“Dave!” She says. “Nice to see you out and about. And you too, Nepeta. Taking a stroll?”
“I’m just taking Dave back to his room.” Girlfriend says. “Is that okay?”
“That’s fine,” Desk Lady says. “Stay in the hallway.”
“Kay! C’mon, Dave.”
You remember Desk Lady’s name as soon as you’re past the desk and heading up the insanely bright hallway. Penelope. The night something at St. Lobaf, which is, you realize, a thing that exists.
You disengage your hand from Nepeta’s—How could you mistake her, of all people, for one of Bro’s bubbleheads? “Which room’s mine again?”
“That one in there.” She points at a doorway. You go through, anticipating a rain of stuffed animals but of course there’s nothing, Bro’s not here and this isn’t your apartment.
On one side of the room is your stuff, right where you left it. The other side is empty and the bed is made up with the hospital corner anal retentive care that just plain screams Karkat “Ballfondling Cumslurping But No Homo” Vantas. His pillow is crooked and there is a fuzzy yellow and magenta lump sticking out just a little from underneath.
“Dave?” Nepeta stands in the doorway, tapping on the frame with one hand. She sounds nervous.
“Sup.” You’re meant to be on strike and not talking to anyone, but fuck it, it’s Nepeta. She’s pretty much adorable, and you’re very relieved she’s never been to your actual apartment.
“Ummm. Nothing! Bye!” She scampers off on her tiptoes, still not breaking five feet tall, and her overlarge green coat goes WHUMP behind her.
My dearest Rose,
I was quite astonished to receive your letter last week. I had begun to wonder if you might have misplaced the address, and was considering sending you a reminder via text message. Of course, I immediately realized that you may not be permitted the use of personal devices in a psychiatric institution.
No offense intended, dear, if the administrators of your latest residence have chosen a more euphemistic term for such a facility. You know how old-fashioned I am in matters of political correctness. Polite fiction was always more your father’s domain than mine.
Your school friends have been to visit several times, asking where you’ve gone. Naturally I smoothed things over for you and let on you are traveling in Europe with a long-absent relative, and may not return for some weeks. I took the liberty of spreading this tale among family to save on embarrassment and to spare your grandmother’s heart the distress, although I substituted a mysterious school friend for your travel partner.
Your grandmother has, by the way, asked me to pass along her best wishes for an exciting journey and a triumphant return home. Do write again and let me know if I need to pick you up. I’ll have a car sent straight away. We may need to purchase souvenirs to maintain the illusion, but of course I’ll leave their selection to you.
With all my love,
P.S. The Dickinson boy paid a visit on Tuesday. He’s such a nice boy to still think of you after all this time. I told him you were overseas and he was quite disappointed. I also took the liberty of copying down his phone number in case you’d like to call him and set something up once you’re finished with your program.
Your name is Rose Lalonde, and you just figured out why you drink so much.
So you’re in Europe now! Of course you are, how civilized! To your left, Gamzee Makara is smearing paste on the back of his hand and picking it off to make zombie blisters. He’s as old world as they come, much like the bubonic plague that appears to have inspired his glue decorations. Next to him, Nepeta Leijon is drawing something in various shades of red and green crayon, singing something with a lot of “nyans” in it. You are fairly sure it’s Japanese, which is a shame. It breaks the European theme you were driving at with this metaphorical glance around the craft room.
In a corner chair, Sollux Captor has curled himself into a little angular ball like a wadded up piece of cardstock. The angry expression he sported all day yesterday has sagged into a mask of disinterest. You have no idea what has him so snippy, but it’s all part of the multicultural experience. You decide to assign him Germany, for no reason whatsoever. A moment later Karkat Vantas invades, storms over to the corner and begins shouting at Sollux, and you think, ah, trouble in paradise. He has the dreadful stuffed bee again, and as you watch, he slams it into Mr. Captor’s midsection. Sollux grabs the bee, gives Karkat a filthy look and then they’re off.
What country would Karkat be? America, probably. The United States, invading the break room—sorry, Europe—and bombing it to ashes with his vulgarities and outrage. It’s almost funny.
Kanaya enters the rec room, all green and gold today with her hair slicked back with two little curled locks flush with the skin of her forehead, ducks a flying stuffed animal with perfect ninja grace, and ends the argument between America and Germany with her usual measured irritation. She’s no country at all. She’s just Kanaya, wherever your imagination puts her. Bossy boots, you think, and grin for the first time all day.
That nice Dickinson boy, you think, returning to the letter. That nice, thoughtful Dickinson boy with his shy smile and his clear skin and his heinously bungled attempt to pull off Highway 19 and woo you the hard way on your way back from a movie. It was the one and only time you allowed him to take you out and you honestly have no idea why you did it. He was a perfect gentlemen until his seat belt came off and his fingers turned out to be clammy and trembling, like two hairless white bats skittering up the back of your shirt. Two nos elicited only crack-voiced whining before you smacked him in the face, wrapped yourself in your shawl and walked the rest of the way back home with him trailing behind you and calling out the window with his brights on.
He apologized to your mother, for God’s sake. Of course she adores him.
You look back down at the perfumed mess of ivory paper and think about all the things you’d like to write in your reply. Things you can’t write, because there are rules for this sort of thing. The first person to drop the pretense loses, so you’re forced to simmer instead. The lavender fountain pen handwriting on the envelope is perfectly metered, extravagant with the finishing school flourish that infests the fairer sex of your family. In the Lalonde household, you take long vacations to places you never actually visit and come back strung out and smelling of hospital soap. You do your secret drinking in a chilled walk-in pantry the size of some people’s apartments, smearing fifty dollar lipstick across sparkling stemware with your well-scrubbed pinky finger cantilevered.
Kanaya watches Karkat trudge back out the door. She hands Sollux his recently jettisoned bee and sends him grumbling but pacified back to his corner chair. She joins you a moment later and sits across the small table with a sigh.
“I know this is a madhouse, Rose, but these people are insane.” And when she rolls her eyes, you smile again, and drop the letter back onto the table.
Dear Mother, you think, Have decided I quite like Europe. Think I may stay. Yours in passive-aggressive shrewishness, Rosie.
You only manage to break off one stem and crack the left lens down the middle before Zahhak is on you like a huge damp police dog. Not that there’s any fight left in you. Two seconds after you stomped the life out of your two hundred dollar shades, you’re not sure why you even did it. You decide it’s one of those ironic teen angst breakdowns like in a shitty afterschool special. Is Dave Performing An Acrobatic Fucking Pirouette Off The Handle?
Survey says “sproing.”
There’s a little blank space, one of the ones where you know time’s passing but nothing much is going on worth remembering later, and you’re tucked up in a recliner into the comfort room in your favorite pajamas, the pink flannel ones with the hearts all over them. And your fuzzy hospital issue socks with the traction on the bottom to keep you from slipping around like a panty-clad Tom Cruise on a hardwood floor. The right sock is kinda lumpy.
Someone’s turned the lights way down and put some piano music on the overhead sound system. You have no idea who picked the music since you sure as hell didn’t, but it’s cool. Bro plays piano sometimes back home. Egbert practices in the dayroom. This place doesn’t really go with your artistic vision of an afterschool special breakdown, which you decide is likely the point.
A shelf full of stupid cartoony stuffed animals and a camera mounted high in the corner of the room conspire to stare down at you, which is no big deal. You’ve been doing a lot of staring down at yourself lately. Always starting trends, that’s Dave Strider.
Your foot hurts, probably.
The first time you hear the name “Mindfang” you think she’s joking. Nobody would name their daughter Mindfang. But she shows you her driver’s license and it’s right there.
“I changed it,” she says, and grins. “You can do that if you have sixty bucks and a shitty birth name to get rid of.” You wince when she says the S-word, but you won’t say anything. You are in awe of this woman.
She dropped out of the sky last week like some kind of crazy Mary Poppins, back from Singapore or Bora-Bora or wherever she’s been this year, took your mother out for endless lunches and shopping while he sat in his recliner and gave them both smoldering looks that made your stomach lurch. They never had any packages when they’d get home. Your mother kept shooting you nervous little glances at dinner that first night, and Mindfang made a point of staring at him from across the table until he dropped his eyes first.
Mindfang wasn’t afraid of anything.
She didn’t take you anywhere the first few days. “I’m gonna catch up with my sis first,” she said. “You’ll get your turn, Vee.”
She called you Vee. She called you Vee and she smiled.
After a few days, your mom started jumping at little noises. He wasn’t giving her any trouble, which you thought should make her happy, but it didn’t. Maybe when Mindfang left she figured he’d get her back. He didn’t want her around, this stranger your mom never talked about before she appeared on your doorway and shook his hand with a grip as strong as his and announced she was going to stay for a week, and handed him a suitcase to find a place for it.
And he took it, that’s the weirdest thing.
He took it and she stepped through the doorway without being invited, brushed right past him and gave him a stiff shoulder that made him edge out of her way.
You watched all this from the kitchen table where you were doing your homework. Your mouth must have been hanging open because she greeted you with a hearty “You’ll catch flies, kiddo.”
This woman who looked just like a younger, prettier version of your mother had the power to make those meaty scar-knuckled fists of his clench helplessly at his sides. You could barely believe it.
The car turns onto a private drive and you watch this giant decaying mansion approach. It’s covered in ivy and the yard has turned into a giant snarl of brush and weeds. No one has lived here for a very long time, you think.
“It’s not much, but it’s home,” she says. “C’mon, let’s shoot the shit a while.”
You push your wad of hair out of your eyes and unbuckle your seatbelt. When you help her take her groceries out of the trunk, you feel dim and smudged next to her. Your polyester sweatpants and t-shirt with a picture of two yarn-batting cats feels babyish and uglier than ever.
Your aunt Mindfang, by contrast, is packed into a black leather jacket, a t-shirt with some oriental symbols on it, and a tight frayed pair of blue jeans. Her collar has little spikes on it like something a devil worshipper might wear, except she’s not really a devil worshipper. You asked about it yesterday, stammering and refusing to look right at her, and she laughed herself hoarse before she showed you her cross tattoo, which made you blush because it was on her behind. But obviously devil worshippers don’t get cross tattooes. And she’s nice. So she’s got to be okay.
Even your shoes don’t seem to fit right next to how she walks in her boots.
“Get the door, Vee,” Mindfang says, and you do. She goes in sideways with both arms full of bags. Her house is huge, dark, and cold. Like some giant attic where the dust falls like snow and the spiders get to be the size of blind creeping dogs.
“What do you think?” she asks, and drops everything in the foyer. You think it’s a foyer, anyway. You’ve never lived anywhere that had a foyer, but you’ve read about them.
You boggle at the place instead of answering. She’s used to this by now and nods. “Yeah, I like it too. The inside’s even better, so move your ass before my ice cream melts.”
She has the foulest mouth.
After the frozen things are tossed into the chest freezer and she’s got the coffee on, she sits you down at the dusty table in the dining room (she has a dining room too) to shoot the you-know-what. She offers you a mug and you take it because you suddenly feel deliciously naughty and even though you are 100% certain it is illegal to drink coffee before you’re 18, no one is watching but Mindfang, and she’s the one offering.
It’s steaming and smells awful. She sees the face you make and snorts like a horse. ”Take it black, kiddo, that’s how the cowboys do it. Put some hair on your fucking chest, then Nair it right back off again.” She snickers and pokes the mug with one long spider-thin fingertip, nudging it an inch closer to you to make a point. She grins.
You play with your coffee. It’s way too hot to drink.
“Your mom never told you about me, huh?” Mindfang says, breaking a silence you kind of hoped would go on and on forever. “Color me surprised.”
You nod through a haze of coffee steam. Your aunt lights a cigarette with a snap of her gleaming silver lighter (it has a naked woman on it) and gives you an amused raise of one sculpted black eyebrow when you wince at the sight of. Her eyes are very blue and very wicked.
“Well, here’s the deal, Vee. She got in touch a month or two ago and we’ve been talking back and forth, mostly about you. And, you know. That walking testicle she married.”
Your mouth falls open with no words to tumble out.
“Well, he is.” she shrugs. “I know my big sister. What she’s like. I didn’t have high hopes when she got in touch, but holy shit, Vee.” She blows out a blue cloud from the side of her blue-painted lips and her eyes go hard. “Bitch scraped so hard to get your Dad there’s still splinters from the bottom of that barrel scattered all the fuck over your trailer floor.” She downs her coffee like it’s December-chilly and sweet as honey, and sets down her empty mug without looking at it.
“So much for all the trouble and pain in the ass waiting for the shithead to go and stroke out—which he did, might I add, on your mom’s fifteenth fucking birthday. Personally I think it was the best present he could have given us, but of course she cried for a week. Wah, my piece of shit dad’s fat ass fell down a six-foot garbage pit. Wah.”
Aunt Mindfang shakes her head in disgust.
“Nothing to do but go replace him with an upgraded model, right? And hey, why not have a kid? A fucking kid.” She makes a dismissive gesture at the word kid. The hand holding the cigarette dances around, and the smoke follows her around in broken little loops. “I bailed before that, though, so maybe I’m missing the finer points of fairytale romance or something. She’s never talked about any of that, huh?”
You croak out a no.
“That’s my sister.”
You bite your lip and stare down at the table. The coffee mugs are white and blank, something she got at a dollar store, something good enough to last however long she stays here in the decaying family home before she gives up and flies off to live her real life again. Left behind to collect dust like the rest of this mausoleum.
That mug, burning inside but nothing showing on the outside but steam. All it does is give people something to drink, and get dirty. You feel like that all the time now.
“I’d pity her, but life is too fucking short. Weak people dig their own graves, that’s what I think. Sucks but that’s reality.” Contempt turns her voice into a bark, and you are terribly lost and empty in those words. This is your mother she’s talking about, your own mother, your mom—
“Kiddo,” your aunt says, relentless. “Anybody fucked you yet?”
Your eyes drop to the table. Your face is burning and you can’t look at her perfect face, the way she’s making you feel tiny and cheap and weak. You’ve been awestruck by this woman, even a little scared, since she first appeared in your life, but now you’re also a little bit angry at her too.
Not that you would ever show it.
One day a few weeks ago, in study hall, one of the desks in the back was vandalized. You sat there on purpose, in case God was watching and testing you.
Somebody had carved the word SLUT into the wood of your desk, hard and deep and jagged. Carved it sharp and hard into the surface like they were attacking something they hated. You couldn’t take your eyes off the desk surface, your fingers off the tiny scars in the wood. There was still a little bit of sawdust in the wounds. All that anger with nowhere to go but through a pocket knife, scarring a perfectly good desk, making it dirty.
“Might as well get ready for it when it happens.” Her voice is casual. Blank. “Because that’s what life is about. Getting fucked and fucking other people. All you can do is decide how much you like it. But what the hell do I know?”
Tears are not forming in your eyes. You blink to prove it, and do not meet her gaze.
“Seems to me you like it fine, and that’s your business, Vee, you do what you want. You’re the one who has to live with it. You gonna drink that before I take you home or what?”
You sneak a glance at her when she tosses her hair back over her shoulder, and in a tiny snapshot before you look back down again, you see the way her lips are twisted into a contemptuous little line. You’ll think about this later, how it made her look kind of ugly. And how you’re pretty sure it’s somehow your fault .
You hate yourself for your secret little fantasy of coming to live with Aunt Mindfang and having her teach you how to be the kind of person nobody slaps around, having her for your mother instead of your mom.
It was only a tiny moment of wish fulfillment, but now the fantasy rises up in your mind and mocks you. What a baby you are, what a naive little baby sitting here at the table pretending to be a grown woman while the real thing puts up with you, that’s all she’s doing, putting up with you before she dashes off back to her own world where people aren’t pathetic and stupid and weak.
Leaving you behind like the empty kitchen, like this table, which doesn’t have anything carved in it, but you sitting here at all is an act of vandalism.
Your coffee smokes and you feel the burn through the mug with your bitten-down fingers, too stubby to ever compare to hers, but at least it’s not as hot as your face right now. You pick it up in both hands, refusing to think about what you’re about to do.
One deep breath later, you force yourself to meet her gaze, wanting to look anywhere else but so full of hard edges and the need to scream that you dredge up something from the bottom of your churning heart, something hard and sharp and alive, and you let your eyes go hard from the inside out and you keep the eye contact without wavering. You drink the coffee down to the bottom of the mug.
It tastes more horrible than it smells, bitter and ashtray-blunt and thin and toxic. It burns the whole way down your throat and you would love nothing more in your life than to spit it out, but you’re in the grip of something here. It goes down like lava, like fire burning away everything inside, searing down past your tongue, scorching it into a buzzing carpet of pain, then down into the hollow chaos in your belly. Driving away the feelings you can’t name. Sterilizing, wiping everything out, erasing.
It takes a thousand years to drink that coffee, and you think, shit goddamn fuck it hurts it hurts.
And you think, good.
Mindfang gives you a single, almost imperceptible nod as you thunk the empty coffee cup back down to the dusty table. You finally drop your eyes, but not before you catch the twitch of a smirk on the corner of her lovely lips.
You wonder what color she paints her nails, and whether you could find the same color in a store if you looked.
Mama D says you’re too persnickety about how you make your bed. You like to make sure the duvet’s folded over right at the pillow, so when you get into bed you can fluff it up into a cocoon and your shoulders won’t be bare. Yes, it’s strange that sometimes you have to do this over and over again to get it exactly right, but it’s worth the effort to make that little voice in the back of your head stop whining about the wrong position of the duvet and let you sleep.
To pull on the duvet, to simply drag it up to the perfect length to cover you up to your neck, would be unthinkable. You still think about it, wishing it were so easy. You’d like to go to sleep without worrying, but those days are behind you.
You lie in bed anxious and annoyed by your new bookcases because they lean very slightly towards one another. The very slight gap between the two is not precisely the same width at the top as the bottom. Once you notice this, there’s no avoiding what comes next. You’re on your way out the door but you hang your bag on the doorknob, find a shim in the hardware cupboard (which you organized again yesterday, and in your defense, it was sorely needed), and fix the lean, you can think of nothing else.
This takes an hour to do properly, making sweat dampen the hair at the nape of your neck, which you just styled ten minutes ago, and the bending and lifting and bending and lifting to get the shim in the right spot leaves you sweaty and annoyed, and you have to take another shower and change your clothes and do your hair again, and all of this makes you miss your morning classes. Mama D tries to help with your hair but she wears hers natural and doesn’t know how to get it the way you like it.
This is starting to be a problem.
Your afternoon classes are a challenge. Contemporary YA lit sounds easy enough. You took it out of genuine interest, to balance out the joyless government and politics course you need for the credits. It’s not easy at all. Nothing is easy for you.
You take notes in ink, writing in neat and precise cursive, double spacing between lines, respecting the margins at all times. This week your professor is walking the class through a frankly over-ambitious feminist-perspective analysis of the third book of the Twilight series, which is not a personal favorite.
It should be simple, but you end up with five nearly identical pages of unfinished notes, each one a failure. They had to be discarded. You would not need to do it over and over again if you could dot your fucking “i” properly. There is an upside to this repetition: by the time you’ve gotten it right, you no longer need the notes. It’s unfortunate that you end up missing half the lecture while you are rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. You decide to get that new laptop as soon as your tax refund comes through. Typing is so much easier. You can cheat on the margins and every “i” will look the same.
Then you think about how your last laptop met its end, and reconsider.
You drop the class because you can’t keep up. You feel so stupid. You feel so defeated. It’s Twilight, and it’s conquered you. You can’t imagine what a semester of Anne Rice would have done to your soul.
Four months later you drive ten miles to pick up the special food for your cat. She has allergies, and is getting on in years. It takes you three hours.
You know you haven’t hit anyone with your car. You know you haven’t. You would have seen it. You would have felt it. But you have to check, because you can’t risk it.
The next year, you’re tweezing out eyelashes that grow crooked. You are arranging your food in precise portions on your plate, doing your chores over three or four times to get them right, crying in the bathroom over the chapped leather of your hands. You moisturize, but it’s not enough because you wash it right back off again ten minutes later.
Your knuckles weep blood in dry weather from the washing and the ragged bitten edges of your cuticles become pink-brown-red sores from the bleach you’ve begun using to clean everything you own.
It’s not about germs. It’s never about germs. It’s just dirty, and the dirt won’t wash away until you do it right.
You can’t sew a straight line anymore. You screw it up and have to do it again and again until your fine seams are a perforated mess. You could hide the little holes, let them wash out or wear out smooth when the dress is finished. No one would notice except for you.
You box it all up instead, your entire sewing room, right down to the needles stuck in the squishy tomato, arranged so they all point straight at the center. They’re very carefully positioned because if you don’t take care, it means you don’t love Mama D.
You’re not sure why, but it occurred to you last week that you could do this little thing to keep her safe, so you could stop worrying about whether she’ll have another heart attack. It’s the least you can do, even if it makes no sense at all.
What if God sees you grudging such a tiny gesture of faith? He might think you aren’t willing to make even such a small sacrifice. He might already know how faithless you are, fussing about such a tiny thing as a show of love.
Not that you really know there is a Heavenly Father watching over you. But what if he’s testing you? It makes no sense. You’re a decent person, except your monstrous thoughts and the way your head fills with the urge to scream blasphemies in the middle of Young Women. But if you’re so decent, why would you want to do that? You don’t want to do that. But no, something in you does.
You drop out of college. You’re getting sick again. You’re crying in the shower, crying in bed at night, your perfect bed with the smooth sheets where you can’t sleep for the worrying and worrying and worrying.
You stop driving. Every time you’re on the road, you worry you’ll jerk the wheel and crash into oncoming traffic and kill someone who never deserved it. Your spirit is full of unworthy thoughts, ash-gray ruins of a thousand beautiful dresses you’ll never be able to sew. You’re not good enough, and you will never be good enough, and just like that you’re throwing up again, getting compliments you don’t want for the lost weight shed for the wrong reason. No matter how much of yourself you lose, it will never be enough. You have been here before. You have been through the treatment. You know the sneaky way it gets into your head and takes over. You know what will happen if you relapse. You can’t handle the ED and this chattering horror to fight over control of your mind.
You are going crazy.
Crazy. The word follows you around, taunting you and making your stomach do slow flips whenever you try to ignore the nonsense worry and the commands from inside your brain that never quite drive away the thoughts.
You give up.
Three months later your world has shrunk to your bedroom and the short hallway that leads the bathroom. Mama D tries to get you to come downstairs and eat something every day, without fail, but you’re not hungry. She makes you eat and stays with you so you won’t throw up and says you’re going to waste away, have a stroke and end up brain-dead.
You’re starting to be less horrified by the idea.
Your friends call and call, first to ask your advice and then to give their own to you. You do your best to shift the focus back onto them, because no matter how tangled your own head gets, you’re an excellent shoulder to cry on, and it’s a distraction.
Even your ex calls, still wanting to be friends, as if that’s ever going to be enough when what you want is her. It doesn’t matter anyway, because you stop answering the phone. There’s no point using more energy to fuss over other people when you can’t fix yourself.
Your younger brothers take over your part of the housework and tending your garden. They don’t complain, but you feel terrible for not being able to do it yourself. You are better than this.
Mama D finally puts her foot down. Nothing spectacular precedes this, no meltdown or tantrum or dramatic revelation. She just knocks on your door one morning, barges in without waiting for you to invite her, sits beside you on the bed, and lays down the law.
Kanaya, she says, I love you but I don’t know what to do.
I know, you say. You put your book down on the bed and look at your hands in your lap, feeling small and petty and crazy. It’s not your fault.
Not yours either, she says. Your dad and I think you need to get some help again, baby girl.
I don’t want to go back to the clinic, you say. You burst into tears. You can’t help it.
It’s going to get worse, Mama D says, and I can’t watch you go through it again. My heart can’t take the stress.
You apologize and apologize, but you know being sorry won’t be enough. If she dies, you will have killed her. Those awful weeks at the clinic, learning to respect food and your body, learning to look into a mirror without wanting to disappear and stop taking up space, were the lowest point in your life. But was it as bad as what you’re living with now? You’re not sure.
So you say okay, because you would never do this for yourself, but you can’t bear to break your mother’s heart.
It’s a courtroom like in the movies, only smaller. There’s a jury box, but it’s empty. Only about four of the seats are filled, all at the front, when Dave and Terezi enter.
A lady sits at a small desk typing something into a laptop. The judge’s podium is empty. A few minutes of echoing silence later, the lawyers start filing in. The bald one with the roll of fat on the back of his neck is Bro’s attorney. The brown-haired lady in the gray slacks is also a social worker. A third guy, this one taller and skinny, comes in and joins the others. They cluster together, speaking quietly with solemn faces. Terezi leans close to Dave’s ear and says something, but he misses exactly what it is because his ears are ringing to the beat of his pulse. At least he’s having one of his good vision days. Usually he can’t keep his eyes on anything for more than a second without it jerking around, but it seems like the spazzing is slower today. This is weird because usually stress makes it worse, not better.
The child advocate comes in next. She’s a short heavyset black lady with a thousand little gold and black braids swinging around her face. She wears a gold and green dress and lots of bangle bracelets, and reminds him a little bit of an older, sadder-looking Kanaya. He wishes Kanaya were his ad litem instead. Not-Kanaya isn’t a bad lady. He’s come to believe she genuinely means well, but the real Kanaya would understand.
Not-Kanaya joins the lawyers in their cluster.
Dave realizes with a start that all of these people are here today because of him. Then he feels stupid for only just now thinking about that, about how he’s in all these people’s lives right now, these strangers he’s never even talked to. It just doesn’t seem real.
Terezi explained a little bit about what to expect as they sat through the long ride to the city. It’s more bullshit along the lines of the first hearing, which he would really rather not think about. With all the same faces showing up again it’s a bit like time is folding back on itself.
He feels like any minute now they’re going to bring out Bro and start talking about how he’s an unfit parent and how Dave needs all this treatment so let’s send him to a residential clinic and pick his brain!
Everyone has problems. Why are his such a huge fucking deal?
But it’s not the same hearing, he has to keep remembering that. Bro’s leaving jail, he’s not going to fuck up his probation, and all they have to do is prove he’s not going to beat Dave’s face in the minute they’re alone together. Then he can come get Dave signed out as his actual for-real guardian, and they can go back to the way things were. He might even say goodbye to everyone at St. Lobaf somewhere in between the part where he grabs his bag off the bed and the part where he leaps into the back of Bro’s shitty oil-leaking Thunderbird like a pack of rabid dickwolves are gnashing at his heels.
He’ll even put up with the social worker coming over to check up on them. Maybe there’s even an upside to that part—Bro will have to stay home more, and stop bringing home the skeevier of his various girlfriends.
The child advocate will be representing him during the actual hearing, since he’s a minor with a bullshit diagnosis that says he can’t speak in his own defense (even though he totally can, now that he’s talking again, and that will come later). He only gets to sit in on the first bit and watch them set up, then they’ll send him out with Equius and Terezi will do her testimony thing and answer questions. He’ll be meeting with the judge and his ad litem at the end, in private, and present his own case. He’s not required to field any bullshit accusations this time, and no one will make him say anything in front of Bro that he doesn’t want to.
He’s a little bit relieved and a lot offended by how little of this he gets to control. With all the things they kept bringing up at the first hearing where they assigned him to Not-Kanaya, it was really hard not to just do a flip off the fucking handle. Some of it was sort of true, but they kept saying everything wrong. They made it sound so bad.
But this time he knows how it works. This time he’s come prepared. These months of being a ward of the court, he’s been very careful what he’s said to anyone involved. He’s avoided talking about anything that could be twisted around and used against him, even to Terezi, who is technically his greatest ally here.
The first couple of months, he didn’t talk at all. He was on strike because he knew they’d use anything he said to build the case against him and Bro. Okay, yeah, he had grudgingly admitted the place was a mess, maybe too much of a mess. But it’s not against the law to have a dirty apartment. Then the attorney asked about other stuff, and it got harder and harder to talk because it sounded wrong. It got so his own voice sounded like someone else. Then bam, the needle skipped across the record right there in front of everybody and next thing he knew he was halfway through answering a whole different question.
They get you to answer the little easy ones first, he thinks. Like, do you go to school, how do you like your teachers. Then when you’re lulled into answering the little questions, they turn around and ask, have you ever seen your brother making his movies?
He stopped paying attention to the porn shit years ago. It’s just a bunch of people fucking and looking like morons, gosh, how shocking. How totally immoral. Just because there’s this attitude that sex is a bad thing, the attorney homes right in on the topic and chips away at it in front of everybody. He says, why should he care what Bro does for a living? Someone has to pay to keep the goddamn lights on. It’s not selling crack on the corner. Nobody gets hurt. Nobody makes Dave look. He doesn’t even like it, so who gives a shit?
Which was maybe, in retrospect, a bad answer.
Nobody’s family is perfect, he keeps saying, but they’ll just find a way to twist anything he gives them around, make it into another piece of evidence. Nah, fuck that. He’s going home. He’s been playing it cool all this time, waiting for the hearing, watching what he says. No complaining, no whining, no volunteering any information, putting on his cool face.
He’s said not a single word they can hold up against Bro. Dave’s already screwed him over enough by mouthing off. So yeah. He’s been careful.
Equius is two seats back, a looming silence, reminding Dave that there’s just no absconding from this. He doesn’t mind. Not only did he come prepared, but Terezi has his back. She’s cool, for a tool of the Antichrist. They’ll sit in, he’ll see Bro, then they go to the little room and wait while his advocate and Terezi answer questions for about three million years. She’ll give testimony about how well he’s been doing, how he’s talking again and participating in sessions. Probably the thing where he burns himself will come up, but that’s not her fault. She just doesn’t get it. It’s not like they can pin that on anyone but Dave himself. He’s already nuts, right? So he gets a shrink when they release him, and maybe that’s cool. Maybe he can keep coming to see Terezi every week. He’d probably be cool with that. He does have some problems. Maybe if he’s safe to talk to her without having to watch his mouth, she can help fix him.
He keeps expecting them to bring Bro in wearing an orange jumpsuit and shackles, but when he’s brought in through the side door he’s got a dark blue suit on and he walks like a free man. His hair’s combed and he’s taken off his shades. A bailiff stands nearby but doesn’t loom. Bro’s been released already, and he’s looking good. Dave waits to see if Bro will wave at him, but he just gives him one solemn little nod, hardly more than a tilt of the head, and sits with his attorney.
The judge comes in after Bro, entering from a different door. It’s the same white-haired old dude from the first hearing, but he’s looking significantly less pissy. He shuffles through some paper on his podium, beckons the lawyers over for another interminable chat, and takes his time before he calls the room to order.
Once all the niceties are over and everyone’s been acknowledged and sworn in, it’s time for the mouthpieces to start nattering on about how they’re at the end of the term decided at the last hearing, and now it’s time to decide whether to extend the arrangement for another six months or stick a fork in this entire case so everyone can go home. Equius escorts Dave to the waiting room. It’s too warm and smells like old cigarette ashes. Equius doesn’t have anything to say, and Dave is tasting metal every time he tongues the inside of his cheek now, so the silence gets uncomfortable fast.
They sit like that at the little table, and Equius pulls out his tiny pink smartphone and starts trying to type on the little keypad with his enormous meaty thumbs. There are little blurry smears of pink in the corners of his fingernails. Is that the telltale sign of hastily removed nail polish he spies?
Why Mr. Zahhak, you pretty princess you. Dave huffs a silent laugh and feels his tension ebb a bit.
Everyone’s got a sick mind. That’s what he’d like to tell the judge. Everyone’s got their dirty little secrets.
Even the good guys are hiding stuff.
Dave’s got a suit, nothing special, just this black jacket and trousers setup with the red tie Kanaya gave him. He figures no one will notice the blue ink stain on the shirt pocket if he keeps the jacket buttoned. He chooses the red chucks since he doesn’t have dress shoes and they at least match the tie.
One last look in the mirror and yeah, okay. He cleans up good. his hair’s combed and his nails are trimmed. He gets up close so he can focus on his reflection and confirms that no, there’s nothing hanging out of his nose. Good deal.
If he can’t be sane, he can at least be fashionable.
Nepeta helps him tie his tie in the rec room while he waits for Terezi. Dave never learned to do it for himself, and Bro always says clip-on anythings are a blight on humanity. He has to sort of kneel down on a rec room chair while she stands behind him and does esoteric things with her hands until the knot is shaped right.
“How do I look?” he stands up and strikes a cool pose. She adjusts the tie one final time, standing in front of him now. As usual, she’s on her tiptoes. Even with the height boost she barely comes up to his shoulders.
“Like in a spy movie.” She smiles and this close up he can see her eyes scrunch shut. She is just about the most adorable thing since sliced bread. Or does he mean a basket of kittens? Sliced kittens?
He is so fucking nervous right now he can’t even think straight.
It’s taking everything he’s got to stay in his head. Every time he gets vague he bites the inside of his cheek and that helps, but what he really wants to do is abscond the fuck out of this place. He’ll miss Nepeta and maybe Rose (snarky broad has really grown on him) and possibly the guys too, but today’s the last day he will ever be on this side of the loonybin wall with them.
He doesn’t think about what Bro wrote in that last letter. He absolutely, definitely does not think about it. That letter? Not a thing that happened. He tore that shit up like it was sassing his (fictional) mama, and now everything is fine and he’s about to go kick some chubby child protective services meddler ass. Fuck yeah.
Karkat and Sollux wander past the doorway, doing that weird hatefriend bonding thing they’ve fallen into in the past few weeks. Sollux is explaining his lanthanum beehive computer thing with escalating irritation, and Karkat is laughing his ass off and calling him names. This will go on for the next hour until someone starts crying. The two of them duck into the rec room long enough to tell Dave to kick some ass at the hearing. Everybody’s giving him a lot of space today, except Nepeta. Even Kanaya, who sewed his tie during her day-trip home last week (“For good luck”) has been strangely formal with him.
Ten minutes til go-time and Terezi comes tapping in, wearing jeans and a button-up shirt in various garish colors. She gives his leg a playful prod with the cane she doesn’t really need when she’s on the ward, and says “Are you ready to go, coolkid?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Are you seriously going to wear that?”
“I have prepared an argument in support of my clothing choices, Dave. To wit: the psychiatrist of the defendant’s younger brother sees no fashion. She’s blind, remember?”
Dave snorts. “Whatever gets you through the day, Doc. I don’t judge.”
“An excellent attitude. Now, here’s how this thing is going to go…” she says, and leads him out the door.
Nepeta watches them go, and waves.
Two days after you break up, she’s still calling your phone. David says if you ignore her she will eventually leave you alone, but this is getting scary.
She’s started using other people’s phones to get past your caller ID, so you mute the ringer and tell your friends to just text you. Your voice mail has 28 messages, and they’re all from her. You don’t listen anymore because they’re all more or less the same.
How could you do this to me.
How could you fuck me and abandon me.
You fucker. You used me.
I hate you, you asshole, I hate you, I hate you. You’re trying to make me crazy. You want to see me lose my mind. You complete sadistic abusive rapist asshole.
That last one is why you’re dodging her calls. Your older sister was raped when you were eight years old. Even though you didn’t understand what it meant at the time, the R word, to you, means being small and frightened and watching your sister sob and your parents hug and long, long hours with the babysitter while they all go to court and the bad man gets away with it in the end and you hate him so much.
So no. You would never hurt a woman. You would fucking never.
The way she screams it at you over the phone, though, her voice maxing out the microphone into a machine squeal of rage, it sounds true. Like she believes it. Maybe she does, you don’t know. You don’t know anything anymore when it comes to Vriska.
Four days after you break up, a letter arrives. It starts with “Dear abusive asshole piece of shiiiiiiiit” and ends with “Please please please please CALL ME! You can’t just leave me, I can’t live without you, I’ll never cheat again, I love you. I love you, I LOVE YOU.”
She has enclosed a lock of hair tied with a bit of blue ribbon.
One week after you break up, she starts showing up at your work asking to talk to you during your shifts. The manager says it’s your mess to clean up, so get it out of his restaurant. You have to talk to her now, tell her to stop fucking around, this is your job. You can’t lose this job. Enough is enough.
So you take a lunch break and go tell her to leave you alone.
She slaps you and starts to cry. “I’m pregnant, you fucking user. You knocked me up. Now what?”
Your blood runs cold. You were so careful. Yeah, you loved her, but you’re only 17. You have to pay for school out of your savings and your parents make too much (barely) to get financial aid for your first year. You can’t be having a kid now. When she started to act weird you started insisting on condoms even though she was on the pill. You didn’t really think about why at the time. It seemed sort of paranoid. But now you’re worried it wasn’t enough.
“How far along?” you ask with your numb tongue and hollow voice.
“Oh, NOW you care. Never mind the living breathing woman you dumped on the fucking curb like a pile of trash, there’s a FETUS to save. You fuck!”
“You have to marry me.”
“I’m not marrying you, Vriska. Are you sure it’s even mine?” You haven’t really been intimate much in this past few months. Ever since that stuff she said about her dad and her last two boyfriends, you can’t touch her and not think about it. Every time she wants you to pull her hair or smack her, you get the creeps. Maybe that’s why she and Josh… oh, forget this, you can’t be thinking about this right now.
“Of course it’s yours, you asshole. What are you going to do about it?” she tosses her tumble of blueblack hair back over one shoulder and glares at you over the wire rims of her glasses. You always used to love how intense her eyes could be. Now it makes you feel like a small animal hiding under a bush.
“I need to think. I don’t know. I just. I need to think about this.”
“You can’t just leave me with a kid, Aaron. Not after all you’ve put me through. You can’t just leave me.” And she starts to sob again, but her face looks wrong somehow.
“Vris, I need to think.” you say again, sounding dull and stupid. You begin to taste bile. “Look, don’t come here again, I’ll… I’ll call you later. Just don’t come here.”
“Fine,” she says, and leaves. You stand dazed and horrified, watching her walk away and wondering if you imagined the gleam of triumph in her eyes, until one of your coworkers comes over and tells you your lunch break is up.
Two weeks after you break up, she still flatly refuses to show you proof that she’s pregnant. You ask for a copy of the receipt for her visit copay. She says she lost it. You tell her to come over and pee on a test strip in your bathroom, and show you. She says she’s not coming within fifty feet of your apartment without at least one friend as a witness.
A witness to what? You don’t ask. You don’t want to know. But hearing that from her, it’s like being kicked in the balls. Like you’re this monster.
Sixteen days after you break up, Jo and Kae stop answering your texts. Robin from work calls up to warn you that your boss asked her to print up a hiring notice for your position. You ask why and she says she can’t discuss it over the phone, but that you were a good employee and she thought you deserved a heads-up from someone other than your jerk of a boss. She sounds like she wants to say something else, but she doesn’t.
Your mother calls and quietly asks you to meet her at the cafe. When you show up, she’s glaring at you.
She tells you that she raised you better than this. She says your father can’t bear to discuss it, or he would be here with her. He’s so furious he sent her here alone.
“What did I do?” you ask, almost not even curious at this point. Of course whatever it is will be news to you, but at the same time… it won’t. Because it’s in Mom’s eyes. The terrible look she has that says I have never seen you in this light before, and I don’t like what I see.
“You tell me.” your mother says, and you think of broken windows, flunked tests, that time you accidentally set the curtains on fire playing with matches.
“Mom, just… say it.”
And she tells you what you did.
Sixteen and a half days after you break up with Vriska Serket, only two of your friends will still talk to you. David, who never liked Vriska, and Josh, who was messing around with her behind your back for months. And Josh is too ashamed to say more than “Sorry, bro, I fucked up,” and make excuses to get away as quickly as possible.
“She’s a goddamn psycho bitch,” David says. “I told you not to date the chaos queen.” You make all the appropriate noises of despair and regret, but how were you supposed to know? Nobody just snaps like this.
Vriska Serket is a broad white smile, a figure that wouldn’t quit in tight black leggings and a casual skirt, wearing that floppy knitted sweater that always smells a little bit like cinnamon from the coffee shop where she works. She’s a smoky voice joking around like one of the guys and telling you she’s never felt this way about anyone before. She’s a pair of big eyes as blue and innocent as some kind of fantasy princess, eyes that can turn razor-sharp in a blink when someone ticks her off. She’s a sharp wit and a love so intense it makes you feel like her hero. She’s so many things and they all add up to make one incredible, fiery girl you were so sure you were in love with.
That first night at the club she was dancing nasty with partner after partner and you thought she was a smoking hot mess of a girl, not the type you’d ever date, but when she caught you looking she turned off the slut act and asked you to come share a smoke with her on the street. You got to talking and it turned out she was using a fake ID too, from the same guy that made yours. And she liked all the things you liked, was snarky and fabulous and just so, so sexy about being kind of a bad girl (but not too bad). She wasn’t like your last girlfriend, so shy and meek and timid. Vriska was larger than life, took no crap, and told it like it was.
Or so you thought.
You stare down at your phone, still displaying her last text message, feeling the familiar hollow ache in your belly. “I told them all what you did.”
She got you fucking fired.
Seventeen days after you dumped Vriska, you come home to find a greeting card taped to your apartment door. It’s one of those shitty “Just thinking about you” cards with no message printed inside, just a handwritten note.
It isn’t signed, but who else would it be? You throw the card away and spend the rest of the day on the phone, arguing with your parents and trying to find one person she hasn’t gotten to first. Mom believes you but Dad is the one who actually talked to Vriska and he’s convinced she would never make up something so horrible. Your friends are more or less refusing to speak to you.
The hollow feeling grows until it’s all you can think about. A couple of times you cry, but you do it alone, and even then you feel like everyone you love is watching you, thinking look at the rapist’s remorse.
The last time you tried to break it off, the first time she screwed around on you, she threatened to slit her wrists the moment you left. You took her back because you still loved her and you couldn’t stand to think of her killing herself over you. You forgave her and she was so, so sweet and so sorry for what she did. You held hands for a week straight, and it was like you were in heaven with this glorious, beautiful, mad girl. And she’d opened up to you, let you see how vulnerable and weak she was beneath her confident facade, let you get to know the real Vriska and all her pain. The reasons why she did what she did. You forgave it all, and comforted her, and swore you would never hurt her.
You were so worried that someday her self-hatred would become too massive, and she would snap. No matter how much you tried to keep her happy, it would be your fault for not being there to save her.
And you tried—God, you tried.
But now she’s threatening to press charges. It’s not bad enough that your friends, your former coworkers, even your own father believes you did this awful thing. No, she’s texting you little notes about how she’s talked to a detective about a restraining order. She’s sending you little taunting messages about maybe the university staff would like to know what kind of predator is going to be walking onto their campus next semester. Playful little notes, punctuated with her special eight-eyed smiley face to show that she knows she’s getting under your skin. All that coyness and bitter-sharp wit you loved in her is suddenly cutting into you, and you don’t think you can take much more.
What can you do? Taking her back is out of the question. You can never trust her again, you know that much. You can never get over the way your Dad shook his head and said “Son, I wish I could believe you, but…” this morning. You can’t report her. What would you say? “My ex-girlfriend is telling lies about me?” That sounds like something a predator would say to discredit his victim.
You just don’t know what to fucking do.
Three weeks after your life turned into a nightmare, it all stops. Out of nowhere, you see her on the back of some beefy biker guy’s motorcycle. It’s definitely her. No helmet, no jacket, wearing shorts and flip flops with a new tattoo on her back under her cut-off shirt, she’s so happy and light. She’s laughing and play-punching the guy as he pulls away from the curb in a cloud of stuttering bike exhaust that smells like the fumes of hell itself. She sees you looking as they zip off into traffic, and she just flips that hair back and waves like you’re some old friend she’s too busy to stop and talk to.
And just like that, it’s over.
The texts stop.
The restraining order never happens.
The pregnancy disappears.
Your father eventually comes around, but it’s hard, and you feel like your heart is broken by the way he didn’t believe you, the way you couldn’t convince him to trust you. Your friends, well, some of them believe you and some of them believe her, but it doesn’t matter.
You’re going away to school in a few weeks, and you can leave all of this behind. Find some new friends without the emotional baggage. You’re too exhausted to win people back over, not after the way they’ve looked at you like you were a monster. There’s just no coming back from being the guy everyone thinks raped a girl. The more you protest, the bigger the fuss you raise, the more people think there’s something to the accusations.
Heck, sometimes you think she believed it herself. Or she’s just a hell of an actress. So good she almost convinced you.
Maybe that’s the worst part. The way she sneaked into your head and changed how you see yourself. Made you always think I am Aaron, the guy who no one will ever trust again.
But no. David thinks the rumors will die down if you just leave for a while. Really focus on your schoolwork. Get your shit together.
You pray you never hear from her again, and someone up there must be listening, because you never do. You feel uneasy and nervous, like the sudden break in her hostilities means she might come back and start it up again just as randomly. Like a tornado that destroys exactly half your house and then blows away. No rhyme or reason, just storm and chaos and abrupt pointless silence.
You don’t get it. Was she fucking with you all along? Was it actually funny to her? Will you be paranoid and suspicious of every girl you meet from now on?
And something else nags at you. She hates motorcycles. She’s terrified of them. The noise they make, the loss of control when you’re a passenger. She flat-out refused to ride double with you on your shitty little scooter, and that was going twenty miles per hour on a quiet side street. And now she’s riding around town with creeps who shave their heads?
The most surprising thing about Vriska Serket is that you’re still surprised by anything she does.
Bro sent you another of his asshole pink glitter gel pen letters again. On pink paper.
Yeah, this is gonna be a bathroom stall job. You hate the way people act when you’re trying to read letters in common areas. At best they pretend not to notice how weird you look. The worst is when they want a walkthrough on how Dave Strider gets his correspondence on.
You mostly read with your left eye and a magnifying lens, and even then it’s hard when assholes go out of their way to pick low-contrast ink colors and write as tiny as they can. This is his way of reminding you to always be on your toes. His vision’s almost normal with glasses so you can’t even feel smug about how hard this thing must have been to write.
So off to the bathroom with your letter, which you figure has been previewed (the envelope was open already) to make sure nothing in it will set you off.
Psh. Like that was Bro’s fault last time. He’s like fifty miles away in jail.
You pick the stall with the best light, pray nothing gross is on the seat, and sit down to see what Bro’s got to say this week.
hey little brother
i hope you got my letter last time about the hearing, my court appoint guy says youll be there with the kid advocate or w/e they call it, but we probably wont be able to talk to eachother because of the restraining order bullshit which he tells me is just a precation they do for families with problems.
even if we cant talk i look forward to seeing you again kiddo, i hope your ok and not doing anything stupid to piss people off. gotta be mellow bro, its almost over. eat your fucking vegetables, dont swim past the bouys and stay calm when the red tape gets sticky.
i have been seeing the counselor here and studying for my GED all month. when i get out i guess i can get my diploma and hang it on my trailer wall for all my fine bitches to see.
i hear they keep you up with your school in the hospital. you better be studying your ass off. just because im not there doesnt mean your allowed to fuck around with your future. your smart and you have potentiel so dont waste it like i did.
my counselor has the biggest titties dude. you would not beleive the shirts she wears to come see us guys. we call her miss blue ball. shes trying to put me in touch with some kind of parenting group or something. bunch of shit but w/e it takes to get us all back home together like we were. i wont fuck it up this time i swear to christ. i know i fucked up before. i was a shitty guardian to you and now your sick and i cant do anything from where i am or even see you or call. at least they let me write. you better still be reading this, bromo. put a little effort into it.
im just kidding dave. you know i only fuck with you becaus i know you can take it.
listen, fuck, im so sorry for everything i put you thru little brother. hurts my heart when i cant find out how your doing in there. thats probably the gayest thing i ever said but idc as long as you know im thinking of you and wish i was less shitty at raising a kid. i miss you.
dont lose hope no matter what happens on the 3rd. even if it goes bad your still my blood and i wont bore you with the legal shit becaus im not supposed to talk about stuff that will upset you, but i know your being taken good care of where you are and getting better. keep on keeping on baby brother, and dont let anyone tell you your crazy. love you dude but not in that way.
PS - over ——>
You aren’t really sure how to feel when you finish reading. Your stomach hurts and you feel sort of lightheaded. It’s weird as fuck when Bro gets all sad and apologizes for shit. He’s not supposed to feel bad about this.
He can’t be regretting the way he raised you. That judgemental bullshit is what got you pulled apart in the first place. If he thinks he fucked up with you, does that mean you came out so wrong you can’t even hide it anymore? But that’s not the worst part.
The worst part is Bro’s the good guy. He’s supposed to be in control and now he’s saying he’s not. Which means anything can happen now. You won’t be safe.
But thinking about stuff like that always makes you go numb and the feeling can last for hours or days, which is lame and makes it hard to put on the chill face for other people, so you slam the mental door on the subject instead and turn the letter over to see what else he has to say.
The only thing on the other side of the page is a carefully traced image of a fist with the knuckles pointed outward. across the knuckles, Bro has written BUNP in his best gangsta penmanship.
You laugh and bunp it with your own fist, figuring you might as well not leave him hanging.
For a few short moments it’s old times again, and then you’re back in a bathroom stall with a letter that makes you profoundly uneasy for reasons you don’t want to think about. Which means it’s time to stuff the letter in your pocket, leave the cubicle of shame, and go see what Egbert and Nepeta are up to in the dayroom. You need a distraction.
Sollux accepts that Karkat is never going to take the initiative, so he drags his ass into a sitting position on the bed and says “Yes, you can come in.”
Karkat quits flitting around the doorway and slouches in. His hood is up and underneath it his face looks as pissy as ever. How wonderful, they’re going to spend some quality time glaring at each other. This is exactly what Sollux needs right now. More drama. He gestures at the empty half of the bed and Karkat slumps down and stares down at the floor.
“I seriously don’t like you,” Karkat says, breaking the silence.
“Well fuck, don’t hold back or anything,” Sollux snorts. “Tell me how you really feel.”
“I feel like you’re a dick and you punched me in the fucking nose.” Karkat growls.
“And it still hurts, by the way.”
“Fuck you. It bled for like fifteen minutes.”
Sollux takes a moment to appreciate this. “First punch I ever threw,” he admits. “I guess I got lucky.”
“Yeah, and I guethh I got to gag on red snot for the rest of the night,” Karkat says. “Fuck you and your beginner’s luck. You are an asshole of the highest caliber.”
“Yeah,” Sollux says. “I kind of am.” He fishes around in the blanket until he has a handful of bee-leg, and drags the stuffed animal into his lap. Karkat winces.
“Clever move, dickwad, agree with the insult and distract with the hideous toy so I run out of steam. Not gonna work.” Karkat wrinkles his sore nose and remembers where he was going with this train of thought. “No, but I’m serious. You fucking piss me off.”
Sollux rolls his eyes. “Tell me something I don’t already know.”
“I’m sorry.” Karkat says.
“I said, you half-deaf fucking dipshit, that I was sorry.” Karkat enunciates carefully as if speaking to a very stupid child, still staring down at the battered tips of his red sneakers. “In response to your snippy fucking comment. And by the way, fuck your sarcasm forever. I was trying to apologize and you keep fucking up my train of thought. I really am sorry for pushing your weird freaky girlfriend obsession button last night.”
“Apology accepted,” Sollux shrugs, staring down at the walleyed gaze of the bee. “I’m sorry I hit you for being a douchebag. I should know by now that’s your way of being nice to people.”
Karkat sighs. “I was trying to. Kind of.”
“Trying to ‘kind of’ what?”
“To be nice, fuckface!” Karkat finally looks at him, glowering. “I mean I’m sorry I pissed you off, but I stand by what I was trying to say. If you just… if you just make your life all about other people, they fuck you over.” He swallows. “Maybe I should have just said it like that last night.”
Sollux shrugs again. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“I don’t even know your friend, but I think she’d probably agree with me if she’s as great a person as you make her out to be. It shouldn’t be her job to save you from yourself all the time. It’s not fair to her even if you’re praising her to the skies.”
“Don’t go nuts again, okay?” Karkat asks. “I just mean… you set the bar so high when you do that to somebody.”
“What the fuck is the bar, anyway?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s a ballet thing? Anyway, fuck you, you know what I was trying to convey.”
“Christ. Okay, yeah. You have a point.” Sollux picks at a loose thread on the bee’s magenta left foot. “I am not unaware that I sort of… over-identify with aa.”
“And the lispy kid graduates to sidekick for Captain fucking Obvious. Could you not have sort of thought of this last night, sometime before you started flipping the goddamn tables?”
“Fuck you, Vantas. I’m here for a reason.” Sollux resists the urge to whop Karkat with the bee. “Maybe you caught me at a bad moment. Maybe I was already kind of thinking what you were saying, and I didn’t want to hear it from yet another goddamn voice to go with the ones in my head.”
“Oh.” Karkat grimaces. “I guess that would sort of suck.”
“You think?” Sollux lets out one of his dry nasal laughs. “Fucking… Karkat Vantas, master of the understatement, king of the douchebags.”
“Do you really hear voices?” Karkat asks.
“Do you really think anybody buys your prickly little lone-wolf act?” Sollux shoots back.
“I don’t know,” Karkat says. “I don’t even know if it’s an act, and I’ll fucking deny it if you ever tell anyone I said so.”
“Fair enough. And yeah, I hear fucking voices. It’s more annoying than you would imagine, since they’re all me so they all know where to really stick the knife when I’m in a bad mood.”
“Great, so my parents live in your head.”
“I guess. Is your mom the one who’s always calling me a waste of space and telling me I’m going to be the next Hitler?”
“Sounds about right.” Karkat’s mouth is a thin line. “If she throws in a few lines about how you were an accident and probably a fucking homo, that’s the very bitch.”
“My fucking condolences,” Sollux says. “That one’s my least favorite of the entire bunch.”
“Do you have one that tells you to beat the shit out of people?” Karkat asks.
“Nah. I came up with that one all by myself.” Sollux laughs again, bitterly. “Pop the bearer of bad news in the face and then go trash the rec room. I am nothing if not a master strategist.”
“I do,” Karkat says. “The one that says to beat the shit out of people, I mean.”
“I’ve only ever seen you fight with GZ.” Sollux says. “When he hugged you that time.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t go around throwing punches at just anybody. I just don’t like it when people grab me, okay?”
Sollux shrugs. “I guess that makes sense. Even if Gamzee is about as threatening as a Great Dane puppy.”
“It’s not like I was thinking straight at the time. And don’t let that puppy shit fool you, he hits like a fucking freight train. My eye was black for two weeks.”
“God,” Sollux says, and laughs. “Look at the two of us.”
“What do you mean?” Karkat tenses.
“You and me, man. Bad impulses out the fucking ass. Piss us off and we go flailing around like blindfolded idiots whacking away at a pinata. You get hugged and you try to beat up the gentle giant. I get genuinely good advice from a friend and I throw a bitchfit. You and me? We’re so screwed up. Poke us in the soft spot and watch us lash the fuck out.”
“Oh.” Karkat thinks about this. “…Shit.”
“Yeah.” Sollux nods. “Shit is just about what this is.”
Karkat clearly wants to say something, and Sollux decides to wait as long as it takes. They sit there for a full minute before he finally manages to spit it out.
“Are we really?” Karkat asks.
Whatever Karkat’s trying to ask, it’s enough to wipe the scowl off his face. He looks a lot younger without it. Kind of bewildered. He has really nice eyes. Sort of like an emo kid as played by some tousle-haired Bollywood star.
Which is something he will never, no matter how how flimsy the border between thought and shouted observation might become in the heat of mania, say out loud in Karkat’s presence.
“Friends.” Karkat finishes. “Are we friends?”
“I think so,” Sollux says. “I mean, I just sort of assumed—”
“Oh,” Karkat frowns again, but it is a completely different frown from his usual one. “I wasn’t— I mean, I didn’t—”
“Asshole,” Sollux says, and uses the bee to shove Karkat’s shoulder. “Of course we’re friends.”
“I don’t get it,” Karkat sounds skeptical as he uses one finger to push the bee away from himself. “You piss me off, I piss you off. That makes us friends how, exactly?”
“Serendipity, fuckhead,” Sollux informs him with a smug grin. “The grumpy douche and the moody kid who hate each other because they’re too much alike. It’s perfect material for a shitty buddy movie.”
“Jesus,” Karkat blinks. “I never thought of it like that.”
“See? We’re good for each other in all the worst ways. That’s what we’re putting on the posters to sucker poor idiots into coming to see the cinematic clusterfuck that is our lives here at Lobaf.”
And the moody kid pats the grumpy douche on the shoulder, forgetting for a second that he hates being touched. And instead of getting a smack for his intrusion, Sollux gets to see Karkat Vantas fighting back tears.
“Jesus,” he groans, watching Karkat disappear into his hoodie. “I hate feelings.”
“Fucking signed,” comes the muffled, oddly nasal voice from under Karkat’s hood. “I’m going to go take a leak. See you at breakfast.”
Sollux takes a few minutes to find a clean shirt and some socks, then shuffles off to the cafeteria. There he discovers that a double miracle has occurred. Karkat Vantas sits hunched over two trays at the table in the back corner of the room, clearly trying to be low-key about waiting for Sollux. And it’s fucking pancake day.