TW: self-harm (cutting; aftermath only), hypersexuality, past child sexual abuse, domestic violence/murder, gun violence [these three are discussed in some detail], complicated feelings towards asexuality, trauma, consent to sex discussed
I tried to distract myself from the static in my brain any way I could. Texting people was out. I had a few messages on my phone from a strange number that—from the few words my notifications had given me—I figured was Jaylie. So at least she was safe. But I didn’t want to deal with Jaylie, or Cassandra, or—god forbid—Mrs. Chaudhury. People were more than I could handle at the best of times, and—
(that must have been hard)
Dishes. I was going to put away dishes from the drying rack. That would work.
Avery hadn’t specified what was hard for me, which made me wonder. They’d said I’d saved both of their lives, but did they know? Did they care? Were they choosing sides or did they, like me, think that was pointless? Kiera was a murderer. But—
There shouldn’t be a but to murder. I was just… going in circles.
(”we ’ re just bodies to you” and the forced, twisted smile on Kiera ’ s face, the desperate attempt to brush it off)
I wasn’t supposed to be able to read people. I kept making mistakes, when I was involved. But it wasn’t that—nobody actually wanted you to read them. They wanted you to play by the rules. They told you they were fine, and there were different rules depending on who you were in their life, what gender you were, what they wanted you to believe, the way they said it, how much you knew and didn’t know. What you actually felt or thought didn’t matter. You followed the rules, and you weren’t supposed to acknowledge that there were rules. And me? Half of why I got in trouble was because I didn’t know the rules. Or more to the point, I knew the rules, but I cared more about the truth. It was why I’d thought being a private eye would work. Romantic, sure. Also a great way of hiding from my lack of social skills.
But this time around—
So much for distractions. If I kept thinking about this, I was going to grind my teeth into paste. Because what was bothering me wasn’t that something was wrong with Kiera, with the whole situation as presented. It was that nobody else seemed to notice or care. It seemed obvious to me that this wasn’t about some… psycho with a sword chopping up people for shits and giggles. This wasn’t Criminal Minds. But then nobody else seemed to see it any other way, and I kept questioning myself, wondering if I was just making excuses for somebody I liked for stupid reasons.
It took me a moment to notice Will leaning on the doorframe, and I waited until I’d put the last of the plates away to acknowledge her. I was still pissed. No, I was—
“Disappointed,” she offered in a quiet voice. I didn’t correct her, mostly because she wasn’t wrong. “I’m—” She stopped before the word sorry, face pale.
“You gonna stop holding out on me now?” I said quietly.
“Don’t play dumb with me, Will. You and Kiera knew each other. Exes?”
“We fucked. If you want to call that exes—”
Will moved to stand a little closer to me, leaning on the kitchen counter. She wasn’t high—at least, I didn’t think she was—but she was kind of moving like it anyway. The aftereffects of adrenaline on her body, probably.
“She… was lost. Middle of nowhere. I didn’t—I don’t turn tricks anymore. Uh, do sex work.”
“I know what tricks are.”
Will snorted. “It’s not that. Avery hates me calling it that. Anyway, I do some modeling and stuff, but no more, y’know, full stuff. Can’t do it safely—for myself, I mean. But I thought maybe she did. I offered her some space out of the cold.”
I raised an eyebrow, still not looking at her directly. “That innocent, huh?”
“I didn’t know who she was! And you gotta understand, she wasn’t even speaking English at first. She started speaking English again after a bit, but she still wasn’t really making sense. She’s crazy most of the time, but there’s crazy like she is now and—uh—” Will shrugged, but there was a sadness in it, her eyes fixed on the linoleum floor where her feet twisted against each other. “She couldn’t remember things from one minute to the next. Talked to the air. Didn’t know what year it was. I thought it was drugs at first.”
I swallowed, but it didn’t take the sudden horrified lump out of my throat. “We don’t—we don’t have to talk about this.”
“Yeah, that’s alright. She’s—she’s different now.” Will took the lifeline almost too desperately, the tightness around her eyes haunted and strung-out. “That’s alright.”
It wasn’t. But I didn’t want to talk about this either. Talking about it meant we had to answer the question looming behind it—what next?
I didn’t want to think at all, actually. And so my body made the decision for me. I pushed her against the counter, and I kissed her. I had to go up on my tiptoes a little to do it, but I put my hand on the back of her neck to pull her into it, pushing my tongue into her mouth. I didn’t just want a kiss. I wanted—
I wanted more. I wanted to stop thinking. I wanted her. I wanted—
Will was kissing me back. I wasn’t imagining that. But her hands slid down my neck to my shoulders—then she broke the kiss, pressing her forehead against mine, and whispered with a little laugh. “You don’t want me.”
“Not me. Not now.”
“You don’t get to tell me what I want,” I replied, trying not to get angry, even though I could feel the bitterness rising in the back of my mouth.
“I can hear all of the red flags, Jamal. Every single one of them.” It wasn’t a laugh. It was a tiny, little sob. “I can’t not hear it. You don’t want me. You want to get fucked up and wrecked and retraumatized and I am—” I AM NOT GOING TO DO IT FOR YOU
I was still angry. I was angry because she was still listening to my thoughts and I was angry because if I wanted that it was my responsibility and not hers, and I was angry right up until the bathroom door slammed shut and I was standing alone in the kitchen.
Realistically, I only sat out in the hallway staring at the bathroom door for about ten, fifteen minutes. Nathan was locked away in his room, and I was pretty sure he had his headphones on, playing some video game or another. That was fine. It meant I had the space to bang my head (gently) against the banister, in exactly the same place I’d been sitting before, and go through exactly why I was an asshole.
Here’s the thing. I’m asexual. To everybody else, to the vast majority of people, that means I don’t want or like sex. That’s fine. That’s easy. That makes my life nice and simple. I can explain it to people that way, and it means I want to date and hold hands with girls and be all fluffy and romantic. Except… I’m not really the romantic type, either. And that’s also fine, because it means I’ll figure it out. It still means people leave me alone.
And that would all be fine, if that was all being asexual was. Tumblr had all sorts of subtypes—demisexual, gray-asexual, whatever. I have a hard enough time keeping the days of the week straight, so I never got very good with those. But the thing is, it doesn’t mean not wanting sex. It means, I don’t know. Instead of wanting sex with girls or boys, you just kind of. Sit there and don’t particularly want sex with anybody. It doesn’t mean your libido shuts up. It doesn’t mean your brain doesn’t occasionally decide, hey, let’s do something stupid and self-destructive. It doesn’t mean you’re suddenly incapable of making bad choices because of your sex drive.
I didn’t usually sit around and dwell about this. It’d made high school annoying, sure. My “first time” had been an incredibly badly-thought-out and poorly-remembered fuck with my ex’s brother after she dumped me—the first ex, to be clear. The second one was pretty nice, and also didn’t have a brother. But most of the time, it didn’t matter. Most of the time, I wasn’t… Ugh. Let’s be frank. Most of the time, I wasn’t showing myself up as a fucking prick and hurting somebody I actually liked.
Enough feeling sorry for myself. My issues weren’t the point. So I took a deep breath, and knocked on the door. “Uh. Hey. Will? You alright?”
Silence. Then, a mumbled, almost-whispered, “Shit, shit, shit—”
“I’m coming in.” I opened the door, peering around the edge before opening it the whole way.
Will glanced balefully up at me, attempting a smile. She was standing over the sink, both faucets opened to full, and—
“Don’t,” she mumbled, still clumsily trying to blot away the blood from her wrist. She had the tape out, but hadn’t gotten around to actually covering the wounds, which were still dripping into the sink.
I swallowed, trying to shove my immediate reaction away. My emotions hadn’t been useful tonight—and, I reasoned, I could be angry all I wanted, but if she’d been actually trying to kill herself, she would have tried harder.
Will’s drawn face broke into a grin as she struggled not to laugh. “Alright, you can stay,” she said with rolled eyes.
“Do you—um—want some help?” You’d think by now I’d remember.
She looked a little defeated at that. “What kinda house doesn’t have any fuckin’ Band-Aids?”
I wordlessly moved into the bathroom and opened the mirrored front of the medicine cabinet. Which, in her defense, was embedded into the wall.
“You know, I’m impressed,” she commented dryly, “but also annoyed I didn’t think of that.”
“You had other things on your mind.” I blinked away a few tears that had, annoyingly, showed up. I still felt like an asshole, but helping I could do. Helping I was good at. At least when it was simple stuff like this.
I focused, instead, on taking the half-dressing off her wrist, cleaning the cuts properly with some rubbing alcohol. There weren’t many, luckily. None would have been better, but—
I didn’t really know what to think.
She was gazing at me, I noticed through my eyelashes, and I tried not to blush. “Thanks,” she said after a little while of silence broken only by the dripping tap.
“I mean, if I had to list everything, we’d be here all night. But you’re not, uh. Lecturing me or anything.”
“Lec—is that what people usually start with?”
“You would not fucking believe. It’s all, what are you doing to yourself, and how could you, and this is terrible, and meanwhile I’m just like. Gimme some better drugs and then we’ll talk.”
“Medication drugs,” she amended. “Tried the other kind, not my jam. Or too much my jam. It really shouldn’t be harder to get Adderall than K or E.”
I blinked. “I—actually know what those mean. We’re finally speaking the same language.”
“Were we not before?” she teased, or at least, I thought she was teasing.
“Oh, shut up.” I put the Band-Aids carefully in place. I’d only needed two, and I felt the tension drain out of my shoulders once the wounds were covered up. “…You okay?”
“Why wouldn’t I b—”
“Sorry. Don’t let my dumb jokes fool you. I don’t recommend this particular coping method. Zero out of ten, all I got was a ton of unfortunately-placed scars.”
I noticed, wryly, that Will sounded more like Cass when she was upset.
“I just… I get overwhelmed. And I usually have better ways of dealing, but shit’s been a lot lately, and I…” She sank back into silence, still gazing at me. “Turns out I like you a lot.”
I swallowed, mouth dry. It was me. I’d been—
I wasn’t that stupid. It wasn’t that I’d been upsetting her, and not just that I’d been an asshole. She was stressed out because of me, worrying about me. I knew that because if I stopped and thought for more than two seconds about how much I’d run around and put myself in danger, how much shit I pulled on a regular fucking basis… It wasn’t just Jo who kept giving me trouble. But Will hadn’t. Will had kept it to herself.
You know people trying to protect you aren’t mad at you?
Minutes before holding a gun to Kiera.
I didn’t realize I was going to start sobbing until it ripped itself out of my throat, and I covered my face in humiliation, because I couldn’t stop.
“It’s okay, it’s okay. Hey, come on.” Will wrapped her arms around me, and there was some comfort in knowing that she was better, she was stable, because I could feel it. Not clearly, not well. But I wasn’t… feeling the energy drain out of me, like levels equalizing in a lake. “It’s not you. Okay? It’s not your fault. That’s not what I meant.”
“If you’re hurting yourself because of me, then that’s not okay, it’s not, I—”
“Don’t start with that,” she groaned, irritation creeping into her voice. “I hurt myself because I have a fucked up brain and handle stress like, insanely badly.”
I nodded, closing my eyes and trying to get a hold of myself. She was right to be annoyed. I’d managed to keep my cool and focus on her, then I’d fucked it up—
Suddenly, I found myself in the air, and I squeaked in surprise as Will dumped me—gently—into the bathtub. “Take a deep breath.”
Why am I in the bathtub?”
“Because if you keep being a self-destructive dumbass I’ll turn the water on.”
“…I hate you.”
Will grinned, getting down on her knees next to the bathtub and folding her arms on the side. “Take some deep breaths, chill the fuck out, and please remember that I am a whole three years older than you.”
“Three years older,” I repeated in a mocking voice—and then shrieked as she turned the cold water tap on over my socks.
“I did warn you.”
I reached down and pulled my wet socks off with a shiver. “If I catch a cold, I’m blaming you.” Then I stared back at Will. “How—how are you fine so quickly? I don’t get it. You were a mess fifteen minutes ago.”
She looked a little rueful at that, tucking her hair behind her ear then resting her cheek on her palm. “I have a ton of shit wrong with my brain, but one of ‘em is BPD. I can go from suicidal to tea party in about two seconds flat. Stuff like…” She vaguely indicated her wrist. “It helps make sure I don’t totally implode during the first bit.”
“—I mean, I’m that too. Borderline personality disorder. Otherwise known as crazy bitch disease.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“Okay, uh, imagine your fight or flight instincts, but like, all the way to a hundred. And then no impulse control. It means—” Will pulled a face. “You know. Stuff like pulling a gun on your dangerous ex makes perfect sense.”
“Oh no you don’t. That wasn’t an impulse thing. Why did you fucking have it?”
Will rubbed her forehead. “I—Ugh. You think I was planning this.”
“I don’t—” I sank deeper into the empty tub. “I don’t know,” I mumbled. “I don’t know what to think.”
Will watched me for a little, then dropped her eyes to where her fingers were drawing lazy patterns on the porcelain lip, black nail-polish only slightly chipped at the edges and showing traces of purple underneath. “…You said you, uh, read about me in the paper. Back when it happened.”
“I think so, but it’s been a long time. I don’t remember the details, just that it was bad.” I remembered a little more than that, but Will clearly wanted to talk about it, and I didn’t trust my memory enough to volunteer anything.
“Cass and I are twins. Middle kids. Older brother, younger brother, rich snob parents who hated each other but stayed married for the papers and to support the whole Family Values platform bullshit.” Will snorted. “No wonder my dad hated me so much. I was a fuckin’ sissy long before I came out. But he mostly just ignored me. Jason was the problem.”
“Jason was your older brother?”
“Yeah. Lovely guy. Played sports, liked cars, dealt drugs and thought nobody knew, sexually abused his siblings and made sure we were too scared of him to tell anybody.”
I stayed silent, even though my heart was racing in my chest. I didn’t need Will to stop—I was okay—I was just shocked at how easily Will had said it. Although perhaps easily wasn’t the right word. She was nervous, moving back and forth on her knees, shifting her posture, fingers moving on the porcelain, still not looking at me—
“I came out. Well, sort of. I got outed. It was a big mess, and of course all the other dirty secrets came out too. I don’t even remember who said it—me, or Cass, or Alex, but one way or another, it came out. And my parents made a big deal out of how they were going to make sure they sent Jason away and just. All this bullshit that I knew, I knew they wouldn’t do. Of course they knew! But, uh—” Will swallowed. “Jason didn’t. Or maybe he just wanted an excuse. I don’t know if he really believed that Mom and Dad were going to send him to the army or whatever they were threatening to make us feel better, but he wasn’t exactly the most stable guy to begin with, you know?”
Oh god. Oh god, I remembered now. I’d heard parts of it, read about the aftermath almost a year after this—but I knew what had happened next.
“We were sleeping in the living room, because we were worried, you know? Trying to stay safe. I was talking about running away, but Cass and Alex were pretty scared. One night couldn’t hurt.” Will closed her eyes, taking a long, shaking breath. “He shot Alex first. That’s what woke me up. The gunshot first, and then his thoughts. He was thinking about how he was going to kill us in order—Alex, then Cassie, then me.” Will laughed suddenly. “You know, I was so confused, for years, why that was in order, because that’s exactly how he thought about it. I thought it was age. But it wasn’t. It was which of us he’d fucked first. And he went for Cassie, and–“
I could see the rest reflected in her eyes. But she needed to get it out. I wondered if she’d ever actually told anybody before. Somebody new, somebody who hadn’t been around for it. She puffed out her cheeks, exhaling—
“I told him to shoot himself instead. He was always planning to, at the end. But I told him, and I grabbed his mind so hard I think I broke it before the bullet got anywhere near it.” She glanced back up at me, the bitter mask starting to crack. “I thought Kiera was… harmless. Weird, sure. I think she’d just gotten here when I ran into her. I tried to help her, and I did… too much.”
I wasn’t entirely following, and I sat up from my slouched position in the tub, frowning a little.
“I don’t know. She wanted help. She kept asking for somebody to help her, and she was—god, she was talking to the air, and kept doing things over and over worried she wasn’t doing it the right way, but she couldn’t decide what the actual right way was. I didn’t think I could make it worse. And I—I should do something good with this awful thing, right? Something other than shooting my own fucking brother. So I went into her head and I tried to help.”
The bottom plummeted out of my stomach.
“I asked her first, I swear, I just didn’t realize she didn’t… I don’t think she knew what she was agreeing to. Sometimes with suggestions and—and Sulfur shit, something goes wrong. A suggestion hits the wrong nerve or the wrong button and it causes an echo.” Will wasn’t crying, but that was almost worse. She just looked completely miserable and also not quite here. Not destabilizing—just not fully here. “And I didn’t even realize it was the same person until after we started finding bodies.”
I didn’t know how to respond, but I knew now that I had to say something. “I—I can understand wanting to help her, I guess. I just—why didn’t you tell somebody?”
“God. I kept trying, but then I’d stop and tell myself that maybe they were different people, maybe I was worrying too much.”
“You still haven’t told me why you have the damn gun.”
“Because I got more and more paranoid, after the morgue. You went missing. People who I’d thought were just being quiet were in the unclaimed section of the fucking morgue. I didn’t know if I’d use it on her, and if I did, I figured it’d be self-defense. And then—I saw her with you and I couldn’t—fucking—stop—thinking about Jason.” She rubbed her face. “Christ, the fact that I can even say this out loud. Suck it, Distress Center, I am coping fine.”
“I honestly—” I sat up fully, wrapping my arms around my legs. “From how you were supporting me when Cass and Jaylie were talking about killing her—I thought you liked her.”
“Oh, I do. Or did, or something. You think I didn’t love Jason? That’s exactly the problem.” She gave me a crooked smile, bitten lips looking particularly ragged. “Kiera is—she’s not a monster. I don’t like it when people try to make things that easy, or simple. I mean, like I said. Crazy bitch disease, right here. But that’s the problem. What do I do? This is my fault. And I can’t call the cops. She’s not even human. I can’t lock her up, or have her arrested, or any of the ways you’re supposed to handle this. She’s a murderer, so we can’t just shuttle her off somewhere else and hope she learns a lesson. I know you want me to sit here and feel bad and I do and I don’t want to be the kind of person who executes somebody in cold blood. That’s not me. But even with my head more together, I’m… I don’t have any answers.” And Will leaned on the side of the bathtub, still looking miserable, but somehow more—alive, because she’d said it, now. “And if somebody has to be a murderer to get rid of a murderer,” she added, not quite looking at me but still deep into the past, “might as well be me, right?”
“You don’t really believe that it has to be you.”
“God no. Not right now, anyway. But sometimes, I do. And the real answer is that something’s gotta happen.”
I pressed my cheek against my knees, chewing on the inside of my lip. Will was right. What I actually felt or believed was besides the point. What were we going to do?
“She’s only killed Salts,” I said quietly. “So at least we know who to keep an eye on. Me, Isaiah, and Jaylie—who I still don’t get where she fits in, but she’s important somehow.”
“Avery’s already on it. You need to rest.”
“I guess. I don’t really know how.” I paused. “What did – you tell her? I mean, what was the – what exactly did you say?”
Will sighed. “It seemed harmless. Therapy shit, you know? I mean, I haven’t been to therapy, but I’ve gotten the usual 101 through friends. I just-“ She pulled a bit of a face. “Suggestions are easiest when they’re short. So all I said was ‘You deserve to be loved’.”
“Really? How does that get her to… that?”
I chewed it over. I really did need to rest, but I wondered if Will wasn’t responsible at all – if it was just a coincidence.
Will interrupted my thoughts. “…Ever seen Black Swan?”
“Yeah. Keira Knightley makes out with Mila Kunis in it.”
I squinted at her. “Isn’t it a horror movie? Am I going to hate the context?”
“Oh, probably. But it’s still Keira Knightley and Mila Kunis.”
“…Fair.” I paused. “I’m—I’m sorry. For, um.” How did I even word this? “I don’t usually—I’m—”
Will smothered a giggle with her hand- then leaned forward, kissing my cheek in a way that seemed chaste at first—until her teeth grazed my earlobe, and I shivered. “If you want sex, you want sex. And if you don’t, you don’t. Just don’t claim you do when it’s something else you’re after.”
“What if I’m not sure?”
“Mm. I can work with that. Just be honest.”
Ha. Like it was so easy. But then she stood up and offered her hands to help me get out of the bathtub, and I was so, so tempted. But…
“Any chance you’ll take a rain check until I get an actual bed?” I said, slightly morosely. “I can even take you on a real date.”
She looked so pleased at the idea that I would have taken a job at the freakin’ McStabs just to afford it. Turned out I was a little more romantic than I thought—only a little, though.
I don’t remember falling asleep—sometime during the credits, I think, with Will sprawled on the floor next to me and her cherry-flavoured gloss still sweet on my lips. But I don’t expect to find myself here again, in the place I’m starting to realize is more a part of my unconscious than I’ve given it credit for.
The opening and closing doors. The linoleum floor.
“Why here? Why again?”
I don’t expect an answer. But the little girl who’s still there, who’s always there, just shrugs, and stares at me, and says—
“Because you can’t stop.”