I knew, with certainty, that this was all my fault. I squirmed impatiently as my father navigated traffic. There wasn’t much at this time of night but it was taking too long. Emma would take another step and end things. I didn’t like my former friend particularly, but I didn’t want her to die. I could see the dark water of the Piscataqua River filling Emma’s field of view. Emma seemed entranced by it as the wind chilled her, her jacket open and fluttering in the cold wind. Occasionally a lonely car would rush past her, but none slowed, none saw. She lifted one foot out over the void, testing and I felt a surge of emotion. Damn it Emma, I kind of hate you, don’t you die and make me mourn you.
It felt like an eternity but it was probably only a minute or two and the bridge came into sight. I had my father pull over and was out of the car before it even stopped moving. I sprinted to the side, where I knew Emma was standing.
“Wha… Taylor? What are you doing here?”
I shook my head and said, “You don’t need to do this. Please.”
“No… I… why are you here? How?” She shook her head and took a step back toward the edge. “No, y-you can’t be here. You hate me. I deserve this. I…” she said, her gaze turning down.
“I’m really here. Emma…” I stood there in the cold looking at her, not quite knowing what to say. My heart raced as I tried to find the words. “Maybe I do hate that you did the things that you did, but I don’t want you to die. I want you to live. Emma… you might not be my friend any more, but you’re still family. Like we always said…“
She seemed to collapse in on herself, sinking to the asphalt and hugging herself and began to sob. “L-like we always said? How? I’m ho-horrible.”
I rushed forward and sank down next to her and wrapped my arms around her. Some disconnected part of me knew it was safe to do now. She was no longer in risk of taking that final step and disappearing. Another part of me noted that my father was standing outside the car watching us, hands in his pockets. He was maybe fifteen feet away. The cold wind was biting into the thin jacket he had on. I didn’t notice it myself.
I held her tightly, my head next to hers and felt something well up inside me. I whispered but knew she could hear. “I forgive you Emma. I… we can move forward from here.” There was a rush of emotion that I’m sure I couldn’t describe but as it flooded out I found myself crying too.
After a moment she began to hug me back, tentatively at first and then clinging. We sat there, crying into each others arms for I don’t know how long. After a bit I felt myself winding down. She was still sobbing as I blinked the tears out of my eyes and said in a quiet voice, “Hey, c’mon, let’s go back to the car and get warmed up.”
She stubbornly hugged me tighter.
“I promise, I’m not going anywhere.” I said, and pulled out of the hug, giving her a wan smile. I knew my face must still be glistening.
She finally looked back at me and reluctantly nodded. My hand found hers and I squeezed tightly. Together we walked back to the car. I opened the back door and motioned Emma in and slid in after her.
My father got into the car and started it back up. He turned back to us. “So, am I taking you back home now?”
The expression on Emma’s face was so panicked that I hurt for her. I gave her hand what I hoped was a reassuring squeeze.“Maybe we should go back to our place first Dad?” She looked over to me with an expression so grateful that made me want to cry again.
“Ok honey, we can do that.”
We drove in silence. To my surprise, I was finding that I guess I really had forgiven her. I had always held out hope that maybe she’d come around. See that she’d been wrong. That she’d stop and things could go back to how they had been. Foolish hopes, of course. It’s why she had always been able to hurt me so badly. Because no matter how much I hated her, there was a part of me that still loved her, that still saw her as family. The question now, was could she ever forgive me. Once she learned that I was the reason she’d been out on that bridge tonight.
I had found out I had powers a month ago when she slapped me. Her hand hit my face and suddenly I could see through her eyes. It didn’t go away. The rest of the day I could see through her eyes, hear through her ears, feel what she touched. It had been extremely disorienting and I’d spent most of the day in the nurses office.
I’d learned a lot then. I was hardly Emma’s only target, though I was the one she was most effective with. She wasn’t as happy as she put on. Oh, she had moments, but when she was alone something seemed to be eating at her. She seemed to sit alone and stare at the wall way more often then was healthy.
The next day I could still see through her eyes. It made everything different. I was able to avoid her at every turn, since I heard her discussing her plans and watched through her eyes as she tried to find me. When she couldn’t, she seemed to double down on her other victims. She seemed on edge, even snapping at her friends. It was then that I made my plan. I was going to force her to face the consequences of her behavior. I started leaving notes where I knew she would find them with ominous messages like “I know what you did,” “shameful,” “you will be judged” and “if you share these I will know.” She tried to laugh it off, showed one to Sophia and Madison making a joke of it. The next one I left was simply “I know”.
I made it a point to brush past her favorite victims, bumping a hand or an arm. And then I started making meticulous lists of everything Emma did that was, well, evil. All of the bullying. The little lies she told her family and her friends. The way she told cruel jokes behind her friends’ backs. The things she did at school, that she did at home, that she joked about on the phone with Sophia. Everything. And I recorded the consequences of her behavior. The victims of her abuse left crying. The fucked up family lives. And I made sure she found these lists, like the messages from before. She had routines that I’m not sure even she was aware of. Go to the bathroom in second period, use the third stall. Or on her spot in the lunchroom. Or the quiet spot she go to and just sit sometimes and stare into space. Wherever she went there was the list of her sins from the previous day waiting for her. She tried to avoid them, but if she didn’t read them I just included them with the next day’s with a note saying that I knew she hadn’t read them.
It took a bit over a week before she told Sophia about them for real. I was lucky and that day I’d been planning something special. I’d gotten my dad to call me in sick and I was going to leave the day’s list in her home and not at school. That meant that when she went to Sophia she have any evidence on hand. It was then that I learned that Sophia was a ward. She talked about taking the evidence to the protectorate, but also about how she and Emma would have to remove some of it because some implicated Sophia too. I’d gone to Emma’s house shortly before lunch—their spare key was still where it was when I used to visit. I’d taken the previous lists of sins, as I’d come to think of them, out of the box she’d put them in, at the back of her bureau and replaced them with some old English homework I found on her desk.
Emma was frantic when she got home and the lists weren’t there. Sophia seemed a bit skeptical. The next day, when Emma was greeted with “NO” carved into the door of the bathroom stall she visited, she pulled Sophia over in a panic, which just made Sophia angry. She accused Emma of being an attention whore and said something about maybe having been wrong about her. Things cooled between them after that. It was only then that I realized that while she had lots and lots of “school friends” she hardly talked to any of them after she went home. It had almost exclusively been her and Sophia. And that was unlike the Emma I knew. When we’d been friends… well I’d been her closest friend, sure, but she’d always been hanging out with and chatting with what felt like half the grade’s girls.
I continued to leave her the lists of her daily sins, she grew more taciturn and withdrawn, to the point that even Madison, who was barely more than a school friend, was asking her what was wrong. As she became more withdrawn the lists about school got shorter. Meanwhile the one’s about her home life got longer, as she lashed out at her family. She was obviously imploding, but I couldn’t feel bad about it. In fact, I was feeling elated. I’d done what I’d set out to do. I was starting to wonder if maybe I could do more, help the city, with my power. Uncover corruption, unmask villains, that whole thing.
I’d actually thought she’d turned a corner. It was a Saturday and after a week of moping she seemed cheerful. So I’d thought nothing of it when she’d told her parents she was going to Sophia’s for dinner. But she didn’t, she rode around on the city busses until it was late and they were shutting down. She got off at the stop nearest the bridge. She hadn’t been at the top of my mind so I only noticed when she was on the bridge itself, walking out toward the middle.
My father pulled into the driveway and I let my awareness drift over to Emma. She had warmed up at least, but she was still looking down at her knees. I gave her hand a squeeze and she glanced over at me. Her eyes were puffy still and I supposed I didn’t look any better. I opened my door and released her hand to get out. She followed after a moment, staying close to me as we went inside.
“Would you like to call your parents?”
She looked startled that I’d addressed her. She mutely shook her head.
“Would you like me to call them?”
Her expression was hard to read, but she finally nodded.
I went to the phone in the kitchen and dialed their number, Emma following along after. They were surprised but willing enough. As far as they knew, we were still friends, I guess. As far as my dad knew too. It was kind of weird having Emma following me like a lost puppy, but I guess it was better than it had been. I put some some water on to heat up for cocoa.
I sat her down in the kitchen. “I’m going to be right back, ok? I just need to bring my dad up to speed.”
After a moment she nodded.
I caught up with my father in the living room. He looked tired.
“Dad, Emma’s going to stay the night, ok?”
“You talked to her parents?” he asked.
“Do they know about… whatever this was? What’s going on Taylor?”
I shook my head. “No, they don’t. Um, can it wait for morning? It’s going… it’s not going to be a short talk and I don’t want to leave her alone right now.”
I took a moment to look through her eyes, but no, she hadn’t moved.
He looked at me for a moment. “Ok kiddo, ok.”
That taken care of, I went back to the kitchen and finished making the cocoa. Ihanded Emma a mug. “Want to go up to my room and talk?”
She took a deep breath and nodded.
We went up to my room and got a bunch of pillows out of the closet with blankets and we sat down on the floor across from each other. I was suddenly struck with how similar it was to when we had sleepovers as kids and found myself smiling at the memory. Looking at Emma now brought me back to the present. She was huddled up on herself, looking kind of miserable.
“I guess there’s a lot for us to talk about.” I said.
She shook her head, “I just… how can you… why?”
“Why did I forgive you?”
“Um, I don’t know Emma. There was a part of me that never gave up. Seeing you on the bridge like that, I didn’t see my bully at school, I saw the Emma I grew up with. My best friend. The Emma that I… well, all that and it was my… um, you know, that was kind of my question for you too. Why?”
She bit her lip. “I’m an awful person. Wh-when you know why, you won’t…” She swallowed and continued to tell me about the attack on her and her father in the alley. About how helpless she’d felt. About how Shadow Stalker, Sophia, had rescued her. And about how Sophia had promised that Emma could never feel helpless or weak again.
“Did… did it work?”
She shook her head. “I thought it did, for few weeks, but I… I still have…” she buried her face in her hands, “I still have nightmares and sometimes I’m certain they’re waiting again for me in the dark.” She was shaking and I realized that she was silently sobbing. I knew about the nightmares of course. I’d seen her wake up in terror through her own eyes often enough. When I’d started, I was so angry with her, I’d wanted her to hurt and I relished those moments. I’d wanted to see her hurt in front of me. And now she was here and it was awful. I slid over next to her and slipped an arm around her. I was struck by the memory of a story of how drowning sailors in the days when sailors couldn’t swim would climb over their fellow sailors, boot to face in an attempt to save themselves. In the end they both would drown, of course. But there was still that moment of betrayal and it bought nothing. That was the story of Emma and I. After a moment she calmed and lifted her head.
“Af-after all that, you’re still stronger than me, still a be-better person. I cou-could never forgive someone who did what I did to you.”
I looked at her sadly. “The… the reason, the other reason I can forgive you, have to forgive you, is that maybe then I can be forgiven. I… oh Emma I never meant for you to. The notes you’ve been getting. Th-those were me.”
She looked back at me uncomprehendingly. I tried again. “I have a power. I can see everything, hear everything that someone I touch experiences. I… when you slapped me nearly a month ago, that’s when I realized I had it. I… I just wanted um… I don’t know what I wanted. Part of me wanted my old Emma back. Part of me wanted revenge. Part of me just wanted you to see what it was you were doing. I guess I thought that if you could really see the consequences of your actions you’d stop.”
Her face seemed to cycle through half a dozen different emotions but it startled me when it stopped on a barking laugh. “I guess I do understand.” She sighed and gave me a small smile. “Would you believe that it’s a relief to know it was you doing all that? I think… I think I’d convinced myself that I was doing it to myself. That’s what Sophia seemed to think. And the alternatives just seemed worse, some new parahuman stalker had taken an interest in me. I—I felt the same helplessness of the alley all over again.”
After a moment she asked, “Are you still seeing out of my eyes now.”
I nodded. “Yeah, that’s how I realized you were… that’s why I had my dad drive me out there.”
“Can you stop?”
I shook my head, “Not really. I can kind of… put it out of my head, but that’s kind of like how you don’t feel what your toes are feeling most of the time, if nothing exceptional is happening with them. You can concentrate on them and feel your sock, but usually it just tunes out. Like that.”
“Uh… wait, you see out of my eyes all of the time?”
I nodded a little confused, usually Emma was faster on the uptake. But it had been a traumatic evening. Then it clicked. “Oooh, um, right, I do my best to tune out when people are like, going to the bathroom or showering or whatever. I have other… I have other folks eyes I can focus on, which helps a lot.”
We sat in awkward silence for a bit.
She yawned and the exhaustion coming off her was almost palpable. I helped her into the bed as she clearly needed it more than I did. I got up to head down to our couch but she stopped me.
“Please stay. I… don’t think I can sleep without someone close.”
I laid in the dark for a long time next to her. The reality of what I’d done over the last month and the guilt of what I’d driven her to warred with anger over what she’d done to me and satisfaction with the revenge. It all combined to leave me with a giddy feeling of unreality. I turned on to my side and looked over to her. She had already fallen asleep and looking at her, remembering the sleepovers of our childhood, I could almost pretend that I’d gotten my friend back. But I knew that even if maybe we were reconciling that things would never be the same between us.