she is awake.
she can tell, because her spine aches within her skin, her brain pulses colours, and it feels like everything is whirling around her. she can't keep up, can't ever keep up, but she always makes it look like she can. she's so good at it. fake it till you make it.
it's impossible to keep up, it's always been impossible for anyone to keep up, but she's so damn good at trying that they keep promoting her, and even though she knows she is, she never feels out of her depth. sometimes it feels like the air is a click of the fingers away from snapping back on her, but she never wants to stop. she's watched other people flounder, fall, break when the pressure gets too heavy, but her cool head keeps her out of trouble, keeps her safe, until one day she gets home, sticks her key in the front door, and the stale air that rushes out at her chokes her. there's a note on the kitchen island that says i'm leaving you x, the x with a meandering second line, as if it was accidental, unintentional. there's dust on the note. there's a killer in jail.
she drinks a bottle of wine and sleeps.
she remembers always knowing who she was, because it's a part of her. she knows herself. she bets on herself, holds her surety in her skin. once, in sixth form, a boy whispered queer, behind her back, like it's an insult. so she turned around and punched him, broke his nose, and sat in the headmaster's office with pride, back straight, her mother's fingers resting on her back, and said why aren't you going to suspend him?
but they didn't, only her, so she spent the rest of term kissing girls behind the bike shed, aching to get caught.
she wants to fight. that's why she joined. or she joined because she wants to help others. or she joined because of a tv show, because of a movie she saw once. or because her bones ache to fight, to win, to do something.
ian becomes her drinking buddy purely by accident, purely because he's the only one left in the office when she's wound so tight she's almost about to snap, seven texts on her phone, last one: put the kids to bed, they wanted to hear a story from you, home soon? x and she knows she can't go home, not when there's a man sitting in the cells with the blood of so many people on his hands, literally and figuratively. they walk in step, accidentally, the blazing line of the setting sun fixing itself in her vision, the cool of afternoon fading into the chill of night.
sometimes she thinks he's hiding something, something that slides out of sidelong glances, and maybe they're the same, maybe. but at lest, he understands her style of drinking. sometimes silence; there's nothing for them to say to each other, not after they've seen a woman's body in a refrigerator, or when they both have the ghost of the scent of blood in their noses, sometimes so thick she thinks she can still taste it.
sometimes ian will ask how are the kids, if he remembers. or he'll tap his tongue against the roof of his mouth, trying to remember her partner's name, trying to remember if it's appropriate to draw attention to her, trying to figure out if asking is the same as whispering queer behind her back. he can't remember her name, anyway.
once, just once, just after zoe dies, he says her name, says rose, quiet, like he's about tell a secret, like hush, but that's all he says. just her name. so she asks for another whiskey, and lets the burn feel like it's real, like nails scraping down the back of her neck.
she goes home, because she has to go home. she can't live at the job, she can't live at the bar, she can't stay where ian's secret prickles at her skin.
the house is quiet, broken only by the the clink of her keys in the bowl near the table, the hum of the refrigerator, the ticking of the clock in the front hall, always five minutes fast. there's a light on in the hall for her. she still manages to bang her shin on the shoe rack, like she does every time. she can hear running water, deep within the doors and walls of the house, a dim, quiet, night sound.
she looks in on the girls, wincing at the creak of the door. their faces are barely illuminated by the dim glow of their glow-in-the-dark constellations. they sleep in space, outside of the world behind the front door, the one she fights back against. the one she has to, because she knows that one day, there will be a boy to whisper queer behind them, or slut, and she wants them to fight. she wants to give them the power to fight. If that requires her to speak to a man who is splattered with blood, rich with it under his fingernails, and hot with it on his skin, to give him the common decency of actually looking him in the eye that he doesn't deserve, then she will do it. she will look a thousand men with the blood of a thousand people on their hands in the eye if she has to. and she does.
she closes their door, quietly as she can. there's the aftermath of warmth in the kitchen, the oven still radiating the barest amount of heat. the fridge hums, the dishwasher spins. the moonlight sliding in through the stained glass window is mottled over the fruit bowl, diffused by darkness pattering onto a note left by the counter, and if she was anyone else, had seen anything else in her life, she might hesitate to pick it up.
dinner's in the fridge