MOLASSES AND TAFFY, part one
The ground, rough gravel of roof bitumen, digs into her knees as she collapses. She can't breathe and it washes over her, like molasses and taffy, thick and choking.
Her father is dead and she has nothing.
And Cassidy's words, so stretched out and warped with anguish she can barely recognize him, wash over her, through her. Into her, like the piercing volts he sends into her arm and through her blood.
She wants to cry for Keith to help her, but he's already gone. Falling to the ground like debris from a fireworks display.
She's so covered in the sticky thick of it, that molasses and taffy, that she can't move and everything else happens too fast. There's a struggle, an elbow in her side, the sound of a taser and Logan groaning.
And then she feels the gun in her hand and sees Cassidy standing there.
He did it. She doesn't even know which 'it' she's thinking about. There's too many at this point. And all she knows is that he’ll be led away in handcuffs (like a guilty man) and kept in storage for a year (like forgotten leftovers) and when he goes to trial, he's going to get off (like Aaron), get away with destroying several lives (like Woody), and get away with raping her (again).
She can't do that.
She can't let him walk away. Not after...
"Give me the gun, Veronica."
Not after all he did...
"You're not a killer."
Her finger squeezes slightly and she wonders if the searing heat comes from the metal, the gun, the answer to all the problems she can see. Or if her grief, her anger, her disgust and disbelief are scratching at the surface of her skin, making it red hot with urge.
And maybe Logan doesn’t know her at all, his voice keeps coming, soft and gentle. She can hear him shaking, everything in him, and she knows he’s scared. Scared for her, scared of losing something, someone else, scared of being lost again. Maybe that’s her.
Maybe all she needs to do now is what she couldn’t do a year ago, with a gun pointed right down at Aaron’s broken and bleeding body. Just finish squeezing the trigger and there’ll be no chance of this one getting off on a technicality.
Logan’s fingers are on hers, taking the gun, and she lets him, because maybe he does know her after all and she’s not a killer.
She’s not anything anymore.
Everything is slow, but it goes too fast and she can’t seem to understand what’s happening, can’t do anything with her leaden limbs, frozen over and weighted down, except fall into Logan and he shouldn’t feel so good. He hurts her, he always hurts her.
But she can’t remember that just now.
Just now, she’s a big, gaping hole and he’s the only thing keeping her from falling apart. He holds her up. She can’t feel anything and she wants to, wants to feel something, anything.
She thinks, maybe, she should feel something as Cassidy begs them for just one reason to live. Then again, perhaps spite and the bitter glow of triumph knowing she could stop him taking that last step, but won’t, perhaps that is something. Perhaps that is enough.
Enough, like Logan’s hands in her hair and his words whispered into the top of her head.
And her eyes looking up into a dark, black and empty sky.
No matter how bad things get, they always said, it could always get worse.
They're so wrong it's not even funny. Veronica knows it as the elevator makes its slow trip to Mac’s floor. Her left hand clutches her right elbow, holding herself in, and her right hand hasn’t left Logan. She can’t seem to stop touching him, just reassuring herself that he’s there. The security manager frowns as the lights count down.
It's almost funny. Yeah, a huge, giant laugh a minute riot of giggles, because she spent so long teaching herself to believe that one fact. Tried so hard to etch it into her brain that she had finally started to accept it.
Things could always get worse.
Duncan stopped talking to her, but things could always be worse. Lilly died, blood pooling at Veronica's feet like the cries that congealed in her throat, but there was always someone worse off. Her mother, her friends, her school, her whole town turned against her and, no matter what she thought at the time, how awful it seemed then, she learned that there was always worse.
Like waking up lost and lonely, body aching with unremembered horror, brain furiously trying not to fill empty spaces with all the possibilities, all the twisted, cruel, unthinkable acts that could have passed.
Rock bottom might have been walking the halls at school, impossibly large when she had to walk them alone, dodging whispered words like slut and whore and traitor and she deserves whatever she gets as if they were bullets.
But Veronica learned her lessons well and things could always get worse.
Worse, like suspecting the one person she relied on, the one person who stood by her and helped her more than he would ever know, wasn't part of her blood. Worse like that. Life and lies, they were constants, unchangeable, inextricable from each other. People who breathed lied, it was the only truth she knew.
Each time something hit her, each time life smacked her upside the head with a new version of reality, Veronica suspected that the holy They had been wrong and it could never get worse, that there was no further to fall.
Further, like finding out Logan, who'd made a year of her life hell and then turned about and become one of the people she'd trusted, had brought the drugs that led to her rape.
Falling deeper, like discovering the truth to that night, the carelessness of everyone who'd stood by and let it happen.
Surely, she'd thought at the time, the worst it could be was scraping the insides of an abandoned fridge, feeling the flames lick heat into the metal as she heard the crashes that might mean her father's death.
There was nothing worse than that.
At least, she'd thought so.
It couldn't get worse. Not even dating a boy who seemed hell bent on destroying himself or the world and it didn't seem matter which. Not even crying as she told him to leave. Watching her friends careen off a cliff, knowing she should have been with them, thinking that they all died because of her, that was pretty low.
But things could always get worse.
Like putting two and two together and finding the answer was that, yes, despite the fact she'd spent a year trying to erase the word rape from her brain, it had happened. It hadn't been a fuzzy, but entirely consensual experience like she'd thought, like she'd cried tears of gratitude over, it had been cold, hard, brutal rape.
And it had been the last boy she'd thought could ever, would ever do it.
Small, seemingly inconsequential Cassidy. The boy Mac had been trying to tell her about for months now, the small tidbits she'd glossed over when Mac had been so worried suddenly came home to roost.
Things could always get worse, they said it all the time.
But Veronica knows, she knows now, that staring helplessly into the sky, watching the brilliant flash and burn of her father, her fingers clutching uselessly at the dull tone of her cell as if it could have changed time, she knows that nothing will be worse than that.
Not even opening the door and seeing Mac shivering in nothing but the shower curtain, her eyes shining with tears and her lips quivering with something so desperately wrong. It’s not worse, but it’s bad enough.
And Veronica kneels down and reaches out and gives Mac what no one gave her when she needed it. She holds Mac and doesn’t give soft, meaningless platitudes, she rocks her and holds her and through that tells her it will be okay.
She hopes Mac believes her, because she doesn’t quite believe herself anymore.
The questions take hours and she doesn’t have enough energy to care. She sits in the wide chair they had to bring to the large conference room specially, because she wouldn’t let go of Logan and he wouldn’t let go of her.
As if they were both afraid that the other would slip away and be lost.
She hears their voices and she hears her own, it’s like a big charade, cold, clinical words that could never tell the truth of it. Just like the trial. She remembers sitting there, telling a room full of blank faced jurors and glaring Aaron fans, that she’d been beaten and locked in the fridge, which Aaron set on fire while he tried to kill her father. And the words hadn’t done justice to the feeling of it, the fear and the choking and nightmares that followed.
And Veronica had spent the rest of the afternoon staring at the wooden floor, picturing the crowds outside with their ‘I love you, Aaron’, ‘Marry ME, Aaron’ placards and wondering how many of them said ‘I love you, Aaron, kill ME, Aaron’ and ‘beat ME with a belt, Aaron’. She'd briefly considered making one and wondered if any of the women out there would hold it up when it read 'defile and bludgeon MY daughter, Aaron, she's young enough'.
She doesn’t think anyone would have held an ‘I love you, Cassidy’ placard at a trial, if there’d been one.
Her whole body shivers and she can’t remember speaking for a full ten minutes. She wants out of the room, wants away from the stupid, repetitive questions, the sly looks from people who just don’t know. She just wants to sink down and forget the night ever happened, forget she’s supposed to exist.
“Are we done?”
It’s Logan that ends it, as if he can feel it in her.
“There’s just a few more questions…” The voice drones on.
“We have your card.” Logan won’t let them finish. “We’ll call you tomorrow.”
Veronica melts into him and lets him lead her away. Her brain doesn’t even try to function.
She shivers in the car and Logan turns the heating up full.
Neither of them even suggest staying at the hotel.
Veronica stops in the doorway and her throat closes up. Her eyes scream in protest as they try and escape everything that reminds her of her father. It’s no use. Everything in their apartment reminds her of him.
She can even smell him.
Her hand closes on Logan’s and his warmth seeps into her.
He doesn’t even ask her, like everything else since it happened, he’s three steps ahead of what she needs. She’s pliant, slow and heavy and numb as he leads her to the couch and pulls her down.
It’s exactly what she needs, arms holding her, letting her cry, letting her sob. Letting her fingers clutch desperately at his shirt as she screams into his shoulder. All’s she can feel is warm hands on her back, rubbing circles, and his voice humming down from the chin that sits on the top of her head.
She’s so tired.
She’s so empty.
After all that has happened, the remaining 09ers must be so proud.
She’s so broken.