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Pearl, Interrupted

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Your name is Pearl Finnegan, and you were a few days shy of fifteen when Rose Quartz took your virginity.

 

"Took" isn't the right word. You gave it to her more than willingly, and enjoyed every moment of it, from sneaking out to the bleachers at your school's football field after her graduation to kissing her deeply to her fucking you senseless beneath those bleachers, beneath the stars.

 

"I love you, Rose," you'd whispered to her, and she'd smiled and kissed you on the cheek.

 

"I love you too, my Pearl."

 

You believed her. You still do.

 

You don’t know if you were ever a couple , exactly. You spent a lot of time alone together, you had sex, you exchanged I-love-yous and heart-filled texts, but it was never quite official.

 

She saw other people. You knew that, and you were fine with it, because they didn’t matter the way you did. Besides, it was only reasonable; she was in college and you were still in high school, it wasn’t like you could see each other every day.

 

And then Greg Universe came along.

 

You didn’t have any problems with Greg as a person. He was a perfectly decent fellow, and never anything but kind to you. More importantly, he was good to Rose. And therein lay the problem.

 

She fell in love with him, and she said they were dating. She’d never said that about you.

 

It shouldn’t have upset you as much as it did, you don’t think. But your sister Maggie heard you crying about it, and insisted on knowing what was wrong. You can pinpoint that as the exact moment your life began to spiral down into hell.

 

She told the whole school, but more importantly, she told your mom; you were thrown out within days. “I’m not having a dyke in my house,” she’d sneered.

 

You found a place to stay--your dearest friend, Garnet Carlson, and her moms, Ruby and Sapphire, took you in. You were a senior by then, and managed to finish high school. A small victory, but...it was something.

 

The Carlsons were wonderful to you, and it was nice to live somewhere other than a cramped apartment. It was nice to have a room to yourself.

 

You had space .

 

You had a good living situation for the first time in your seventeen years of life. A lovely house, a sort-of-family that genuinely cared for you. Things were looking up, for a few years at least.

 

The handwritten card Rose mailed to you and Garnet came as a shock, to say the least. An ultrasound photo, and two simple words.

 

“We’re expecting!”

 

You wanted so badly to be happy for Rose. She was happy. That should’ve been enough for you.


But it wasn’t.

Chapter Text

From the very beginning, Rose's pregnancy was difficult, and you found yourself worrying about her nigh constantly. She kept telling you not to; "It's all going to be okay," she'd assured you.

 

You couldn't bring yourself to believe her. You don't think she believed herself.

It was clear, really, that everyone was scared. Even Garnet, stoic and quiet as she was, expressed her concerns, and like everyone else’s, they were handwaved away.

 

By the end of her second trimester, Rose was in the hospital, being treated for severely elevated blood pressure and gestational diabetes, and all you could do was watch. Wait. Hope for the best.

 

She was having seizures by the seventh month, and growing delirious and visibly exhausted--so unlike the vibrant, happy woman you’d fallen in love with.

 

Days before the premature birth of her son, she slipped into a coma. A small mercy, you suppose.

 

On August 15th, Steven Quartz Universe was born, a month early but shockingly healthy, all things considered.

 

And on August 15th, Rose Quartz died, never getting the chance to hold the child she’d so eagerly wanted.

 

He was a beautiful baby boy, and you couldn’t bring yourself to hold him. You were terrified that you’d hurt him.

 

You knew you wouldn’t , of course. And still, in the back of your mind, you couldn’t help but resent the tiny little being that took Rose away from you.

 

He didn’t deserve that. He deserved to be loved and cherished. He’d be best off without you in his life.

 

When you got home that day, you made a beeline to your room and cried your heart out.

 

---

 

It's been four months.

 

Four months ago, you saw Steven for the first time.

 

But more to the point, on that same hot summer day, you saw Rose for the final time, and you still can’t handle the fact that she’s gone .

 

Visiting her one last time at her funeral doesn't count. You can't count seeing her--her corpse--lying in repose, so still in a way she had never been, even in those final days she’d spent so deeply unconscious, as actually seeing her . The real Rose was gone, somewhere unreachable.

 

You never thought of yourself as especially religious, but you dearly hope that she made it into some sort of afterlife. If anyone in the universe deserves Heaven, it's her, and that thought keeps you going until it doesn't.

 

You can't pinpoint when it stopped helping. All you know is that now, four months down the line, you're past the point of anything being able to help.

 

You're past the point of even crying. At some point, you just went numb--a painful sort of numbness, all pins and needles and emptiness. At some point, Pearl Finnegan was hollowed out completely and replaced with...well, a walking corpse, as far as you can tell.

 

There's no point in keeping the "walking" part up. You're tired, you're so very tired, and when you write your final goodbyes and place them on the kitchen counter, you find that you can't muster up any real feelings about the matter. Consciously, you know it'll hurt your friends, but you can't help but assume they saw this coming from a mile away.

 

Not that they could fix you anyway.

 

You leave Garnet's house for the final time, get in your car, and drive down to the beach. The sun's just starting to rise, shining a gray light through the heavy fog. Enough to see by, at least.

 

The cliff's not far from where you parked. You feel no fear as you walk up to the edge, just a sense of calm resignation.

 

Jumping into the sea is the easiest thing you've ever done.

 

The shocking frigidity of the water does little to unnerve you, and even less to snap you out of your daze. You let yourself go as limp as possible, trying to avoid the natural urge to struggle as holding your breath becomes impossible, as the burning ache in your chest turns unbearable and you're forced to exhale.

 

There's no panic when you hit that point, despite the agony. In the back of your fading mind, you feel like there should be. You feel like you should, logically, care that you're in pain.

 

That you're about to die.

 

It never comes. Maybe you're just too far gone--maybe the prolonged lack of oxygen is messing with your head.

 

Your vision is failing you and you can feel your lungs straining to inhale, not caring whether they're filled with air or water, and you let them.

 

There's a sharp pain in your chest that should by all rights be unbearable, and then nothing at all.

 

---

 

You don't know that a fisherman saw you jump and managed to get you to shore.

 

That you were in cardiac arrest by the time the paramedics arrived.

 

That they broke a few ribs while performing CPR.

 

That they managed to bring you back from the dead.

 

That you've been laid up unconscious in a hospital bed for nearly a week now.


At least, you don't know any of that yet.

Chapter Text

You come to slowly, and understand nothing.

 

Your arms and legs feel like they've been tied down. There's something in your throat, snaking down from past your lips, and no matter how much you cough it's not coming out.

 

Everything is fuzzy, for lack of a better term. Your vision is blurry and everything sounds muffled, feels muffled, and you feel like you should know what's going on. It's hours before you do figure it out, hours of being prodded at by doctors and waiting for your senses to clear.

 

Your eyes begin to water when it finally hits you.

 

It didn't work.

 

---

 

"You have no idea how scared we all were, Pearl."

 

Garnet's voice is shaking. You haven't heard anything like that from her since...

 

Well, since Rose .

 

You wish you could explain things to her, but talking hurts. Your throat is still sore from the breathing tube, and your broken ribs make every action involving your torso, especially your lungs, painful. So you've been speaking as little as possible, and of course, that just seems to make everyone more worried.

 

"I know," you finally rasp. "Can you get me something to write with? Hurts to talk."

 

"I'll bring your laptop in tomorrow," Garnet says, and you nod. "Anything else you'd like us to bring you?"

 

"Books. Pens. Paper."

 

"Understood." She runs a hand through your short ginger hair, and smiles faintly. "It's an understatement, but...I'm very, very glad that you're alive."

 

"Thanks."

 

That's enough talking for now, you think. Garnet seems to get the message; she tells you she'll be back tomorrow and requests that you get some sleep. "I'll fill you in on things later," she says.

 

You just nod before turning away. It pains you to see her so concerned. You don't deserve that kind of pity. Not after pulling something like this.

 

---

 

One of the things people keep telling you once you’re awake is how lucky you are, and it feels like no one says this more often than your attending physician, Dr. Maheswaran.

 

(You try not to look at her, at her swollen belly. It makes you sick just to think about it--about the possibility of someone else you know, however tangentially, dying like Rose did. You know how improbable it is, and that Rose's pregnancy was abnormally difficult from the get-go, and that Dr. Maheswaran is nearly eight months along and doing perfectly fine. But it's not something you'd like to think about, so you avert your gaze from her whenever possible.)

 

"Now, Miss Finnegan--" she begins, but you cut her off.

 

"Pearl, please."

 

She sighs. "Alright. Pearl. Physically, you're doing far better than anyone could've expected. Shockingly so, really--no evidence of brain damage or any permanent pulmonary issues. You're still going to have to stay here for a bit, but hopefully we'll be able to release you to the psych ward soon..."

 

"Wait. Psych ward? I'm not crazy, Dr. Maheswaran! Why the hell--"

 

"Pearl, please calm down. I don't make the rules here, okay?" It bothers you immensely when she talks to you like that; she can be so patronizing, like you're a fragile little kid. "There's a mandatory 72-hour hold for those in your, ahem...situation. And given your mental state, I can't say I disagree with those orders in your case."

 

"Would you want to be alive if you were me?" you spit back.

 

"This isn't about what you want, Pearl. It's about what's best for you and your safety." She smirks. "Would you trust me not to hurt myself if I were you?"

 

Part of you wants to admit that she has a bit of a point. Most of you is just annoyed.

 

"Now get some rest. It's very late."

 

She turns and leaves, and you pull the covers over your head as the lights go out.

 

---

 

Most of your dreams are meaningless, insignificant. Stupid little vignettes that just leave you baffled when you wake up in the morning, if you remember them at all.

 

Not tonight.

 

Tonight you dream of sinking into the depths of the sea, staring up at the gray morning light filtering down towards you, letting the water fill your nose and mouth, and you're freezing and in pain and, despite all that, at peace.

 

You dream about succeeding where you'd failed, about your funeral, about being buried next to her.

 

It should be a nightmare.

 

It's anything but.

 

(When you wake up, you feel like you should've known it was a dream as soon as the prospect of burial came up.

 

Rose was cremated. Even if you died, you could never have the luxury of being by her side again.)

 

---

 

You don't get many visitors, but the few you do get come obnoxiously often.

 

It's mostly Garnet and her moms. Ruby's too upset about it to stay around you much, though, so in practice it's more like Garnet and Sapphire.

 

"I'm disappointed in you," Garnet admits one day.

 

You laugh bitterly. "I would be too."

 

It's true, really. You're disappointed in yourself, in your weakness.

 

More than anything, you're disappointed that you've gone against what Rose would've wanted.

 

And yet despite all that, you can't muster up any real desire to keep living.

 

"We were all scared for you, Pearl. It was a close call."

 

"Well, I'm alive, doesn't that count for anything?"

 

"You weren't. You spent a good few minutes without a pulse back there..."

 

"It doesn't count if it doesn't stick," you huff. "I'm fine now."

 

"You're really not." Garnet adjusts her sunglasses, and you think that maybe, just maybe, you saw her wipe away a few tears. "Sapphire told me that she can hook you up with a therapy group when you're back home. She's actually got one of her own that she mediates for..."

 

"I don't need therapy."

 

"Yes, you do."

 

You don't say anything to that.

 

You can't bring yourself to admit that Garnet is right.

Chapter Text

The three days you spend in the psych ward are three of the longest days of your life.

 

It's painfully dull. There's so little to do, and even the books Garnet brought from your bedroom while you were still recuperating only do so much to quell your boredom.

 

Not only that, but you're stuck with a roommate--a girl about your age, with electric blue hair and scars on her bare arms (and, as you notice when you catch an accidental glimpse of her changing, a good chunk of the rest of her body). She barely talks to you; in fact, she barely seems to talk to anyone. She seems sullen and bitter and angry, and while you're well aware that you can't be much better than her, it still grates on you.

 

Her name is Lapis. That's the full extent of what you know about her.

 

When they bring you dinner on the second day, you insist on talking to her. "If the isolation doesn't kill me," you remark, "the stuff they pass off as food will." A stupid conversation starter, but you suppose it'll have to do.

 

She looks up from her dish of disgusting hospital slop. "And here I thought you wanted to die."

 

You blush heavily, embarrassed. "I mean...I'm not sure how you knew that, but--"

 

"You were still wearing a hospital gown when you came in," Lapis says with a shrug. "And you still have one of those dumb bracelets they give you on."

 

You heave an exasperate sigh. "Okay. Fair enough. I tried to kill myself. Happy?"

 

She smirks. "Not often."

 

"You know what I mean."

 

"Yeah, I'm just fucking with you. Method?"

 

"...Huh?"

 

"How did you try?"

 

"That's a bit personal, isn't it?"

 

Lapis snorts. "Yeah, there's so much else to talk about," she snarks.

 

You roll your eyes. "Ugh, okay. I...I tried to drown myself. I just jumped into the ocean and hoped for the best. It was surprisingly easy."

 

"Eh, drowning yourself is actually pretty tricky."

 

"Personal experience?"

 

"Yup. Stupid survival instinct kicked in, I panicked, I managed to get to shore. Then again, I was on the swim team in high school, so it's not like it was an especially well-thought-out method for me anyway." She smiles, and it seems almost genuine. "I was damn good, too. Got a scholarship for it, actually."

 

"Oh, so you actually had a future." You know it's a cruel thing to say, but you can't help yourself.

 

"Meh."

 

"So let me guess. You're here for the same reason I am."

 

"Yeah. Not for the first time, either. At least I get out tomorrow. Look, here's a tip: if you're gonna try to kill yourself, do it right, because psych wards are hell and the fancy mental institution up north isn't much better."

 

"So, since you asked me...how did you do it?"

 

"Same as you the second time, which, obviously, was one of my stupider plans." You glare a bit at the implications, but she barely seems to notice, and keeps talking. "First time, I slashed my wrists open. This time I ODed. Probably not worth trying anymore at this point. Too lazy to try anything else."

 

You're not sure what to say to that, but you suppose that’s as good a reason as any. If sheer laziness is enough to keep Lapis going, there’s got to be something to keep you going.

 

And despite everything, despite all reason, that’s what it takes for you make up your mind, because you do have something. After all your friends--family, really--have done for you, you’re going to at least attempt to get better. It’s the least you can do, and even if it’s all for nothing (and you suspect it might be), at least no one will be able to say you didn’t try.

 

The doctors let you call the Carlsons, and you ask Sapphire if she can give you a ride to your first therapy session. For all you’re finding yourself wanting to dig yourself out of the hole you’ve gotten yourself into, you’re don’t know if you’ll ever get to a point where you trust yourself behind the wheel.


Depression is a hell of a thing.

Chapter Text

You get out the same day Lapis does--December 23rd. Two days before Christmas, and despite all reassurances to the contrary, you just know you won’t be able to find any joy in it.

 

Joy has been very, very hard to come by lately. Still, you suppose it’s worth trying to fake it. After seeing everyone so shaken by what you tried to do--what you did--you’re determined to at least try not to make everyone around you as miserable as you are.

 

You return home to a fully-trimmed tree and stockings hung on the wall. Yes, it’s definitely that time of year, and you find yourself a bit guilty for not having bothered to get gifts for anyone. As much as you try to justify it to yourself--you’re unemployed and short on funds, you’ve been too depressed to even think about the upcoming holiday, you were planning on killing yourself anyway--it seems a bit unfair. Your stocking’s up there, some of the presents under the tree have your name on them...your relationship with the Carlsons is, you’re starting to believe, all take and no give.

 

That, however, weighs on you far less than the knowledge that Rose won't be at the little Christmas gathering your little group has every year. She'd always attended, with a warm smile on her face, little trinkets for everyone in her purse, and a plate of homemade cookies in her hands. You’d never been big on sweets, but Rose’s cookies were an exception, and not just because of who made them.

 

She baked the best cookies in the world.

 

She gave you the recipe at one point, but you could never replicate it perfectly. Then again, she did tend to experiment with the recipe every time she made them, so realistically an exact replica would be nigh impossible. And you always were the type to stick to a recipe anyway--you were never much of a baker. Or any type of cook, really. For all you cooked your own meals for much of your life, you weren't terribly good at it.

 

"You need to be more willing to experiment with what you're making," Rose had told you once, but doing that would mess up the routine. That, and as irrational as it was, you always worried something would go wrong if you didn't do things just so.

 

But you decide giving it another try this year, to honor her memory, would be a good idea, so you bite the bullet and ask Ruby if they have all the right ingredients. After she does a quick check and confirms that they do, you set about baking.

 

They come out closer to perfect than you ever could've hoped, and you know you should feel better about that than you do. As it is, the taste of them just makes you want to vomit.

 


 

It’s not the cookies that are the worst part of your day; that comes when you head to your room and see the bit of her ashes you were allotted lying on your windowsill, collected in a little wooden box.

 

Nothing in your room has changed--that box has been there for months. It's not a new addition, and yet it shakes you to the core.

 

You take the box and hide it under your bed. It doesn't really help, but at least there's no longer a constant reminder of her death looming there every time you look out the window.

 

You flop onto your bed and curl up under the covers. It's nice to be in your own bed again, but that thought is stuck in the back of your mind, buried beneath all your worries and other less-than-pleasant thoughts.

 


 

 

"Greg's gonna bring Steven over later," Ruby mentions, almost offhandedly, on Christmas morning.

 

Six simple words, and they nearly cause you to drop the sweater you've just unwrapped in shock. "What?"

 

"It's his first Christmas, Pearl!" Ruby exclaims, gesturing excitedly at nothing in particular. "It wouldn't be fair for him to have to just be stuck in Greg's apartment all day..."

 

"I don't want to see him."

 

Ruby glares at you; she looks about ready to explode, until Sapphire places a calming hand on her shoulder. "You can't expect her to be excited about that so soon," Sapphire murmurs. Turning to you, she adds, "Though I do think it would be good for you to see him."

 

You look to Garnet frantically, praying she'll back you up here, but she just nods. "Sapphire's right. It'll be a good step forward for you."

 

“I’m not ready.

 

“I know,” Garnet sighs. “I don’t think any of us are, really. But you have to make the right choice here. Ask yourself: What would Rose have wanted?”

 

You give a mirthless smile, and say, “I don’t even know anymore.”

 

 

 

You try to steel yourself for Greg’s arrival. For Steven’s arrival.

 

It’s freezing outside, and the snow just makes it worse, but you bundle up and head outside for a smoke regardless. (A bad habit, and you know it. Part of you wants to quit, or at least try to, but right now...right now you need something to calm you down.) You sit on the porch, the Kindle you opened a few hours prior (and then proceeded to load with as many ebooks as you could easily acquire) in one hand and a cigarette in the other, your old iPod stuffed in your pocket and earbuds pressed in as tightly as possible, and pretend it’s just another Christmas.

 

Pretending is the best you can do right now. You can pretend that Rose just isn’t coming this year, that she’s got a nasty cold and would rather just lie in bed today, and you know it’s not the healthiest coping mechanism but it’s all that helps. It’s all that helps you feel less awful.

 

More than that, you can pretend to be happy.

 

You snuff the cigarette in the snow once you’re done with it, and pull the iPod out, scrolling through your playlists and deciding on one you made a while back—years ago, back in junior year. One you made for when you were down, when you were overwhelmed.

 

It’s based on the sound rather than the lyrics. So long as it sounds upbeat, it cheers you up. At least, you hope it’ll still have that effect on you.

 

You shove the iPod back in your pocket, and light another cigarette.

 

There you are, smoking and listening to some guilty pleasure pop song and reading a book from a fairly comedic fantasy series Ruby had enthusiastically recommended to you (“It’s a big series, you’ll have stuff to read for ages if you get into it”), and you feel almost okay. That is, until a beat-up old van pulls into the driveway.

 

Greg’s van.

 

You stub out the half-finished cigarette and flee inside, as if that’ll change anything. But, of course, it’s only a matter of time before he— they— come inside as well.

 

In that instant, you lose all your nerve, all the calm you’d spent the past few hours cultivating.

 

 

They call you downstairs soon enough. Sure, they all know you need a bit of space, but you’ve been acutely aware since morning that you have to go through with this, no matter how much you’d prefer not to.

 

It’s Garnet who finally gets you to unlock your bedroom door. “Pearl,” she says, “you need to join us.”

 

I’d really rather not.”

 

May I come in, then?”

 

You sigh, but acquiesce, and Garnet walks in, closing the door behind her. She sits down on your bed, patting the spot next to her, and you join her.

 

I know this is hard for you.”

 

You say nothing. You just stare down at your lap.

 

...You’re scared, aren’t you.” It’s not a question—Garnet doesn’t ask questions, not serious ones. And she’s right. You are scared.

 

I don’t want to hurt Steven,” you finally whisper. “I just...I’m angry at him, and that’s stupid , I know, but...”

 

Garnet nods. “I understand that. But please, please remember that Rose wanted that child. There’s no way she would’ve gone through with the pregnancy if she hadn’t wanted him to be born so badly.”

 

As usual, Garnet is right. Rose wasn’t stupid; if she hadn’t wanted a kid, she would’ve terminated the pregnancy early on, considering how hard it was on her.

 

...Do you think she knew she’d...”

 

I’m fairly certain she did. At the very least, she knew it was a distinct possibility. Risky. But it was a risk she wanted to take.”

 

She looks you in the eye; even behind her ever-present shades, you can tell. “This is what she wanted, Pearl. I know she would’ve loved for you to see her little boy.”

 

She gets up, and you head downstairs together.

 

 

Steven has Rose’s eyes, and even the small amount of dark hair he’s grown in the past four months is distinctly curly.

 

He sits in a car seat on the sofa, next to his father, and Ruby’s there playing with him, much to his delight. “Can I hold him?” she asks Greg.

 

Of course!” he says, grinning. He looks exhausted, but happy; at the very least, it seems like Rose’s child is well-loved. Ruby lifts Steven up, and he squeals in joy, a huge toothless grin on his face.

 

Sapphire emerges from the kitchen with a mug of hot cocoa, which she hands over to Greg. “Thanks, Sapphire,” he tells her as he takes the mug.

 

You’re welcome.”


Greg takes a sip of the cocoa, careful to avoid burning his tongue. “Mmm, is this the stuff Ruby came up with a few years back?”

“Sure is!” Ruby replies, still cradling Steven in her strong arms. “I can email you the recipe, it’s pretty simple really.”

 

That’d be great! I’ve been pretty swamped lately, but if it doesn’t take too long I’ll totally make some.”

 

Garnet smiles, and despite yourself, you do too. It’s an adorable scene, even if it is...well, incomplete.

 

You’re going to say hello to that baby whether you like it or not.

 

 

The moment you approach Steven, you find yourself loving him, and hating yourself for your reluctance.

 

He smiles and coos as he grabs your finger, and you smile back. It’s not quite a true smile; as precious as he is, you’re still mourning his mother, and the joy of his presence does little to alleviate her crushing absence. But it’s the closest you’ve come to feeling normal in a long time, and you’ll take what you can get.

 

Until Greg asks you if he can talk to you alone, that is.

 

You find yourself agreeing, almost distracted, and you hand little Steven over to Garnet as the two of you head to the kitchen. Greg doesn’t look upset, really. At least, he doesn’t look upset with you.

 

I’m sorry about everything that happened,” he tells you.

 

You can’t look him in the eye when he says that. “I know,” you reply, and it’s true. You know full well that he’d be happier if Rose were still here, too.

 

Look, Pearl, if you hate me...I get it. I wouldn’t blame you for that.”

 

I don’t hate you.”

 

He looks surprised, even shocked. “But you and Rose...I knew how you felt about her, and I knew you were involved somehow, and I still stayed with her.”

 

I would’ve done the same,” you admit. “It was impossible not to love her.”

 

Greg gives a little chuckle. “It really was.”

 

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small box, barely bigger than a jewelry box, wrapped in pink paper. “She had something for you,” he continues. “She told me that if she didn’t make it to Christmas...”

 

That you should give it to me.”

 

Yeah.” He hands the gift to you, and you unwrap it. It’s a small hinged box made of smooth wood, painted pastel pink with a white star in the middle, with a tiny little key stuck into the side of the lower portion.

 

You open the box and smile. It was her music box, and she wanted you to have it.

 

Thank you, Greg,” you whisper.

 

No problem. And uh...good luck,” he says awkwardly. “With recovering and all that.”

 

Thanks.” Your smile fades. “I think I’ll need it.”

 

Well, if you ever need to, I dunno, commiserate, you have my number.”

 

You nod. You might take him up on that offer, but right now you just need some time to yourself; as wonderful as the gift is, it’s dredged up so many memories that as far as you’re concerned, your first appointment with Sapphire can’t come soon enough.

 

You can’t help but let out a choked laugh at how fragile your happiness is, but at least for a few hours it was there.

Chapter Text

Strictly speaking, Sapphire shouldn’t have a driver’s license.

 

It’s not that she’s a bad driver. She can drive just fine, actually. But normally, the DMV would never issue a license to someone with one eye.

 

Retinoblastoma, she’d told you once. Eye cancer, back when she was a kid, and they’d had to take the affected eye out before it spread. And while her glass eye looked quite realistic, the fact of the matter was that she had zero depth perception, and you still have no clue how she managed to get a license at all.

 

You think that over as she drives the two of you to her office. It’s better than thinking about everything else.

 

---

 

There are three other people in the group, Sapphire had told you before you left, all girls.

 

The first to arrive is a tiny young lady—you’d place her in her early teens--with big glasses and an oversized, well-worn hoodie with a picture of an alien on it. She has the hood pulled up over her head, but you can see a few locks of bleach-blonde hair peeking out from underneath the green fabric.

 

She didn’t do a good job bleaching it. It’s horribly fried, and if you had to guess, you’d be pretty sure that was why she had kept the hood up.

 

She looks at you and nearly jumps, letting out a yelp. “S-sorry,” she stammers, “I just...forgot we were getting someone new.”

 

She walks over to you, and holds out her hand. Her motions are practiced, almost mechanical. “I’m Peridot Zimmerman,” she tells you, and it’s all too clear that she’s rehearsed this, that small talk and introductions don’t quite come naturally to her.

 

You shake her hand. “Pearl. Pearl Finnegan. It’s, uh, nice to meet you!”

 

“Likewise!” she responds, smiling almost victoriously. She shoots a glance at Sapphire, grinning, and Sapphire grins back. Peridot nods, then zips over to a seat on the other side of the small room, pulling her phone from her pocket and focusing all her attention on it.

 

That was strange, you think. Then again, this is a therapy group. You suppose some strangeness is to be expected.

 

Though you weren’t expecting the next girl to be someone you recognized.

 

“Oh, hey Pearl,” Lapis says, smiling faintly. You’re not convinced she’s actually happy to see you, but you smile back regardless. She sits down by Peridot, who seems genuinely pleased by Lapis’ presence. Actually, from the way Peridot blushes and grins as the two of them begin chatting, you wonder if she has a bit of a thing for the other girl.

 

That would never work out. Lapis is in her twenties, and Peridot can’t be much out of middle school…

 

Yes, there was a significant age gap between you and Rose, but it wasn’t that huge, at least. Though since Lapis’ responses seem more friendly than flirty, you’re not too concerned. It wasn’t like you’d never been attracted to much older women in the past.

 

Mere moments before the clock strikes noon, the third girl enters, opening the door so forcefully that you can’t help but wince. She’s short and heavyset, with long messy hair dyed a pale shade of purple, and she flops down on the couch next to you. “Ey, new kid. I’m Amethyst, who’re you?”

 

“Pearl,” you reply, rather taken aback.

 

“Wait, like Garnet’s friend?”

 

“...How do you know Garnet?”

 

“We were in band together a few years back. Did she seriously never tell you about me?”

 

Now that you think about it, her name sounds familiar, but you shake your head. Amethyst had come up a few times when Garnet was telling you about band class, but you remember next to nothing about her, and since she’d never come over, you assume they weren’t especially close.

 

“Huh. Well, she should’ve, ‘cause I’m awesome. ” Amethyst grins slyly. “’Course, we didn't actually have any other classes together, or any mutual friends, so...we didn’t really see each other outside of band. And like, she was always super quiet, so it’s not like we actually talked a lot. You came up, what, maybe twice?” She shrugs. “I’unno, I just remembered your name.”

 

Well, that explains it somewhat. Out of all the patients here, Amethyst seems the most normal , and so you’re inclined to believe her.

 

–-

 

“I’m Lapis Paz, I’m 20, and I got out of the hospital a little over a week ago.”

 

Amethyst snorts. “Y’know, I keep thinking your last name should be Lazuli. That’d be hilarious.

 

“That’s my middle name, thank you very much. My parents thought the same thing you did.”

 

“Wait, really ? Holy shit, Lapis, that’s amazing.”

 

“It’s not amazing, it’s embarrassing.

 

“Eh, close enough.”

 

“Amethyst,” Sapphire sighs, “please let her talk.” Amethyst mumbles something you can’t make out, but otherwise keeps her mouth shut.

 

“Anyway,” Lapis continues, “they put me on another antidepressant, and the RA at my dorm is gonna be checking in every goddamn morning to make sure I take my pills. I think the college is kind of glad I managed to convince them to let me stay in the dorms during break.”

 

You raise your hand. “So, if it’s alright to ask, what are you majoring in?”

 

“Art. Majored in marine biology for a while, but I changed my major a year in because I was flunking all my bio classes. It was one of those things that seemed way more interesting in theory than it wound up being in practice, I guess.”

 

“And how are you doing?” Sapphire asks.

 

“Better than when I tried to OD.”

 

“Wait,” Peridot interjects, “you tried to kill yourself? Why would you do that?” She sounds genuinely horrified, and given how everyone reacted after your attempt...you can’t say her reaction is out of line. You glance over to Amethyst, who’s just staring in wide-eyed surprise.

 

“Because,” Lapis answers, almost cheerfully, “my life sucks and I’m a deeply unhappy person.”

 

Peridot has nothing to say to that, and neither does Amethyst. Neither do you, actually.

 

You were there all too recently, and Lapis knows that. You’re still there, if you’re honest with yourself. Why else would you be here?

 

“Well, Lapis,” Sapphire finally says, “I’m glad to hear that, at the very least, you’re not as low as you were before. Just remember that you have my number if you ever need to talk to me. And I’m sure the rest of us would be happy to help as well.”

 

“’Kay.” There’s no real emotion to her response; it’s kind of amazing to you how little Lapis seems to care about the matter. In a way, you envy her apathy.

 

---

 

“Uh, hi! My name is Peridot Zimmerman, I’m 16, and I’m doing pretty well! I went to a family holiday party recently and I actually talked to people!” Peridot seems over the moon about this, and the others in the group are smiling and nodding—Amethyst even applauds.

 

“I knew you could do it, Peri!” Amethyst exclaims, a grin taking over half her face.

 

“Ah, yes. But there’s more! I managed to stay there for most of the function. I mean, yes, I had to lock myself in my grandmother’s bathroom for a while at one point, but it’s still the best I’ve ever done!”

 

She seems to notice your look of confusion. “Oh! Right, you don’t know. I have... difficulty interacting with others. It’s partly that I don’t get how they work, and partly that they just make me...” Peridot gestures vaguely, searching for the right word. “Anxious, I guess you’d say. People are exhausting and confusing, and I just don’t like to be around them much...and I think they don’t like being around me, either.”

 

I like being around you,” Amethyst objects. “And I totally need to take you out for pizza as a reward for your badassery at that lame party. I promised you, remember?”

 

“Oh! Right! Yes, that would be great!”

 

“Uh, what?” you ask Lapis quietly.

 

“They found out they go to the same high school a few months back,” Lapis replies. “Amethyst kinda took her under her wing.”

 

“...Is that a good thing?”

 

Lapis shrugs. “At least Peridot has a friend now.”

 

Sapphire frowns a bit. “You could’ve worded that better, Lapis. Be more tactful next time. And Peridot, good job getting through the party. I’m quite impressed, and very proud.”

 

The smile Peridot gives at that could power a small city.

 

---

 

“Amethyst Diaz, 17, feelin’ alright, I guess.” She looks bored, restless. “Pretty stressed about going back to school next week, though.”

 

“And why’s that?” asks Sapphire.

 

“Because I hate it there! No one there likes me except Peri, I’m flunking most of my classes because they’re boring as shit , and I’ve gotta avoid getting any more marks on my permanent records if I don’t wanna get expelled. ” The boredom shifts to anger so quickly you can hardly believe it, and you find yourself having to accept that Amethyst is just as fucked up as everyone else here.

 

After all, she’s...well, here.

 

Peridot's hand shoots up. "I could tutor you in chemistry, if that'd help! It's not so bad, if you ask me. I actually think it's pretty fun!"

 

"I wouldn't be failing it if it was fun." Peridot frowns at that, her expression a mixture of sadness and confusion. A bit of pity too, perhaps.

 

“And why don’t you have any friends?” Lapis asks, raising an eyebrow. I can think of a few reasons , you think; cruel, yes, but it’s become quite clear in the past few minutes alone that Amethyst can be painfully abrasive.

 

Amethyst blows a stray lock of lilac hair away from her face, grimacing when it flops back towards her mouth. “‘Cause high school is full of assholes. My parents wanted me to join a club or whatever, but they’re all dumb.

 

You have to admit that Amethyst has something of a point regarding the populace of the local high school. You were bullied quite heavily after Maggie outed you, and even before that, Garnet and Rose were the only ones who ever paid you much mind. Teenagers are cruel, you’re acutely aware of that--and it’s quite clear that Amethyst is too.

 

“The anime club is nice…” Peridot says quietly.

 

“The anime club has shit taste and you’re the only person there who isn’t an obnoxious weeaboo.”

 

On the other hand, it seems like Amethyst isn’t even trying , and that bothers you far more than it reasonably should. A lot of things about her are starting to bug you, from her sloppy manner of dress to her caustic attitude, and while it’s realistically far too early to judge, you can’t say you’re terribly fond of her.


Not that it matters. She doesn’t seem fond of you, either.

 

---

 

“So Pearl, you understand the format of all this, yes?”

 

You nod. “Yes. Uh...I’m Pearl Finnegan. I’m 19, 20 in June, and I’m...er, I’m trying to get better?”

 

“That’s the fucking point of being here,” Amethyst grumbles. Lapis rolls her eyes at the purple-haired girl; Peridot shrugs.

 

“Ah...yes. But my main reason for being here is that a very good friend of mine passed away a few months ago, and I didn’t exactly handle it well.” You stare down at your hands, picking at your cuticles. “I’m sure you can infer the rest. Lapis already knows--we were roommates in the psychiatric ward.”

 

“Eeyup,” Lapis drones. “You didn’t tell me why , but it’s not like I ever asked.”

 

“It was foolish,” you admit. “It’s not like me dying would’ve brought her back. And even if there was some afterlife, and I got to see her again, she’d no doubt be very upset with me.” Tears sting your eyes, and your hands ball themselves into fists. “Her name was Rose. Rose Quartz. She was courageous, and brilliant, and beautiful , and I don’t know who I am without her in my life.”

 

The room goes very, very quiet, a heavy sort of silence--everyone’s just staring at you sympathetically, and all you can assume is that they don’t know what to say.

 

That’s fine.


You don’t know what to say either.

Chapter Text

Two days before your next session, you decide to do something you haven’t done in years: you call your sister Rita.

 

You’re a triplet, in terms of actual birth status. More often than not, though, Maggie and Rita seemed like their own set, with you as the odd one out. That had gnawed at you your entire childhood, and it honestly still does.

 

Rita, at least, had always been nice to you. Quiet and a bit aloof, but nice --well, except when Maggie overruled her. She was a different story entirely, and her outing you to your mother was only the last in a chain of little aggressions.

 

You’ve cut off contact with your mother entirely--it’s hard not to cut off contact with someone who’s kicked you out of their life. Either way, as far as you’re concerned, Holly Finnegan is not related to you in any way.

 

Holly aside, though...it’s time to stop worrying about the past. It’s time to think about the future, and despite everything, you can’t help but hold some affection for your sisters. It’s not like you never did anything stupid or cruel as a kid, after all.

 

But you know you have to ease into this. You are not ready to talk to Maggie, and you know it.

 

Rita’s number isn’t in your phone, but you know the college she goes to, and you know that it’s a small one--two dorms, one for girls, one for boys. After a bit of internet sleuthing, you track down the number for the girls’ dorm’s front desk, and dial it up.

 

Your fingers shake, and you double-check, triple- check, to make sure you have the number right. Satisfied that you do, you hit the call button.

 

“Hello, Amber speaking. What’s the reason for your call?” Amber sounds bored, like she’s been taking calls all day, and it dawns on you that maybe she has. It is a Saturday, after all--you’re sure plenty of Rita’s classmates are getting calls from their family and friends on their day off.

 

“Um...hi. This is Pearl Finnegan. I’d like to speak to my sister Rita Finnegan.”

 

“So you don’t have her cell phone number?”

 

You blush. “No, I don’t. It’s, uh...it’s been a while.”

 

“Huh. Well, I can’t give you her cell--school policy--but I can give you her room number, if that helps?”

 

“I’d appreciate that. I could write to her, perhaps.”

 

“Sounds cool. Let me check the records real quick…” You hear the sound of keys clicking, and you wait for what seems far longer than it truly is before Amber lets out a little “a-hah!” and continues speaking.

 

“Her dorm number is 318. And you said your name is Pearl, yeah? Same surname as Rita?”

 

“Yes. Thank you, Amber.”

 

“No prob. I’ve got someone else calling, so is it alright if I hang up?”

 

“That’s fine. Thanks.”

 

“Have a nice day, Pearl.”

 

“You too.” The call ends, and you bury your face in your free hand. This is absolutely not going as planned.

 

I could always look her up on Facebook, you think. No...she might be friends with our mom on there. And with Maggie, too. Although if her email’s up there…

 

Yeah. That should work just fine.

 

It doesn’t take much work to find her--you know her full name and the school she goes to, and of course, you know what she looks like. After a quick glance at her (public) friends list reveals that yes, she’s friends with both Holly and Maggie, you look for her email. And there it is.

 

You open up your email client, and you begin to write.

 

---

 

To: rbfinnegan@marylandstatecollege.edu

From: pearl_finnegan@hmail.com

 

Subject: Hello, it’s Pearl.

 

Hi, Rita. I hope it’s not creepy that I found your email address, and I know this is very much out of the blue, but I’ve been considering re-establishing contact for some time now. Not with Mom, but with you, and though I’m admittedly not quite ready to talk to her yet, eventually Maggie as well.

 

How have you been? Is college treating you well? I’m personally taking some time off, but I do plan to continue my education someday, hopefully sooner rather than later. I’m just not in a good enough place emotionally at the moment, but I’m hoping I’ll be doing better soon!

 

I still want to major in a STEM field of some sort, though I haven’t decided which. I was thinking about astrophysics, but I’m not sure any colleges in the area offer that, and I’d rather not travel too far. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

 

I do hope life is treating you well, and I sincerely look forward to hearing back from you.

 

Love,

Pearl

 

---

 

She replies less than an hour later.

 

---

 

To: pearl_finnegan@hmail.com

From: rbfinnegan@marylandstatecollege.edu

Subject: Re: Hello, it’s Pearl.

 

hi pearl. its actually really nice to hear from you. ive thought of looking you up, but schools been rough and there was no way id risk looking you up during break. mom would be cross, probably.

 

ive been doing okay for the most part, even though schools been hard lately. i wound up majoring in dance but i still need to get my gen ed requirements out of the way, so ive been doing both. my grades are good, at least. though i guess they have to be if i want mom to keep supporting me. shes still, uh. shes still like she was before you got kicked out. nothings changed there.

 

im sorry. i wish id done more to help you.

 

how are the carlsons doing? and rose?

 

love, rita

 

ps: i think youd like majoring in general physics. youd be good at it.

 

---

 

On the one hand, you’re glad to hear back from Rita, and to hear that she’s doing fine. You’re very glad that she holds no ill will towards you. But that last question makes you close the window.

 

I’ll respond later , you tell yourself. I’m not just going to leave her hanging. That would be wrong.

 

You don’t respond for entirely too long, and ignore the email she sends you a few hours later asking if everything’s alright. When you do respond, all you can say is that Rose is gone and send her a link to the obituary.

 

She offers her condolences. It’s not much, but it’s something, and you thank her sincerely.


And then she asks if you’d like to visit soon, and you find yourself saying yes. You’ll be driving to Maryland in a week, and you can only pray that you can keep it together during the drive.

Chapter Text

You find yourself almost looking forward to your session. It helps, you think, that you got introductions out of the way last week; at least this time you won’t have to repeat all that. Besides, you’re going to be doing this every Tuesday for a while. It’s best, you think, to try not to dread it.

 

Just like last time, you and Sapphire are the first ones there--of course you are, Sapphire’s the therapist here. This time, though, everyone else seems to arrive a lot faster. Maybe it’s just your perception. You’re not sure.

 

There’s a lot you’re not sure of.

 

One thing you immediately notice is that Peridot is wearing the exact same hoodie she was last week. It’s clean--very freshly washed, if the slight smell of detergent you detect when you sit next to her is any indication--but up close, you can tell that it’s been quite well-loved. The alien decal is actually pretty cracked up, and the hems on the sleeves seem to have been chewed on, and there’s a small hole in the left elbow, and a little spattering of white paint on the right arm…

 

“What are you staring at?” Peridot snaps.

 

“Uh, nothing! I was just admiring your sweatshirt. It’s nice.”

 

“Wow, thanks!” she replies, brightly. “It’s my favorite, I wear it pretty much daily. It’s...special to me. I don’t really know why, but...it makes me really happy! I’m glad you like it.”

 

“Can confirm,” Amethyst butts in. “She loves that thing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her without it, even in the summer.”

 

“Well, I mean, I don’t technically wear it when it’s hot out. I just wrap it around my waist.”

 

“You still always have it, though. It’s kinda cute.”

 

“Are you flirting with her during therapy ?” Lapis asks, raising an eyebrow.

 

“Don’t kinkshame me, Lapis,” Amethyst deadpans.

 

“Well,” Sapphire interrupts, “it’s about time we got started--we’re starting to run a bit late. Who would like to go first?”

 

You raise your hand before you have a chance to change your mind.

 

---

 

“I talked to one of my sisters the other day.”

 

“You have siblings? What's that even like?” Peridot asks. “Sorry if that's, uh, a touchy subject. I'm just an only child, so, you know…”

 

“It's...difficult. I don't get on especially well with most of my family.” That's putting it lightly.

 

“Would you like to go into that a bit more?” Sapphire already knows your situation--she and Ruby have all but adopted you for that very reason, of course she knows--but it's not like anyone else here does. They barely know you at all, as it stands.

 

Peridot was absolutely right to worry that it might be a touchy subject.

 

“Pearl?”

 

You snap out of your daze, feeling rather embarrassed. “Ah. Yes. My mother is...oh, how do I put this--”

 

“A bitch?” Amethyst pipes up. Sapphire gives her a look, but you can’t help but laugh .

 

“That’s one way to put it, yes. She kicked me out when I was seventeen, and my sister--my other sister, not the one I talked to--is partly to blame for that too. She’s, uh--”

 

“Also a bitch.” Amethyst nods. “That sucks, P.”

 

“She’s...not as bad as my mother, at least. Although really, that’s not saying much. But the sister I got back in touch with, Rita...she’s nice. A bit of a doormat, but I think she’s working on that…she doesn’t seem terribly happy with our mother either, from what she said in the email.” Deep breath. “I’m visiting her next week. Just a day trip, but it’s something, right?”

 

Amethyst says, “That’s actually kinda badass of you.”

 

You can’t help but blush. You can’t focus on anything other than Amethyst’s words, on what you can only assume is high praise from her--and all you can feel, for the first time in God knows how long, is pride.

 

You barely recall the rest of the session.

 

---

 

The visit comes entirely too quickly, and yet it doesn’t seem to come soon enough.

 

You’re surprised by how easy the drive is. Not in terms of actual driving , of course--it’s still the middle of winter, and driving in the snow is never easy--but in terms of your mental state.

 

It’s calming somehow, maybe because it makes you feel like you’re in control. You , and not the voice in the back of your head that still says you’d be better off dead. It’s still there, of course, and maybe it always will be, but for the first time in so long, you’re almost able to tune it out.

 

Almost . The impulse to drive off a bridge does cross your mind at one point, and you find yourself--almost involuntarily--turning towards the edge.

But this time you’re able to stop yourself. You pull off at the nearest gas station for a smoke, a shitty microwave burrito (you curse yourself for forgetting to eat breakfast--you never could stand gas station food except in the most dire of circumstances), and a chance to clear your head. Ever since you got out of the hospital, before even starting therapy in earnest, Sapphire began teaching you about a little thing called mindfulness, and it’s been helping, at least a little bit.

 

It was just a thought, you think. Just a thought. It’s okay.

 

You sit on the edge of the parking lot next to your car, and as you chow down on your burrito, you find yourself incredibly grateful that you actually dressed for the weather. A thick winter coat over a long-sleeved shirt, skinny jeans, sturdy boots, and a thick beanie you borrowed from Ruby. Not your preferred style, but at least it’s comfortable.

 

You pull out your cell phone and send Rita a text--you exchanged cell phone numbers last night. You let her know where you are, and tell her that you’re taking a quick break. She replies quickly, affirming that a break is a sound idea, and you shove your phone back into your pocket. You walk back into the gas station to toss the remaining quarter or so of your burrito and buy a coffee and another pack of cigarettes before heading back to your car.

 

As you alternate between sips of coffee and drags on your cigarette, you find yourself feeling genuinely content .

 

Once you’re warmed up and caffeinated, you toss the resultant garbage into a nearby trash can and hit the road once more.

 

---

 

Rita greets you at the campus cafe, and she looks happy to see you-- actually happy. She hugs you gently, and you reciprocate.

 

“Lunch is on me,” she insists. Her voice is as quiet as ever; you suppose some things never change. You’re still largely full from that disgusting burrito, so you opt to simply order green tea, at Rita’s recommendation. Rita is, you assume, hungrier--she gets a quiche and a mocha.

 

The two of you sit down in the corner of the cafe farthest from the door; it’s even colder here than it is back home, and while the cafe is heated, you agree that it’d be best to avoid any potential drafts.

 

You look your sister over more closely. She hasn’t changed much, for the most part. The one thing that stands out is that her once-blonde hair is now dyed pale blue.

 

“So...when did you start dyeing your hair?” you ask. Light conversation first. You can get into the heavy stuff later.

 

“Not long after I got here,” Rita replies. “It’s almost a rite of passage here, among performing arts majors of any stripe.”

 

“Why blue?”

 

“I like blue. And it matches my name.”

 

It’s true. Your mother seemed to be a big fan of matching names--for heaven’s sake, your sisters’ names mean the same thing yours does, and your middle names are all color-related.


Maggie Aurelia. Rita Blue. Pearl Blanche.

 

It’s like Maggie’s name was the only one she put much thought into. It wouldn’t surprise you. She always was the golden child of your family. The favorite, the daughter who could do no wrong, and maybe, just maybe, it had been that way since the three of you were born.

 

“You okay, Pearl?”

 

“Sorry. I was zoning out, I think. It’s a nice color on you.”

 

Rita smiles. “Thanks.”

 

“Mom hates it, doesn’t she?”

 

“Yes. She complained about it nonstop over break.”

 

Oh. Right. Winter break was a thing for her.

 

“How was that? Did you at least have a good Christmas?” Rita gives a noncommittal shrug; that tells you all you really need to know, doesn’t it?

 

“You?” she asks.

 

“It was…” Painful. Agonizing. The worst Christmas of my life, probably. “Difficult. Rose’s baby was there.” You sigh. “I don’t know how much I told you about what happened to her. The obituary was rather vague, I recall...she died giving birth. It was so hard to see little Steven in person.”

 

Rita simply nods, and places a calming hand on your shoulder. “Are you alright?” she whispers.

 

No sense in lying.

 

“Not even close,” you admit, and you barely even notice that you’re on the verge of tears. You’ve cried so much in the months since Rose’s death that it barely even registers anymore.

 

At least right now you’re not alone with your thoughts.

 

“Do you mind if I talk about it a bit?” you finally ask. She nods, and it all comes rushing out--losing Rose, your suicide attempt, your time in the hospital...everything.

 

There’s a long pause, and all Rita can do is hug you. “I’m sorry,” she murmurs.

 

You respond, “So am I.”

Chapter Text

You wake up sore all over. Sleeping on the floor does that to you. Unfortunately, Rita’s roommate came back to the dorm that night despite both of you assuming she wouldn’t, so there wasn’t exactly anywhere else for you to sleep.

 

Rita is already awake by the time you’re up, though she’s so quiet that you didn’t realize she was awake at all until you actually looked at her bed. She smiles back at you, setting the book she was reading down.

 

“Do you have any ibuprofen?” you ask.

 

“There’s a bottle in the bathroom.”

 

“Thanks.” You struggle to your feet and stagger over to the bathroom on aching legs. True to her word, there’s a bottle of ibuprofen sitting on the toilet tank, and you pour three pills into your hand.

 

Therapeutic dose. God knows you need it.

 

The bathroom is devoid of any sort of cups or glasses, so you cup your hand under the faucet and take the pills with that. It’s tricky, and the disgusting taste of pill coating makes you want to vomit, but at least it’ll soothe your pain a bit once it kicks in.

 

You spend a long time staring into the mirror after that, spacing out, unable to focus on anything but your reflection. You never thought you were especially good-looking--skinny and androgynously-built, with a large nose and thin lips and too many freckles--and right now you’re in a state where the most beautiful girl in the world would probably look like a bit of a disaster.

 

You didn’t sleep well. You barely slept at all, actually--you think you were out for maybe three hours, if that. There are dark circles under your eyes, your hair is a mess, you’re drenched in sweat despite the fact that it’s still frigid outside.

 

You couldn’t sleep, not when your dreams kept waking you up.

 

It's strange--before Rose died, you barely dreamed at all. Nothing memorable, anyway. But in the months since, you've had actual dreams every now and then.

 

(You still think a lot about the one you had after you...well. After you tried to join her. It was too vivid, too disgustingly desirable .

 

You hate yourself for still secretly wishing you'd died.)

 

The point is, you had terrible nightmares pretty much all night last night. Things about your family--Rita turning on you, Holly or Maggie finding out what happened, memories of what actually did happen between the four of you...you couldn't sleep through that. Not for lack of trying, either.

 

There's a knock on the bathroom door, and you jump. “Pearl? Are you alright?”

 

“Uh, yes. I'm fine.”

 

No I'm not.

 

---

 

You get breakfast with Rita before heading home, after taking some time to let the painkillers kick in--omelets at a place just off campus. You were quite pleased by the suggestion you go there, as you've always rather liked omelets, and given how picky you are…

 

You don't have as much of an appetite as you'd like to have, but you are a little hungry, at least. And you'd be lying if you said the food didn't smell heavenly.

 

It's an anchor to reality. You're with your sister at a little breakfast place near a small college in Maryland, waiting for an omelet (spinach and cheese, no side) and sipping a cup of coffee (black and, to your pleasant surprise, not burnt). You're somewhere relatively safe, you remind yourself.

 

“Are you sure you're alright?” Rita asks.

 

“Of course! Why do you ask?”

 

“You're staring into space.”

 

“I'm just hungry. And it's still early yet, I haven't even finished my coffee…”

 

You don't think she believes you, but at the very least she doesn't ask you any more questions. Good.

 

The omelet is delicious, but just a little bit heavier on the spinach than you'd hoped.

 

---

 

“Stay safe, Pearl. I love you.” Rita hugs you goodbye before you head to your car--the car you parked at the top of a cliff less than a month ago and abandoned, the car they had towed back to the house at the Carlsons’ insistence.

 

Too nice of them, really. You certainly didn't deserve it back.

 

You thank your sister for having you and tell her you love her too, and you mean it, you really do. It's actually a nice moment, and you've been wanting for those lately, to put it lightly.

 

It's hard to drive away.

 

---

 

You make it home safely, and are almost surprised that you do. The urge to crash, or to just pull over and leap into traffic, or something , was so much stronger this time.

 

It was just a thought.

 

(It was just a very convincing thought.)

 

Garnet is sitting on the porch when you get home, expecting you, you think. You smile weakly at her as you get out, and ask, “How was your weekend, Garnet?”

 

“It was nice. We babysat Steven.”

 

You can't look at her. You can't look your best friend in the eye, and you hate yourself for that, and you don't know what to say--

 

“He's not here now,” she adds. “Greg picked him up this morning.”

 

“Ah.” Okay, that's a bit of a relief at least. You don't trust yourself around him yet, even now that you've met him. You love him too much to risk even touching him.

 

You don't want to think about what would happen if you were left alone with him. Realistically he'd probably be fine, but you're unwilling to even risk it.

 

The risk, after all, is still there.

 

“So tell me how your weekend went,” Garnet says.

 

“It was alright. Seeing Rita again was really nice. Had to sleep on the floor, though, and I’m still feeling a bit sore from that, but all in all it was rather good.”

 

Garnet looks you in the eye, and says, after a pause, “You look upset, though.”

 

You look away. “I didn’t sleep very well. Plus, it was a long drive. My car isn’t great for long trips--I really need to take it in for a tune-up at some point anyway--and it was pretty icy out. But other than that...”

 

She hums. “I get the feeling that there’s more to it than that.”

 

“I’d rather not talk about it right now, Garnet,” you snap. Frankly, you’d rather never talk about the impulses you’ve been fighting.

 

(Unfortunately for you, Garnet is very perceptive and genuinely cares a lot about you. You can’t lie and tell her things are fine--she’d never believe you. And she’d be right not to.)

 

“I’ll give you a bit of distance, then. But I’d appreciate it if you talked to someone about whatever’s going on in your head . You’re in therapy for a reason, Pearl. I want you to take advantage of that.”

 

“I barely know anyone there.”

 

“Well then, maybe it’s time you got to.”

Chapter Text

It’s been three weeks since your last session--shortly after you got home from visiting Rita, Sapphire got sick with the flu and canceled that week’s session, and then you came down with it and had to stay home for two sessions in a row.

 

It wasn’t just the two of you, either. Garnet and Ruby are both fighting the same flu, and shortly before the two of you left, Sapphire informed you that Peridot would be absent today due to illness. There’s definitely something going around, and you sincerely hope you don’t have to contend with any nasty secondary infections.

 

(Part of you still wants to die. No part of you wants to die of pneumonia .)

 

You’re still feeling pretty run-down, but you’ve been well enough to actually leave the house for days now. There’s no getting out of this, and really, that’s for the best.

 

---

 

“Sorry you were sick,” Amethyst says to you upon her arrival, and she sounds completely sincere--and maybe a bit concerned. “Peri’s got the same thing, she’s been texting me nonstop to complain about it.”

 

“Can’t say I blame her,” you respond, your voice still a bit hoarse--it’s amazing what a week and a half spent coughing your lungs out will do to you.

 

(It still hurt less than the breathing tube did.)

 

“Yeah, she sounds miserable . Really hopin’ I don’t get it.”

 

“You probably will,” Lapis notes. “I was out last week too, Amethyst, remember? Everyone in town is gonna get this damn thing.”

 

“Jeez, Lapis, can’t a girl dream ?”

 

“Oh, dream all you want. Just don’t expect that dream to actually come true.”

 

“Look, I will march right the fuck down to Kroger and blow my entire allowance on orange juice and Airborne if that’s what it takes--”

 

“Can we get on with it?” Lapis groans, sinking deeper into her seat.

 

“Well. Do you have anything you’d like to discuss, Lapis?” Sapphire asks.

 

“Yeah. Good news and bad news.”

 

“Bad news fi--” Amethyst begins, before Lapis cuts her off.

 

“Nope. The good news provides the context. It’d be like skipping to the end of a book. Anyway, that news would be that a painting I did made it into the school’s winter art show.”

 

She pulls her phone from her purse and, after a second of fiddling, holds it up so Sapphire can see the screen; after a few moments, she moves the phone to allow you and Amethyst to see it as well.

 

The painting--framed and hung on a pristine white wall--is of some sort of green...creature, to put it kindly. “Monster” would be a more accurate term. She stares at the viewer with four intense eyes and a fanged grimace, and you understand precisely none of what it represents.

 

It’s very well-done, that’s undeniable, but it unnerves and confuses you, and judging by the look on her face, Lapis can tell it does.

 

“Symbolic thing,” she explains with a shrug. “My last relationship made monsters out of both of us, something pretentious like that.”

 

“And now are you gonna tell us the bad news?”

 

“Amethyst, you’re being a shit, but yes. I was sick during the gallery opening. I’d wanted to get in for years , and I’d had these dumb fantasies of people asking me about my work and wanting to know more about what I do, so of course when one of my pieces makes it in…” She snorts. “I was too goddamn busy drowning in my own mucus to even think about attending. I was only even able to get this picture yesterday.”

 

“Lapis,” Sapphire asks, “your school has other art shows, right?”

 

“Yeah...if I can get into ‘em. It was really only dumb luck that this piece got in at all.” She frowns. “So many of the other students are better artists than me. Even a lot of the freshman art majors. And granted, I changed majors partway through, but...they don’t have any formal training, most likely, and they’re still better .”

 

“Do any of them paint sick-ass green monster ladies?” Amethyst asks.

 

“Not helping.”

 

“I’m just saying that your shit is actually, uh, what’s the word, innovative . You don’t just paint dumb still life pictures of fruit or whatever the fuck they make you paint in art school.”

 

You turn to Amethyst. “So judging by the still life thing, I’m guessing you had Ms. Vlasak as an art teacher too,” you whisper.

 

“Worse,” Amethyst replies. “Art was the elective I picked, so I still have her. What a fucking cunt , am I right? It’s a goddamn no-fun-or-creativity-allowed zone in her classroom.”

 

You nod, even as you cringe at some of her language, because the fact of the matter is that she’s not wrong.

 

“Fuck Sassy Vlassy,” Amethyst adds, and you have to laugh.

 

---

 

“I visited my sister a few weeks ago.”

 

“I thought you said your sister was a huge bitch,” Amethyst notes.

 

“No, my other sister. It was…”

 

Scary. Weird. Anxiety-inducing.

 

“...nice,” you finish, unconvincingly.

 

“And what was it actually like?” Lapis asks, resting her chin in her hands, and you realize that maybe therapy is a terrible place to lie about how you feel.

 

“I’d appreciate it if you talked to someone about whatever’s going on in your head.” Garnet’s words ring in your ears as if she were right there, and you take a deep, deep breath.

 

“Well, actually seeing Rita wasn’t so bad. She was really sweet, that hasn’t changed, and it sounds like she doesn’t think too much of our mother either. But...I don’t know what it was, but I had nightmares the whole night I was there, and I spaced out in her bathroom for a while afterwards. A little bit during the drive home, too. I thought I might crash. And…”

 

There’s a long, pregnant pause before Sapphire asks you what’s wrong.

 

“I think,” you say slowly, “that maybe I wanted to. That maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to just drive into a wall, or off a bridge. And I don’t know why .”

 

Sapphire shakes her head. “You’re depressed , Pearl. Depression doesn’t have to have a reason.”

 

“Depression is bullshit like that,” Lapis agrees. “Last time I tried to kill myself, things were actually going kind of okay. Or at least better than they’d been. Still couldn’t drag myself out of bed most of the time.”

 

“I’m not that depressed.”

 

Amethyst laughs at that, lets out a “yeah, right,” and all you can do is glare at her.

 

(She’s not wrong.)

 

---

 

Amethyst has very little to talk about, and with Peridot out sick, the session wraps up quite early--and as you get up to leave, Amethyst grabs your sleeve.

 

“Hey, since we’re getting out early, wanna get coffee or some junk?”

 

You nod without thinking it through, and immediately think that this is going to be awful .

 

But Garnet is going to be so proud of you, and her approval is enough to make anything worth it.

Chapter Text

Sapphire offers you a ride home when you and Amethyst are done hanging out, which you gratefully accept--you probably could walk home if you had to, but it’s just far enough and just cold enough that you’d rather not if at all possible.

 

“I’ll text when I’m done,” you tell her.

 

She smiles surprisingly widely. “Good. I’m just glad you’re socializing a bit more. I’m proud of you, actually.”

 

You grin back. “I am too.”

 

---

 

You’ve been to Common Grounds many, many times in the past--it’s one of the most popular hangouts for teenagers and young adults in your area. Granted, you pretty much exclusively came there alone , but it was still a lovely place to just sit with a book and a big mug of their famous chai.

 

It’s been a while since you last went here. You think the last time you came here was with Rose .

 

(It was shortly after she’d told you she was expecting. You’d met there to chat about the future, and at that point you had no reason to expect that the future wouldn’t contain Rose for very long.

 

”I care so deeply about you, Pearl,” she’d said. “So of course I want you in my kid’s life. You’ll do that for me, right?”

 

“Of course,” you’d replied. “I promise.”

 

Do it for her.

 

She’d smiled that beautiful, inimitable smile of hers, and ruffled your hair a bit, eliciting a chuckle from you. “I knew you would.”

 

And then, months later, you broke your promise to Rose, and you’ll never forgive yourself for that.)

 

“Yo, P, snap out of it,” Amethyst says, slapping you on the back in a way that you think was intended to be friendly, but that you also think might leave a bruise. “The ‘rents gave me twenty bucks in case I decided to hang out down here today, so I can pay if you can’t.”

 

You shake your head. “No, I’m fine, but thank you for offering.”

 

The two of you enter the building, and it’s exactly as you remember it--warm and cozy, with couches and armchairs and coffee tables as furniture. The smell of coffee and chai and various baked goods wafts through the air.

 

It’s a calming place. You can’t pinpoint why, but it is.

 

You order a medium chai, and nothing else. Amethyst is clearly hungrier, though, ordering a bear claw alongside her fruity Italian soda.

 

You take your drinks to a table and a pair of well-worn plush armchairs that Amethyst insists are the comfiest seats in the cafe. They're definitely comfortable, but they don't seem any different from any of the other chairs in the cafe.

 

(You usually sat on the deck of the cafe when you came here with Rose. Usually when you came alone, too. It was her spot, and that made it a good spot.)

 

Amethyst takes a massive bite of her bear claw, and you flinch as pastry flakes fly everywhere. Fortunately only a bit lands on you, and it's easily dusted from your leggings, but you look at Amethyst with a bit of disgust regardless.

 

“Sorry, messy eater,” Amethyst says through a mouthful of pastry.

 

“Please don't talk with your mouth full,” you sigh. “It's gross.”

 

Amethyst rolls her eyes, but swallows her food before speaking any further. “So I know like, pretty much fuckall about what you're even like. All I know is the bad things you've gone through.” She flashes a grin, and you have to admit that it's a very cute grin. “So tell me who the fuck you actually are .”

 

“Well...hm.” I don't really know.

 

“Fave TV show?” Amethyst asks, saving you the awkwardness of having to explain that you're not sure you're anything , and you perk up a bit.

 

“I mostly just watch the news, honestly. But I like theater a lot. Musicals especially.” You dig your iPod from your purse, and hand it over to Amethyst. “Most of the stuff on there is just from musicals,” you say with a laugh.

 

“Oh man, now I gotta judge your music taste.” She scrolls through the artists--mostly Broadway soundtracks, a fair bit of classical music, some terrible pop that you don't want to like but do, and scattered bands from mixes Rose made you.

 

Amethyst sets the iPod down on the table. “Not bad,” she hums, before handing you her phone. “Just tap the music app thing.”

 

You do, and are amazed by how much is on there. You scroll through--there's a lot of artists on there you've never heard of, and just as many that you've heard of , but never heard.

 

“You've got really eclectic taste,” you tell her as you hand the phone back to her, and she shrugs.

 

“I just listen to whatever. And I hoard music, so there's stuff on there I haven't listened to yet. Gives me more options.”

 

“Hm.”

 

You take a sip of your chai--it's finally cooled down enough to drink it without burning your tongue. It's just as good as you remember.

 

“I should come here more,” you muse. “It's a lovely place.”

 

“When was the last time you came here?”

 

You tense up for a moment and take another sip. You don't look Amethyst in the eye. You don't look anywhere in Amethyst’s direction .

 

“It was with Rose. She was just a few months along, and she talked to me about how excited she was to have a child, and…”

 

And less than half a year later she died.

 

“I wasn't as happy about it as I pretended to be,” you admit. “I was too jealous of her boyfriend.”

 

That's all you're willing to say on the matter. Amethyst is right; you barely know each other, and besides, this is supposed to be a fun outing.

 

“But enough about that,” you finish. “I'm happy to be here again.”

 

You actually are , too. It feels like a step in the right direction.

 

“And yet you didn't even get a pastry? They have the best pastries in all of Beach City, I can't believe you'd wanna miss out on that.” Amethyst tears off a hunk of her bear claw. “Wanna bite?”

 

You shake your head. “I'm not big on sweets. I remember the quiche here being excellent, but that's a bit heavy for a snack.”

 

“Whatevs, more for me.” She stuffs the torn-off bite into her mouth.

 

“And yeah,” she continues after swallowing (you have to give her credit for that, at least), “the quiche here is fuckin’ great. Sometimes Peri and I come here after school, and I come here for lunch every now and then, so I've had just about all the shit on the menu here. Literally everything here is great.”

 

“So you're a senior, then? Off-campus privileges and all.”

 

“Yup. Can't wait to get the fuck out.”

 

“I can't say I blame you. Is the student body just as awful as I remember it being?”

 

“Uh, did you ever have to remove your best friend from their locker? They literally stuffed Peridot in a locker. That's only supposed to happen in movies .” She slurps her soda loudly. “So yeah, probably at least as bad.”

 

“My best friend is far too tall to fit in a locker,” you respond. “That, and people actually liked Garnet.”

 

“I remember she seemed super cool, yeah. Real quiet, but cool.”

 

“That's a fairly accurate assessment, yes.”

 

“But yeah, I try to avoid everyone there ‘cept for Peri, basically. And they avoid me, because one time I kicked this asshole in the junk for grabbing my tit, and now they're scared of me. It's pretty funny.”

 

She smiles wistfully. “You kick one creep in the balls and you're suddenly some big scary monster. Doesn't matter if you're five feet tall, fat, and have a whole ‘nother bad reputation already.”

 

“Might I ask what that reputation is? I mean. If it's not too personal.”

 

Amethyst smirks. “So there was this one chick in my gym class back in sophomore year, Laura, and we sorta dated, right? Not that anyone else knew we were involved. And when I broke up with her on account of her being the biggest goddamn cunt in the universe, she started spreading all sorts of shit about me.”

 

She pauses. “I mean, some of it was true, but most of it was bullshit. But Laura was real popular, and I never was, so they believed her without bothering to actually ask me about it. So yeah, being That Chick Who Kicked A Guy In The Balls is an improvement , ‘cause no one even tries to fuck with me anymore.”

 

She looks proud.

 

And really, you can't blame her for that. You would've done the same thing.

 

---

 

She enters her number in your phone before you leave, and has you do the same.

 

“Hit me up, P. You're kinda cool.”

 

“I'm not sure where you got that impression, but...thank you, Amethyst. You seem cool too.”

 

She blushes furiously and looks away, but you can see a faint smile on her face, and you can't help but smile too.

 

It's the best you've felt in a long, long time.

Chapter Text

You get a text from Amethyst the day before your next session.

 

“peris in the hospital”

 

You text her back immediately, of course. This is a big deal, and you're guessing Sapphire already knows what's up, but if she doesn't...well, someone has to let her know.

 

“Oh no, what happened?”

 

“she got numonia or however thats spelled”

 

“Pneumonia? Is she going to be alright?”

 

“i mean shes been textin me nonstop bout how bored she is and how she wants 2 go home already so im not 2 worried”

 

“mostly i think its just 2 b safe?”

 

“still sux tho”

 

“Thanks for telling me, in any case. Does Sapphire know she won't be there tomorrow?”

 

“ye peri said her mom emailed her soooo”

 

“Well, that's good. Let Peridot know I hope she can go home soon.”

 

“sure thing”

 

“im bringin a card to therapy tomorrow so u can sign that 2”

 

“I will. Thank you.”

 

---

 

When therapy rolls around, you notice that Amethyst looks pretty run-down herself. “Finally got it,” she rasps. “I just went back to school yesterday.”

 

“At least you’re well enough to make it today,” Sapphire points out.

 

“I didn’t wanna come, but I had to at least bring this card I made for Peridot.” Amethyst opens up her backpack and digs through it for a bit before pulling out a crumpled homemade card. “Ugh, it got all fucked up in there.”

 

Lapis glares at the card. “You’re not supposed to just shove your art in a bag, it’s bound to get fucked up that way.”

 

“It’s thick paper, I didn’t realize it’d get this bad!” Amethyst protests, trying desperately to smooth it out.

 

“...What’s on the card?” you ask, squinting. Even with most of the wrinkles and creases at least somewhat smoothed down, you have no clue what Amethyst was trying to represent. It looks like...maybe a dog? With wings? You’re honestly not even sure where to start.

 

“I was going for a feeling.

 

Lapis looks at you, and you shrug helplessly. You don’t consider yourself a terribly talented artist--honestly, you can barely draw a circle--but you’re pretty sure you could at least draw something more coherent than that.

 

“Everyone’s a critic,” Amethyst sighs. She pulls a purple gel pen from her bag and hands both that and the card to you. “Anyway, sign it.”

 

“I’m not sure what to write,” you confess.

 

“Just, like, general get-well-soon shit?”

 

You nod, and write a little message. “Get well soon, Peridot--we miss you!”

 

“Nice,” Amethyst says with a grin, and you smile back. For once, you seem to be doing something right .

 

---

 

“My birthday is on Saturday,” Amethyst begins. “I’m gonna be 18, can you believe that?”

 

“Not really,” Lapis snarks.

 

“Fuck you, Lapis.”

 

“Do you have any plans?” you ask, trying to ignore the clear tension between the two--it’s always been pretty clear that they don’t get along very well, and that fact has only grown more obvious as you’ve attended more sessions. But that’s not any of your business.

 

“Just gonna hang out with Peri. Nothin’ special, we’re just gonna hang at my place. It’s gonna be awesome. And she should be not-sick enough to come.”

 

“Do you think you’ll be feeling better?” Sapphire asks. “Your voice sounds incredibly strained.”

 

“Psh, I’ll be fine for sure. I survived falling off a barbed wire fence back in sophomore year, this is nothin’.”

 

“A...barbed wire fence?” you ask. “What on Earth were you doing ?”

 

“Don’t judge me, P. It’s not like you’ve never snuck into the dump at one in the morning, right?”

 

“I really haven’t, actually.”

 

“You’re missing out.”

 

You’re not inclined to agree with her on this, but you are also not inclined to argue too much about it. Although if she ever tries to drag you there, you’re going to put your foot down.

 

Lapis nods, to your surprise. “It’s a decent place to find stuff for art projects, actually. Just make sure to wear gloves. Otherwise you’ll spend the next week or so cleaning garbage from underneath your nails.”

 

“That’s incredibly disgusting,” you mutter.

 

“That’s a weird way of saying ‘incredibly badass ,’ but whatever,” Amethyst responds.

 

“Eh,” Lapis adds, “you’re not actually wrong. It’s...very, very gross. Worth it for an A in my sculpture class, though.”

 

“So wait,” Amethyst interrupts. “Did you, like, make a sculpture out of mushed-together trash? Or, I dunno, dirt? Dog shit?”

 

“Teacher wouldn’t let me turn in a dog turd for a grade, unfortunately,” Lapis snarks. “Although realistically, if Piss Christ is considered a work of modern art, I see no reason why I couldn’t sell dog shit sculptures to a museum.”

 

“Dude, do it.” Amethyst snickers. “Tell ‘em it’s social commentary.”

 

“No, because I absolutely hate the fact that I could actually do just that and people might believe me.”

 

“Are you kidding? That’s probably the best thing about modern art.”

 

“No, it really isn’t.”

 

Sapphire speaks up then. “I understand that this is an important issue to both of you--”

 

She has no stake in it,” Lapis spits.

 

“--but I really think we should be moving on .” Her voice is firm; her tone seems to imply that this isn’t the first time Amethyst and Lapis have gotten started on this topic. Somehow, you’re not actually all that surprised.

 

You wonder if there’s a history between the two of them. Maybe someday you’ll ask.

 

Today, you decide, is not that day.

 

---

 

“You haven’t been saying very much during our sessions,” Sapphire points out during the drive home.

 

You shake your head. “I know. It’s just difficult to figure out how to bring most of my, ahem, problems up in front of others. You know I haven’t had the best track record there.”

 

“Yes, I do know that. It’s a reasonable survival mechanism for you to have developed. But you have to understand that it’s no longer a healthy one.”

 

“I know .” You look down at your lap. “But...there are so many things that are nearly impossible for me to talk about right now. You understand, right?”

 

“Of course. I’m simply saying that I would be thrilled if you tried to talk about them.”

 

You nod. You want to talk about them.

 

What you don’t want to do is to fall apart.

 

In your heart, though, you know that ship sailed months ago. You’ve been falling apart since the day Rose died.

 

(That’s a lie.

 

You’ve been a wreck since the moment you first saw the ultrasound photo.)

Chapter Text

You run into Amethyst that Friday, against all expectations.

 

She's sitting on the patio of a very middle-class suburban home mere blocks from the Carlsons’ house (and your house, you suppose), smoking a cigarette and staring off into space. You wonder briefly why you've never seen her before, until you remember that you only met her just over a month ago. For all you know, you've seen her dozens of times and just not noticed it.

 

Besides, it's not like you leave the house much anyway. You’ve been doing so more often lately, but it’s still infrequent. In fact, you’re a bit proud of yourself for just going out for a walk today.

 

The Carlsons are proud of you too, especially Sapphire. “It’s a good step forward,” she told you, smiling. “Just be sure to dress for the rain--it’s going to pour today.”

 

And it had, true to her word. The weatherman had said it’d be cloudy but dry, but you’ve always been more inclined to trust Sapphire on those matters.

 

(There are times when you wonder if she can see the future.)

 

You brace yourself as you walk up to Amethyst. Should I even be talking to her right now? you wonder, and you begin to turn away, suddenly convinced that this is a bad idea.

 

“Don’t go.”

 

You turn back towards her, towards the sound of her choked-up voice. From here, you can see that she’s been crying. There’s mascara and eyeliner dripping down her face, her eyes are puffy, and...well, her voice alone could tell you all you need to know. So you head up to the patio, sitting down in the lawn chair next to hers.

 

“Is everything alright, Amethyst?”

 

“What do you fucking think ,” she grumbles, stubbing her finished cigarette out on the arm of her chair. A fair point, you suppose.

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“Peridot.”

 

“Is she still in the hospital?” you ask with a sinking feeling in your stomach.

 

“Nah, she got out on Wednesday. She’s gonna be fine, but she’s on doctor’s orders to stay in bed for a week. She texted me earlier.”

 

“Is it okay to ask what she said?”

 

“She’s not gonna be able to hang out tomorrow.”

 

“Couldn’t you just hang out some other time?”

 

“No!” Amethyst glares at you. “It’s my birthday tomorrow, Pearl. My goddamn eighteenth birthday, and my only fucking friend can’t be there.” She pauses, then sighs. “I don’t wanna spend another birthday with just my parents. I mean, they’re great and all, but...this is the big one, y’know? And I finally have a friend now, and she can’t even be there.”

 

Oh.

 

Oh, right.

 

You have to admit, you’re a bit surprised. You’d always assumed Amethyst was exaggerating when she said Peridot was her only friend, but now…

 

Well, now you just pity her. Yes, she’s annoying at times (most of the time, to be completely honest), but it’s not like you’ve never been in her place.

 

So you say it. “You could hang out with me tomorrow.”

 

Amethyst scoffs at that. “Yeah, and what, do a puzzle or some junk?”

 

“I mean, if you wanted to do a puzzle…”

 

“Puzzles are lame, P. What kind of nerd shit is that?”

 

“Alright, I get it! What about a movie or something?”

 

“Is there anything good in theaters right now?”

 

“Uh...not that I can think of, no. But if you happen to own any movies, we could watch them at your place. Er, if your parents are okay with that, that is.”

 

There’s a long, pregnant pause, and then Amethyst says, “I’d like that, actually. Be here at six tomorrow, P.”

 

“...AM or PM?”

 

“Pearl, there is no way in hell I’m getting up before eleven tomorrow. You do the math.”

 

---

 

Amethyst seems genuinely happy when you arrive the next day, even though you’re a good half-hour early. In fact, she comes across as quite excited to hang out with you, if her grabbing you by the arm and dragging you inside while gushing about showing you around is any indication.

 

“My parents are out until tomorrow afternoon,” she tells you, her speech fast and exuberant, “‘cause I told them I’d be having a friend over tonight and wanted it to be just us, and they were cool with that, so you can pretty much look wherever. The upstairs is like, super boring, though. It’s just my mom’s office and the master bedroom and the upstairs bathroom. And some closets, but there’s nothing exciting in there. Trust me, I looked.”

 

“I’m quite fine just staying down here, but thank you.” You smile--0.you’re quickly realizing that spending more time with her might actually be fun. At the very least, it’s an excuse to actually leave your house and socialize.

 

Sapphire is going to be proud, you just know it. Hell, they’re all going to be proud.

 

“I’ve got a ton of snacks in the kitchen. What kinda stuff do you like to eat, P?”

 

You shrug. “I’m...a bit of a picky eater,” you admit, and that’s putting it lightly. You’d love to expand your culinary horizons in theory, but in practice there are just so many foods you find disgusting for one reason or another.

 

You live largely on salad and fruit, with a few meats and such thrown in. It’s not something you’re proud of.

 

“Okay, but what do you like ?”

 

“Salad is nice, if you have the things for that…”

 

“I can do that. Ranch okay?”

 

“That would be wonderful.”

 

“‘Kay. We’ve got some salad greens in the fridge, and some croutons...nothin’ fancy, but eh. You like croutons?”

 

“Not especially.”

 

“Aight, no croutons on yours then, got it.”

 

You follow Amethyst into the kitchen, watching her work. “Do you cook at all?” you ask. “Besides things like this, I mean.”

 

She nods. “Yeah, I actually kinda love cooking. Mostly my parents cook dinner, but sometimes I get to. It’s awesome.” She grins at you, and you grin back.

 

This is actually pretty nice.

 

“I’m thinking of going to culinary school after I graduate,” she continues. “Haven’t really decided yet, though. Art school would be cool too. I dunno what I really wanna do yet, y’know?”

 

“Yes, that makes sense.”

 

“And I’m probably gonna take some time off before college. I mean...honestly, I don’t even know if I want to go to college at all . I need time to think about it.”

 

“I’m taking time off myself. It’s not bad, honestly, though it can get a bit...dull at times.”

 

“Pfft. I’m great at making my own fun, P.” You get the feeling that she’s not being completely truthful there, but you say nothing. You simply nod.

 

After she’s done making the salads--just greens and dressing for you, but hers is smothered in croutons and cheese--she opens up a nearby cabinet and pulls out a bottle of what appears to be some sort of flavored vodka. “To adulthood!” she cheers, and you can’t help but feel kind of proud that you’re the one she’s chosen to spend her birthday with.

 

You were her second choice, you think, if that. Don’t get ahead of yourself. But you think that maybe you don’t really care. You’re enjoying yourself, and Amethyst certainly seems to be having a good time as well.

 

It’s still something.

 

---

 

Amethyst’s bedroom is the messiest room you’ve seen in your life, and you scrunch your nose at the sight--something Amethyst clearly notices. “I have a system ,” she insists as she sets the bottle down on her nightstand. “I know where shit is in here, I know how to get in and out, what’s the issue?”

 

Messiness aside, though...it’s a surprisingly nice room. A nice big futon for a bed, a mid-sized TV atop the dresser.

 

Maybe she really does want to watch a movie. That could be fun.

 

She moves her laptop off her bed and sets it atop a nearby pile of clothing before sitting down, gesturing for you to do the same. You do, sinking into the thick comforter.

 

“So,” she begins, “ever heard of a movie called The Room?”

 

You nod. “I heard it’s terrible. Never seen it, but--”

 

“It’s decided, we’re watching that. It’s not just bad, P--it’s the worst . It’s like...so horrible that it wraps around to being kind of a masterpiece?”

 

“Hm.” You smile. “Well, what are you waiting for, then?”

 

“Hold your horses, I gotta put the DVD in. Ugh, I should not have gotten comfortable before doing that.” She gets up and rifles through the DVD cases scattered near the dresser, finds the film in question in short order, and pops it in before rejoining you on the bed, the empty case still in her hand. You think it must be a horror flick, if the cover is any indication.

 

“Buckle in, P,” she says with a wicked grin. “Trust me, this is gonna change your life.”

 

---

 

There’s nothing terribly life-changing about The Room, in your opinion. It was definitely laughably bad, but...that was about it, and you don’t know how much of your laughter had to do with the movie’s quality and how much it had to do with the fact that you and Amethyst finished the entire bottle of vodka during the course of it.

 

You’re drunk. You’re drunk off your ass .

 

It’s been a long time since you’ve been like this. The last time you got drunk was at a party Rose held a few years back, and in hindsight there probably shouldn’t have been alcohol available to you anyway.

 

(How old were you then? 16? 17? It’s all such a blur.)

 

Although realistically, you’re still not old enough to drink, and you don’t really care as much as you think you should.

 

What you care about right now is Amethyst’s head resting on your shoulder. Maybe it’s the liquor, but she’s actually quite pretty, with those big brown eyes and full lips and soft curves, and you should probably stop this train of thought.

 

“You alright?” you slur, prodding her to make sure she’s conscious.

 

She sits up a little, perks up her head. “Yeah. Just...thinkin’.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I have a question.”

 

She’s sitting up straight now, looking right at you but pointedly avoiding your gaze.

 

“...What was dying like?”

 

...Oh.

 

That’s not the kind of question you were expecting.

 

“Pearl?”

 

“...Sorta peaceful,” you finally admit. “It hurt at first, but eventually...eventually you just give up, and all you can feel is, um...comfort. Is that the right word?”

 

They had to shock me back to life. I was comatose for five days.

 

Waking up was the worst part.

 

Amethyst nods, humming in response. “I've never actually tried,” she replies, and it sounds almost like a confession , like she's scared to admit it.

 

“Most people don't.”

 

“I’m just enough of a fuckup that it feels like I should've tried by now. What kind of borderline has never fucking tried to kill themselves?”

 

“You're still…you're still going through a lot. I dunno your story, but I mean...you wouldn’t be seeing Sapphire in the first place if things were okay.”

 

“Story?” She leans back into you. “I’m adopted,” she mumbles. “You knew that, right?”

 

You shake your head. “No.”

 

“Well. Now you do.”

 

“Yeah. Go on.”

 

“I was 13 when that happened. I spent like...fuck, I don’t know how many years in foster care. I think six? Maybe I’m wrong, but...I dunno. Before that I lived with my mom. Never knew my dad.” She shrugs. “Or I never knew which guy she was fucking at any given time might’ve been my dad. Could’ve been anyone. Don’t really care.”

 

She closes her eyes. “I wasn’t always Amethyst. Not gonna tell you my old name, it still freaks me out. I changed it when I wound up here, with people who actually, like, didn’t hate me. Before the system, it was just...she yelled a lot. Mostly at me. And that name was just...I can’t hear it without hearing her , without feeling like I’m a kid fucking running from my own mother , hoping she doesn’t do any of the shit she’s threatened to do...”

 

Her shoulders begin to heave a little, and you notice that she’s crying. “Amethyst?”

 

Either she doesn’t hear you, or she ignores you--it’s impossible to tell. “She always told me she wished she’d aborted me. That I was just a big mistake , that I was a parasite , and one day she just…she just dropped me off downtown and left me there. She didn’t want me. She’d told me that my whole life, and I was too fucking dumb to listen--”

 

“No,” you murmur in horror. “You’re not a mistake. She was...she...Amethyst, I’m so sorry, I--”

 

“It’s nothing, forget about it. ‘S my birthday, we’re s’posed to be, y’know...having fun.”

 

“I can leave, if you w--”

 

“No!” You flinch away from her, startled, and she grabs ahold of your wrist. “Sorry, just...I don’t wanna be alone, Pearl. Please. Don’t leave me.”

 

“I won’t.”

 

And then she draws you into a kiss. Just like that. You pull away quickly, and she looks downright ashamed .

 

“Sorry,” she says, “I shouldn’t have--”

 

You don’t let her finish speaking.

 

Instead, you kiss her back.

Chapter Text

This is a mistake, isn’t it, you tell yourself as you strip your sweater and blouse off, revealing a plain beige bra. It takes longer than it should to get them off--you’re drunk , you can’t quite get your hands to work right--but she seems satisfied.

 

“Why’re you wearing a bra?” she chuckles. “Ya got...like, nothing there.”

 

“Thin blouse,” you slur. “And it’s cold outside.”

 

“It’s not like you having nipples is a secret .”

 

You can’t help but giggle. Giggle . You’re drunk, you’re very drunk, and you have to admit that as much of a mistake as this is, it’s a mistake you want to make.

 

You don’t think it’s just the vodka talking anymore. Amethyst is, all things considered, incredibly pretty.

 

(If she weren’t so short, if she had pink hair, if she dressed differently…)

 

“I guess ,” you say, fumbling with your bra. You’ve never had to worry about removing a bra while drunk. “Uh. Help?”

 

Amethyst just keeps laughing--” God , you’re so wasted”--and manages to undo the hooks, allowing you to remove the offending garment.

 

“Ha, oh my God. You can see my breasts . I’m...wow.” I’m drunk off my ass. She’s drunk off her ass.

 

This is still such a terrible idea.

 

I still want it.

 

Amethyst’s tank top is quickly discarded--nothing underneath, just a round chubby stomach and a relatively ample bosom, now on full display. You’re staring, you know you’re staring. She doesn’t seem to mind.

 

Her hands find their way to the waist of your jeans. “Uh, can I…”

 

She trails off, looking up at your face, and her eyes...they’re begging, pleading . In the back of your mind, you reiterate that this is a bad idea.

 

You ignore that, and whisper, “Please.”

 

She’s able to undo your pants just as easily as she undid your bra, and you marvel at how she’s able to have any manual dexterity in this state. But then her hand’s down your panties, and you no longer care about that.

 

“You’re wet,” she teases. It’s completely true, and her fingers are not helping matters there.

 

“And you’re very good at this.”

 

“Eh.” She removes her hand, and you sigh.

 

“Oh, come on, Amethyst.”

 

“Hey, you’ve still got pants on. I... I’ve still got pants on. Gotta fix that.”

 

You pull your jeans and underwear off with only slight difficulty--maybe you’re getting used to it--and set them next to the rest of your clothing by the bed. Amethyst, once again, is sloppier, simply throwing her distressed skinny jeans and print underpants halfway across the room.

 

You look her over. You have to say, you like what you see.

 

And then she’s grinding sloppily against your thigh.

 

She kisses you on the mouth again, all tongue and teeth and desperation , but the moment your fumbling hands manage to reach her breasts she breaks the kiss, letting out a sharp gasp. “Oh God. Yes, God , keep doing that,” she breathes, and she stops her grinding, instead grabbing you by the shoulders and pulling the both of you down onto the bed.

 

She runs her fingers through your hair, then gives you a look of curiosity. “Uh, do you mind if I, like, pull it?”

 

You smile a little. You’ve always liked that, actually. “Go ahead.”

 

She grips your bobbed hair, tugging slightly, and you let out a moan--good lord, your inhibitions are just gone , you’re a mess.

 

(Aren’t you always nowadays, though?)

 

Your hands trail their way slowly and, if you’re honest with yourself, rather clumsily, down her torso--from her big breasts to her chubby stomach to her wide hips, and then...well, then you pause.

 

“You’re sure about this, right?” you ask, barely above a whisper.

 

“Pearl. Just fuck me.” Amethyst sighs. “I mean. If you’re sure about it, natch.”

 

“I am.” I’m not.

 

I’m not sure of anything anymore.

 

The drunk-off-your-ass, horny-as-hell part of your brain, however, decides to ignore the comparatively rational part.

 

You tentatively move one hand to her crotch. She doesn’t shave down there--not that you’re surprised, she doesn’t seem to shave anything else either--but you don’t mind. Rose didn’t either.

 

“C’mon, P…”

 

You give Amethyst’s breast a squeeze as you finger her, and by the stars, how she reacts ...well. You think you’re doing a pretty good job for a drunk girl who hasn’t had sex in entirely too long.

 

(You couldn’t bring yourself to even consider being with anyone other than her .)

 

“Oh God,” Amethyst moans, “how did you get so good at this? Like...holy shit , Pearl.”

 

Rose. It was all Rose.

 

“...Practice,” you finally reply, still continuing your ministrations, noticing her get even wetter than you’d thought possible, feeling her clenching around your fingers…

 

Amethyst throws her head back and lets out a thin moan, tugging hard at your hair as she does. Weird; you’d expected her to be more... vocal . “Pearl,” she sighs, “y’know I gotta pay you back for that, right? Because holy shit .”

 

You can’t help but blush. “Yeah, of course. Uh, what should I…”

 

“Just lay back. Knees up. I’ll handle this.”

 

You comply, and before you know it Amethyst is spreading your legs, looking almost hungrily at your nether regions. “Damn, girl, you actually bother to shave that?” she laughs.

 

“I just...like it better that way.”

 

“Fair ‘nuff. I’m just lazy, y’know?”

 

You laugh at that. “Reasonable.”

 

“Hey, remind me, what were we doing? Oh, right, I was ‘bout to fuck your brains out . Let’s cut the chit-chat for now.”

 

She runs her hands slowly down your inner thighs, and you shudder at the touch--somehow, Amethyst seems to know exactly what she’s doing, and she knows that, you think. There’s no hesitation, no nervousness, and only mild clumsiness, and you can give her a pass on that last one.

 

Oh God. She’s licking her way down now, and you’re just gone already, completely lost in the moment and the sensations , and when her tongue finds your entrance you let out a sharp gasp. “Keep going, please ,” you beg, and she does, oh God she’s good at this , and as she sucks at your clit you can’t help but moan.

 

You can feel her chuckling, and your face flushes even further. You bite at your lip, trying to keep from getting too vocal, but it’s futile, and you know it, and you’re so close, and then you’re there--

 

“Oh fuck, Rose --”

 

Oh.

 

Oh shit .

 

Amethyst raises her head from your crotch, glaring daggers at you. “Who the fuck is Rose?”

 

“Amethyst, I’m so sorry, I--”

 

“I don’t fucking care if you’re sorry! You’re a raging cunt, Pearl, you’re the actual worst .”

 

“Amethyst…”


“You should’ve died ! You should’ve just been washed away !” She’s screaming, she’s pissed , but you can see the tears forming in her eyes, hear her voice cracking. “Then I never would’ve had to meet you, and everyone else would be better off too, because you know what? You don’t give a shit about anyone other than yourself and this Rose chick!”

 

“I didn’t ask,” you respond, sniffling, “to live.”

 

“Then why don’t you go and give it another shot, you bitch?”

 

You freeze up, paralyzed with shock and hurt , it hurts and you deserve it, and you have no clue what to say, because what can you say?

 

( You’re right. )

 

You decide that saying nothing is your best course of action, and you grab your clothes and head to the bathroom to change, barely avoiding tripping over a stray sweatshirt. You live nearby, you can walk home safely enough. Even though you’re still not sober.

 

You’ve heard of the walk of shame, but this is just ridiculous.

 

(Honestly, you’re not sure you’ve hated yourself this much since before you threw yourself off a cliff.)

 

---

 

You hear a knock on the bathroom door right as you finish pulling on your sweater.

 

“Hey, uh…it’s me,” Amethyst says, and she sounds so hoarse , so hoarse from all the crying and screaming--something that didn’t stop once you left. You could hear it easily, and it just made you feel so guilty --

 

(You’ve been crying, too.)

 

“I wanna come in,” she adds.

 

You open the bathroom door a crack to get a look at her. Half-dressed, red-eyed, still sniffling.

 

Guilty . Maybe as guilty as you feel.

 

You open it all the way, and allow her inside. She perches herself on the edge of the bathtub, but refuses to make eye contact. You can’t blame her.

 

“I didn’t mean any of that,” she rasps. “I mean...I might have. I don’t fucking know. But I don’t really think that, y’know? I was just...so angry at you!”

 

“You still are, aren’t you,” you murmur.

 

“Well, yeah . But I’m, I dunno... less angry, I guess? It’s just...fuck, I don’t know.”

 

“I’d be angry too, I think.” You sit down on the toilet, resting your chin in your hands. “I’m...I’m very sorry, Amethyst.”

 

I mean it. I’m so, so sorry.

 

“I know,” she whispers. “I...I don’t know if I can forgive you yet, but...I think Sapphire would be pissed if I made you walk home like this . The guest room’s right across from mine. That’s all I wanted to say.”

 

She gets up, and turns to look at you. “Wait, one more thing,” she says.

 

“What’s that?”

 

“I’m sorry, too. And I...I get it if you hate me.” (You don’t. Part of you wants to.)

 

And just like that, she’s gone.

 

---

 

You barely slept. You just cried into a pillow until you passed out; you still only got a few hours of sleep, you think, and combined with your hangover and your lingering guilt, you’re not exactly feeling too great, physically or emotionally.

 

(The screaming sobs that came from Amethyst’s room for several hours, before finally trailing off as she presumably fell asleep, didn’t help.)

 

You glance over at the clock on the nightstand. 5 AM. Great.

 

You’re nauseous as all get out, so you get out of bed, slightly disgusted on a more mundane level by the fact that you slept in your clothes, and stumble to the bathroom. Sure enough, the moment you make it to the toilet you throw up.

 

There’s very little in your stomach—you haven’t eaten since that salad last night, having declined Amethyst’s offer of Cheetos midway through the movie ( before you ruined everything, Pearl )—but it feels like you’re kneeling there vomiting for hours, even once you’re pretty sure even the liquor itself is completely purged from your body. This is, you’re pretty sure, quite possibly the least pleasant way to begin your morning.

 

You slump sideways against the wall once you’re done. You’re too worn out to get up.

 

You don’t realize you’ve fallen back asleep, still in that position, until you feel Amethyst shaking you.

 

“Pearl, get up already. I gotta piss.”

 

You groan as she helps you to your feet, suddenly very thankful you at least had the sense to pass out against a wall—it gives you something to leverage yourself against. Your legs are cramping terribly from your sleeping position, and your head is pounding, and only three words can leave your mouth: “Got any ibuprofen?”

 

“Medicine cabinet,” she responds, pointing to a small cabinet on the wall above the towel rack. You nod, and pour a dose into your hand. “Now get out. Still gotta piss.”

 

“I’ll just...head into the kitchen,” you say. “You have coffee, right?” You don’t even like coffee—in fact, you think it’s vile on its own—but you need the caffeine, and when the subject of tea came up during the movie, Amethyst said no one in her family drank anything but the herbal stuff.

 

“Yeah. Now let me piss , Pearl.” You head out into the kitchen, and note that the microwave’s clock says it’s 8:30.

 

You’re far less surprised by the fact that you spent over three hours passed out against the bathroom wall than you are by the fact that Amethyst is more awake and alert than you. She still doesn’t seem like a morning person, but at least she’s conscious , which is frankly a lot more than you would’ve expected she’d be on a Sunday morning.

 

Then again, you suppose there are...extenuating circumstances.

 

There’s a Keurig with a half-full box of those little pods next to it plugged in by the stove, milk in the fridge, and cups in the cupboard, so you make your coffee, take the pills with it, and wait.

 

You can’t just leave without telling her you’re leaving. Given what she told you--everything about her past, everything about who she is --it just seems unnecessarily cruel. You’re still upset with her, yes, but...leaving now, you think, would prove her right about you.

 

She comes into the kitchen, and says, “I’m making toast. Want any?”

 

“I was actually thinking of leaving soon,” you tell her.

 

“Alright.” She shrugs.

 

“I’ll see you on Tuesday.”

 

“Yeah. Bye.”

 

You nearly trip over your own two feet as you’re walking home, and when you do arrive, Garnet gives you a funny look.

 

“Long night, I take it,” she says, bemused.

 

“I don’t want to talk about it right now, Garnet.”

 

“Later, then.”

 

“If I must.”

 

She smirks. “Would probably be best if you showered first, anyway.”