The first time that Veronica persuaded her to go to the Neptune Grand, her mother's mouth had twisted like she had tasted something unpleasant. It had been four weeks, though, and Mac had barely left her room, so her mother kissed her goodbye and stood on the front step while Veronica opened the car door for Mac and her overnight bag, and waited while she buckled herself in.
The inside of Veronica's car was familiar, but it wasn't her bedroom, and Mac felt a pang of longing for her bed, and her books. Her mother had been trying to get the sheets from her bed for weeks, but Mac hadn't let her, had wanted to keep the familiar scent of herself in her nostrils, for reasons that she couldn't really explain.
Everything was frozen, like she was a flip-flop waiting for a clock-tick so she could change from zero to one. She knew that she was expected to do something to make this happen. To talk to someone, because refusing to answer the worry in her mother's eyes was nothing short of cruel, but she couldn't force the words into her mouth, didn't know what she would say even if she could make herself talk. All she wanted to do was lie in her bed and read Three Investigators books, and sleep, until her head ached and she felt dizzy with not being herself.
The sun, burning through the windscreen, and bouncing off the houses and the sidewalks, was suddenly too much, and Mac rummaged in her bag for her sunglasses.
Veronica looked across at her. "You okay?"
For a second she wanted to smack Veronica, wanted to so hard that her fingers twitched. But that wasn't fair. It wasn't Veronica's fault that she had the energy to get out of bed, and put on lip gloss and blow-dry her hair, and talk to her Mom. It wasn't Veronica's fault that her head wasn't so full of cotton wool that she couldn't even come up with a plan for the day that didn't involve children's books and napping.
She felt a sting at the thought that the silence and the anger meant that she was being a mean bitch to Veronica, but she couldn't think of anything to say. It was like the words she knew were buried at the bottom of a well, and she would have to swim straight down a dark hole just to get at them. She nodded at Veronica, and tried to smile, and then turned her head so that she was looking out at the sun bleaching Neptune's streets.
Mac had half-expected Logan to be there when they arrived, but the suite was empty. She could imagine them discussing her, whether it would be best if he was there or not when crazy-Mac arrived, and she felt like that should have been embarrassing rather than just exhausting. Everyone around her just kept talking and talking, and the words piled up on top of each other, layer by layer, until the heaviness of them pressed against her chest.
Veronica had carried her bag upstairs, and she put it on the bed in the not-Logan's bedroom.
"The bathroom is through there. If you can't find something you need then we can call down to the desk for it."
Mac nodded, like she cared about whether she'd forgotten her toothbrush, and Veronica bit her lip for the fourth time since she'd picked Mac up.
Veronica organised sodas and chips. Logan's suite had a perfectly formed kitchenette behind cabinets that shut with an expensive click, and Veronica pulled cans of soda out of the fridge, and a bowl out of the cupboard without really looking, and Mac stood, uselessly, off to one side.
They sat on the sofa, the bowl of chips between them, and Mac's stomach clenched in anticipation of a conversation that she didn't think she could bear, but Veronica just slid a DVD into the player and they sat in companionable silence and watched TV. The first episode of The West Wing, and it really wasn't the kind of thing that Veronica particularly liked, but the part of Mac's brain that wasn't underwater knew that it didn't have any violence, or guns or kidnapping, or crazy boyfriends, and she felt a brief bloom of gratitude for the first time since Veronica had dragged her out of her house.
The tension had almost started to drain out of Mac when the beep-click of the door made her head whip round. It was Logan, carrying two bags from Neptune's premier surf shop and a brown takeout bag from the local vegan place.
"Honey, I'm home." He looked at Mac. "Hi, Mac."
"Hi." Her voice felt scratchy in her throat.
His gaze flicked to the screen. "I see that you lovely ladies are enjoying the vicarious pleasure of seeing some fundamentalist windbag getting their ass handed to them."
Mac had to give him credit, because he sounded 95 per cent like Logan, and only five per cent like he was walking a high wire, which was a better split than anyone in her family was managing.
He shook the takeout bag. "I have mung beans, and vegan ice-cream, and I don't even want to know how that works."
She smiled, because Veronica was looking at her and she knew that was what before-Mac would have done, and there was a noise when Veronica exhaled like Mac had done something to please her.
It wasn't terrible, sitting on the long sofa with Veronica and Logan. Veronica had grabbed the bag out of Logan's hand, and they served it up together, working alongside each other with the co-ordination of practice. There were plates and napkins and cutlery in the kitchenette, but they ate off their knees, watching Sam Seaborn be righteous, and it was about all the domesticity that Mac could tolerate.
They finished eating, and Veronica took the plates away, piling them in the tiny sink. It was the sound of crockery on steel that jerked Mac to her feet.
"I'm going to bed." She met Veronica's worried look. "Thanks for dinner."
She woke up sticky, despite the air conditioning, with a gasp that burned her throat. Her heart was thumping inside her chest, and she pushed her hand down on it like she could slow it down from outside her ribcage. She took a sip of water from the bottle beside the bed, the cap smooth and hard under her fingers. The clock beside the bed told her it was 5.24 am, and, lying back on the pillows, she reflected on the shitty irony that during the time in her life when she wasn't sure that she wanted to wake up at all, she woke up at the kind of time that allowed running before school, or surfing, or the type of cheerful morning activities that she'd never done.
She put on a bra, and her favourite navy hoodie, and pulled on some socks. TV would be too loud, but she knew that Logan would have some kind of games system out there in the austere sitting room.
She ran her fingers over the cabinets, until a drawer under the giant TV popped open and slid out, smooth as silk. Yahtzee.
Behind the X-Box and the PS3 there was an N64 with a Mario64 cart sticking out of it, and something in her throat ached at Logan's nostalgia. She checked the hook-ups, muted the TV, and slid the N64's power button forward.
It was years since she'd played this. It twelve years easily since it had been the newest, hottest thing on the market, and a couple of years after that before there had been one wrapped in Christmas paper under the Mackenzie's artificial tree, but she could remember it like it was yesterday.
She made short work of the first couple of worlds, and headed for Jolly Roger Bay. She could remember the first time that she'd seen the water, thinking that it was the most beautiful thing that she'd ever seen in a game, as though it was actually real rather than a polygon mesh with a texture mapped on the top. Now it looked embarrassingly low-poly, and she felt a rush of affection for her younger, simpler self. The self she was before she felt like she was nothing more than a wire frame with some kind of girl texture over the top.
There was the sound of a door closing and Logan appeared, clad in a wetsuit with his surfboard under one arm. She stared at the screen, watching Mario's head bob on top of the water.
"Is Veronica still asleep?"
Logan set the board carefully against the wall. "Her Dad called late last night. She needed to go home to do some detective business." His voice was light. "She should be back around seven."
She licked her lips, and pushed down hard on the flutter of panic in her stomach. "Okay."
"She wasn't sure if she should wake you up." Logan sounded hesitant.
"It's okay." She pushed forward with the analog stick and Mario dove under the water. "Is it okay for me to play this?"
Logan nodded. "Mi casa es tu casa." He sat down on the sofa. "Do you want to order some breakfast?"
"Go surf." She yanked the stick back and hit the button that made Mario swim for the surface. "I don't need a babysitter."
"I know you don't, Mac." He reached for the phone. "But it's a little bit ungracious to invite people to stay the weekend, and then abandon them when they clearly have no idea where the red coins are."
She scoffed. "I know exactly where they are. There are 168 red coins in this game, and I know where every single one of them is."
"So why are you swimming around in circles?" His voice was gentle.
She blinked at the screen. "You'll think it's dumb." Because it is.
What the hell. "It's peaceful."
He stood up, and she felt that flutter of panic again. "I'm going to go get dressed and order us some food. I think I'd like to watch you find a few more of those coins." He looked at her. "If that's okay?"
She nodded, and tried not to think about him taking off his clothes the whole time he was away. Tried not to think about how she was going to shower when they were the only people in the suite. Tried not to think that he was just staying because he was scared she might walk out of the door of the hotel and right into the sea.
He came back in jeans and a t-shirt, and she could tell her face was flushed when he looked at her. "What do vegans eat for breakfast?"
She shrugged. "Fruit. Juice. Cereal with soya milk? Whatever they have."
She listened to him call room service, and order more stuff than the two of them could have eaten in a week. Listened to him bully the chef into making vegan apple muffins and there was something nice about knowing that she had somehow made it onto the list of people he was mean for instead of to.
"I guess Veronica will be back soon," she said, after room service had hung up. He hesitated, and then put the phone back in its cradle. "Actually, she won't. She called when I was getting changed. She'll be a few more hours."
"Always on the go, that girl." She tried to keep her tone light, but it was scary the way that Veronica was zipping effortlessly towards the future, and she was stuck in the same spot. Veronica, who was out keeping the family business afloat and earning money for college, while Mac couldn't even remember to charge her phone.
"Want me to take you home? Call your Mom?"
She bit her lip, pushing the controller and making Mario swim towards the eel. This part had always scared the crap out of her. The idea of a giant sea monster, with rows of sharp teeth, hunting Mario had always made the deep water seem creepy.
She shook her head. "Can I wait here? For Veronica."
He looked at her, frowning. "It's not that I want you to leave. I just thought you might—"
"I don't know what I want." She flushed, heard how her words may have sounded to Logan. "I mean, from one minute to the next. Mostly, I don't want anything at all."
She passed the eel again, and it didn't slide out after her. The collision-detection on the game was truly for shit.
"It'll come back. The wanting stuff."
"Yeah?" She swam close to the eel, pivoting in the water with aching slowness, and then it was right behind her, sliding out of its cave. "When?"
"The shit with—" The silence stretched out like saltwater taffy. "It's a lot."
"Cassidy?" She turned at just the right moment, in the wake of the eel, and she watched as Mario spun in the water, star bagged. "You can say his name."
"I'm sorry, Mac, but he'll always be Beaver to me."
She thought about that, but having an opinion either way seemed like an impossibility. She had thought of nothing else for a whole afternoon a couple of weeks ago. Whether what happened to Cassidy had been enough to justify what he'd done. She didn't know the answer, and the lack of certainty made her feel small, like there was so much about the world that was confusing, and wrong, and totally fucked up.
She made Mario execute a perfect backflip, splashing through the picture back into Jolly Roger Bay, and it felt so unexpectedly clean that tears pricked the back of her eyes. "Do you think that what Woody— Do you think it explains it? What he did?"
"No." His voice was firm. "I could understand if he hurt Woody. But everyone else? You? Meg Manning? Those kids on the bus? Veronica? No."
"Veronica seems okay." She backflipped onto the stone platform, spoke to the pink cannon-guy. "She thought he'd killed her father. She watched him—" She shook her head, feeling the envy bite under her skin, although she didn't know what for. It was hardly a prize, watching someone die.
"Veronica's not fine."
She flicked her eyes away from the screen.
"Everyone deals with things differently." He shrugged. "Veronica dials up the pep, and pushes things underneath it until one day she just explodes."
She tried to think about Veronica's pain, but it felt like the wheels of her brain were spinning, like the idea was a hard calculation that her brain couldn't quite deal with.
"My Mom wants me to see a shrink." She long jumped from the shore to the cannon.
"Do you want to see a shrink?"
She licked her lips and jumped down into the cannon. "No."
She feels her stomach churn, every time she thinks of it. Telling someone that she thought she was wrapped naked in a shower curtain because Cassidy was coming back up the stairs with all the male 09ers from the party. A whole crowd of drunk teenage boys, ready to laugh at both her pale doughy flesh, and the idea that one of the Casablancas princes thought she was fuckable.
"Mac, you did tell the police everything?"
And there was another one to add to the list of ways that she'd been asked that question. By her Mom, as her Dad lurked on the periphery. By the EMTs. By the Sheriff. Even by Veronica, voice shaking but clear, as she'd helped Mac in the bathroom of the hotel room that Cassidy had left her in. She wondered if she was the shittiest person in the world for wishing that she had been raped, because at least then people would understand why she wanted to lie in her bed and pull the sheets over her head.
She aimed at one of the concrete pillars. Fired the cannon. Missed.
"Yes." She made Mario swim back towards the shore. Felt a tiny ounce of pity for Logan, because he'd thought he would be on his surfboard right now, not sitting with his girlfriend's traumatised friend. "He didn't rape me. I don't think he could. You know." Her face burned, because despite Logan's filthy mouth it felt wrong to be sitting on his sofa talking about sex.
She felt, rather than saw, Logan rub his fingers against his forehead. "Poor little bastard."
She blinked. Wiped her control stick hand on her pyjama bottoms. Long-jumped back towards the cannon. Felt her mouth twist, because fuck him if he couldn't think of a worse thing than a malfunctioning cock.
"He was really into you, Mac. Like, stupid crazy about you. Even Dick couldn't talk him into dating someone blonder and dumber." He sighed. "I guess one of Woody's legacies was no wood."
She aimed at the pillar again. Fired the cannon. Mario caught the tapered concrete. "That's the worst fucking pun I've ever heard."
He froze, and she had never seen him look so uneasy. "Fuck, I'm sorry."
She shrugged. "You're not exactly cut out for the comforting moment, Logan."
He snorted. "You'd be amazed, Mac-Attack." She wouldn't, really. She remembered, dimly, how kind he had been when he and Veronica found her. When they took her home and she'd been crying too hard to get out of the car, and he'd crouched down after he opened the door like he was trying to make himself small and unthreatening.
She pushed up with the control stick and Mario responded with a handstand. She rotated until he was facing the right way, and jumped, a perfect arc that landed Mario on the platform.
She watched Mario spin and then handed the controller to Logan. "Yeah, well, why don't you take over for 100 coins and I'll get us a soda."
"It's okay, Logan."
It wasn't. Her head hurt. Her heart hurt. But this was a new way of not being okay, and she decided that she could call that progress.