Chapter 1: Body and Blood
“I’ll be back here at 5:45 to pick you up,” Grace said in a firm voice, looking at Mariana. “We can’t miss the 6:30 mass.”
Mariana blinked and hesitantly looked back up at her. “O-okay,” she mumbled, opening the door and stepping out.
“Wait.” Grace touched Mariana’s left arm. “Mariana. I know you’re not happy. I need you to listen. If you just open up your heart and look to the Lord, I know you can find happiness. He can cure you. And we won’t have to go through this every week, with coming here and everything.”
Mariana rolled her eyes, and without answering, she shut the car door and walked into the small, brick building in front of her. This was the only place where she felt happy. Screw the Walter’s and their “Christian values”. It was all bullshit and didn’t make any sense to her. There was no god or heaven or anything. Her real family had never believed in that shit. And if there truly was, none of this should even be happening to her.
Mariana walked in and was greeted by Camila, the receptionist.
“Hey Mariana, how are you?”
Mariana gave her a tight smile. “Good.” She’d save her real feelings for today’s session.
Camila smiled. “You can go ahead and take a seat. She should be out in a few minutes.”
Mariana nodded and plopped down on a chair in the waiting room. She self consciously looked down at her outfit. Grace and Tom had forced her into; a long floral dress and black tights. They always made her wear the ugliest tops and dresses when they all went to mass on Wednesday’s and Sunday’s. The only thing that made it tolerable was that they forced Caroline, their eight year old daughter, to wear the clothes as well. She seemed to actually like them though.
The door opened, and Mariana looked up to see her therapist walk out into the lobby. She wore her shoulder-length blonde hair in loose curls and had on a white blouse and black dress pants. She seemed a little surprised and taken aback when she saw Mariana, and she realized she’d never been to therapy in her mass clothes before.
Mariana stood up. “Hi Stella.”
Mariana had been seeing Stella Gibson nearly every week for almost 6 months now.
They walked together into Stella’s office. Stella sat in her desk chair, and Mariana sat on the couch next to it.
“I hope it’s okay that we’re meeting on Wednesday instead of tomorrow,” Stella said.
Mariana nodded. Usually, she and Stella met on Thursday afternoons, but this week, she’d had to reschedule it for Wednesday evening.
“And does this work for next week too?”
Stella leaned back in her chair and grabbed her notebook. “So. How have you been doing this week?”
Mariana took a deep breath, and then let it out again. Truthfully, this week had been horrible. As April 24 loomed closed and closer, she’d been growing more anxious and sad. She hadn’t gone to school at all that week, and instead had been hiding alone in all the dark corners of the city, attempting to drink the pain away. She missed classes so much, that the school didn’t even bother to call anymore.
Mariana must have been silent for too long, because then Stella spoke again. “Mariana. Are you okay?”
Mariana shook her head. “No,” she said softly.
“What’s wrong?” Stella asked comfortingly.
Mariana felt tears forming in her eyes. “I-I…”
She couldn’t get the words out though, and soon began sobbing.
Stella stood from her chair and sat on the sofa next to Mariana, hugging and touching her comfortingly.
Mariana cried into her shoulder. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
A few minutes later, she had calmed herself down, and Stella moved on to a new topic. “How’s school been going for you?”
Mariana shrugged. “I haven’t been going much lately.”
Stella frowned. “You know that’s not good.”
“Yeah.” Mariana sniffed. “I just can’t make myself go and pretend to be happy.” She only had a few friends, and had lied to all of them about nearly everything; her family, where she was from, her secrets, and why she was living with the Walter’s.
“I want to be brave,” Mariana said softly. “Like you and Dana.”
Stella was the only LGBT woman Mariana knew, and the only person she was out to as being a lesbian. Stella was bisexual, and was happily married with a lesbian woman named Dana Scully. Clearly, Grace had done a lot of research when she’d picked Mariana a therapist.
“You’re braver than I am,” Stella told her. “You’re braver than most people are or ever need to be.”
No I’m not , Mariana thought, thinking of the cuts that lined her legs, upper arms, and stomach. I’m just weak and depressed and can’t even pull myself together for one day.
Annoyingly, at 5:45, Camilia knocked on the door. She said that Grace, Tom, and Caroline were waiting outside and Mariana needed to go right away.
Mariana glanced at Stella, not wanting to leave. Her session was supposed to go until 6:00, but to Grace and Tom, attending Wednesday mass on time was more important.
Stella gave Mariana a hug and promised to see her again next week, and then the three of them walked out into the lobby.
“Took you long enough to get out here,” Tom said sassily as Mariana slid into the back seat.
Mariana just sighed. From the strange look Caroline was giving her, she was sure that her eyes were red, her clothes were wrinkled, and her hair was a mess, but she did nothing to fix it. All she thought about was Stella. Her heart ached as she realized it would be a whole week until she saw her again. She missed Stella already.
They pulled into the church parking lot at 6:04, and were seated in a pew by 6:13. Christian instrumental music played in the background, and people chatted around them. Mariana just slunk down, wishing she were anywhere but here. Ten minutes later, she couldn’t take it. She mumbled something about needing to use the bathroom and went off into the hallway. There were more people there, waiting to go inside for mass. Mariana darted around them and exited the building, favoring instead the back alley behind the church.
She immediately pulled her dress over her head. She’s had the good sense to wear a white cami under her dress. The tights were thick and dark, and the tank top covered almost her whole ass, so nothing was showing. She slipped her black cardigan back on to hide her arms.
Mariana ditched her dress in a pile of bushes by the church’s main entrance, and walked the path that bordered the creek. There were a few people out, couples walking or people running, but it was mostly empty. A few people walking in the other direction gave her strange looks, but she paid no attention to them. Eventually, she reached a small bridge. It was empty. She gazed down at the water, tears streaming down her face. For just a second, she thought about jumping in.
Mariana walked across and onto the other side of the creek. She was walking through an unshaded area and mostly keeping her eyes on the ground, in front of her when someone suddenly stopped her.
“Are you okay?”
Mariana looked up to see a woman with a ginger colored bob dressed in a pantsuit standing above her. The woman was looking down at Mariana’s arm in concern. For the first time, Mariana looked down and saw blood running down her right hand, and soaking the sleeve of her cardigan. The sweater was black, but it was also only a ¾ length, and the blood on her skin was exposed and drying.
“Come here.” Before she could stop her, the woman rolled Mariana’s cardigan sleeve up her arm a little bit. Mariana let out a quiet gasp as two of her cuts were exposed, including the one that was bleeding badly. It was fresh from just a few hours ago.
The woman didn’t comment on her self harm marks though. “That looks pretty bad. I have a first aid kit in my car.”
Without knowing why, Mariana followed the woman a block down and to a Honda Accord. She unlocked the car and grabbed a medical kit from the passenger side. She then invited Mariana to sit there. Sniffing and wiping her eyes, she obligued.
The woman wiped the blood from Mariana’s arm, cleaned her freshly made cut with alcohol and then bandaged it.
“Are you okay?” the woman asked.
Mariana nodded. “Yeah. I’m fine.”
“Is there somewhere you need to go?” the woman asked. “Or anyone you need to call?”
“What time is it?”
The woman checked her phone. “Ten to 7:00.”
“Oh shit, I have to get back,” she mumbled, stepping out of the car. “Um, thanks,” she said awkwardly.
“Where?” the woman asked.
“Church.” Mariana laughed a little bit. Church. Running off to church, of all places. She stepped out of the car, and then took off, speed-walking down the street.
“Wait,” the woman started to say, but Mariana was already gone. She ran back across the bridge and down the path, relocated her dress, slipped it back on, and then headed into the building. She heard people in the other room. Mass was just ending.
Eventually, Mariana found the Walter’s again. Grace frowned at her disapprovingly. “Where were you?”
Mariana shrugged. “When I got back, it was already starting. I didn’t want to disturb anyone, so I sat in the back.”
They all left together. At home, Mariana rubbed the bandage on her right arm, thinking about the strange woman who had helped her. She thought about Stella too. She needed another session with her, and soon. A week was too long to wait.
Downstairs, Mariana could hear the Walter’s eating dinner, their plates and forks clattering noisily. She wasn’t hungry though, and instead, lay down on her bed and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Chapter 2: Furlough
“How have you been feeling this week?”
Mariana sat on the couch, staring blankly at the wall in front of her. This week had been horrible, much worse than the previous ones had been, and the pain had escalated quickly. She tried not to think about what would happen next Tuesday, but it was an unavoidable. The anniversary of the accident .
Stella sighed and moved to the couch. She put a comforting hand on Mariana’s arm. “Breathe,” she told her. “Just breathe.”
Mariana took deep breaths. In and out. In and out .
Stella nodded, satisfied. “That’s good. This was a hard week?”
Mariana nodded, still facing the wall in front of her and not daring to look at Stella. “I just can’t stop thinking about it.”
Stella started to massage Mariana’s back. “Just remember that grieving is natural and normal. But there are some things that can help it be less painful.”
“I’ve been in pain everyday for almost an entire year,” Mariana said. They were first real words she’d said for the entire session.
Stella wrapped her arms around Mariana’s shoulders and pulled her in closer. “It’s okay. You can get through this. I can help you get through this.”
Mariana sobbed into her arm. “Next Tuesday is going to be a nightmare.”
Stella gently stroked Mariana’s hair. “I want to see you then. We’ll need to schedule a session.”
Mariana took a few deep breaths before she spoke again. Just the thought of seeing Stella on that day made the whole thing seem more bearable and less painful. Only a little bit though. “Okay.”
“Anything else you want to talk about?” Stella asked. “Feelings? Thoughts?”
Mariana shook her head, but then suddenly realized she had a lot on her mind. She talked about her old life, and how it used to be, when she was surrounded by her mother, father, and older brother. It was far from perfect, but so much better than this. Then she shook her head.
“God. What am I doing? It can never be like that again.” She shook her head. “I’m fantasizing.”
Before she knew it, it was already 6:00, and her time with Stella was over. Again.
Stella looked surprised. “No early pickup this week?”
Mariana checked her phone, and saw that she had a new text from Grace. Had to go to mass. Storm coming. We’ll pick you up after .
Stella walked Mariana out to the lobby. “I’ll call Grace about Tuesday.”
Mariana nodded. “Okay.”
She then sat and waited. She played a few games on her phone, but mostly just sat. Predictably, it was a used, super-old model with a slow operating system and shitty battery life.
At 6:20, Camila looked over to see that Mariana was still waiting. “They’re not here yet?”
Mariana shook her head. “After mass.”
Outside, the wind was howling and it looked like it was about to rain. Grace was right. A storm was coming.
At 6:30, the rain finally started and it didn’t look like it was going to stop for hours. Soon, thunder and lighting accompanied it. The winds picked up and became even stronger, and Mariana witnessed a baby tree’s trunk snapping as it fell to its death. Sometimes, she kind of wished she had the nerve to do that to herself.
At 6:45, she received another text message.
Winds are too strong. Trapped in church . May not be able to get you tonight.
Mariana groaned. “Fuck,” she said loudly, just as Stella walked out. She looked surprised.
“Mariana. Why are you still here?”
Mariana sighed. “The storm.”
“And they’re not coming to pick you up?”
She shook her head. “They’re trapped.”
Stella scoffed. “That’s ridiculous. I’m about ready to leave. Why don’t you come with me?”
Mariana looked up tentatively. “Really?”
Stella nodded. “Much better than sleeping here.”
Mariana followed Stella out to their car. Both of them got soaking wet. Stella drove while Mariana looked out the window. The storm was only getting worse. She glanced back at Stella, who was sitting in the driver’s seat. If she went to Stella’s house, she could finally meet Dana. And she was betting it was going to be a much better night than she would have had with the Walter’s.
Eventually, they arrived, and Stella led Mariana up to the front door.
A few moments after entering, another woman appeared. She had a ginger bob, and was wearing a blazer and skirt. Mariana almost gasped.
“Mariana,” Stella said. “This is my wife, Dana. And Dana, this is is—”
“Mariana.” Dana clearly recognized her from last week.
“Omigod.” Mariana felt lightheaded, and leaned onto Stella for support. This couldn’t be happening…
Stella steadied her. “Mariana. Are you okay?”
Mariana nodded numbly. She didn’t argue when Stella led her upstairs and onto the sofa in the upstairs living room. She disappeared for a few minutes, and then returned with a blanket, which she draped over Mariana’s shoulders before leaving again. Mariana sat there, shivering, wishing and praying that Dana wouldn’t tell Stella about what had happened last week. Tears streamed down her face as she rubbed the cuts on her arms, trying to calm herself down.
Dana nodded. “It all happened last week.”
Stella sat silently for a few minutes. She felt a little hurt and distrusted—she had thought that Mariana told her everything. At the same time, she understood why Mariana hadn’t told her about the cuts. She remembered the shame she felt about having them back when she was a young girl.
She walked back upstairs to go check on Mariana. She decided not to mention her self harming. Dana knew about the cuts and Mariana surely knew that Dana knew, so Stella would let her open up when she was ready.
Stella walked into the room to see Mariana curled up on the couch. “Hey.”
“Hey Stella.” Mariana seemed a bit distant. She must know that I know , Stella thought. She glanced down at Mariana’s right arm. The skin was covered by her sweater sleeve, but it looked a bit swollen. “Dana wants to check on that. It might be infected.”
Mariana shook her head. “No. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”
“Do you need anything? Some water? Something to eat?” Stella offered.
Mariana declined. Stella sat with her silently for a few minutes. “Mariana. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m great,” Mariana replied. Her face didn’t show it though. Stella could see the pain in her eyes, and she moved closer.
“Mariana, talk to me. What’s the matter?”
Mariana clenched her teeth. “Nothing is wrong, okay. Everything is just the same as it is everyday.” Just sucky and joyless .
Stella let out a breath. “Come on, Mariana. Let’s go downstairs and eat. I get you some dry clothes too. Dana really wants to make sure your arm is okay.”
Mariana sighed loudly, but finally agreed. Truthfully, her arm was feeling numb, and her right hand was feeling tingly.
Stella removed the blanket, and Mariana stood up. The two of them walked downstairs together to meet Dana in the kitchen.
Chapter 3: Walk the Line
“Hi Mariana,” Dana said, smiling warmly. “Is there anything you want to eat?”
Mariana just shrugged and bit her lip. She looked a little nervous as she stood close to Dana.
“I’ll be back with some clothes.” Stella walked down the hall and back upstairs, to their bedroom to retrieve something comfortable and dry for Mariana to wear.
Mariana shifted, uncomfortable with Dana’s presence.
“Here. Sit. Let’s see your arm.”
Hesitantly, Mariana sat down in the chair next to Dana’s, and rolled up her sleeve enough so Dana could see the injury, but not any of her other cuts.
Dana almost gasped when she saw it. Mariana had removed the bandage, and there was dried blood and pus surrounding it. Her arm was very swollen where the injury was located, and the swelling went down to her hand. The skin looked discolored and unhealthy.
She had already brought her first aid kit out from the bathroom, so she opened and it snapped on a pair of rubber gloves, while Mariana watched her tentatively.
Dana gently touched the cut, and Mariana flinched.
“Does it hurt?”
Dana sighed. “I think it’s infected.”
Mariana blinked. “What? What does that mean?”
“Do you feel sick?”
Mariana shook her head.
Dana then applied ointment and wrapped the cut up again. She felt her way down Mariana’s swollen arm. It looked really bad.
Stella returned a few moments later with one of her old, long sleeve T shirts and a pair of Dana’s grey sweatpants. “Here. You can go put these on.”
She showed Mariana into the downstairs bathroom and told her she could leave her wet clothes in there.
Mariana changed into the clothes Stella had given her. They smelled like a mixture of Stella and Dana’s natural scent, and a little like their perfumes too.
She stared at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. Her eyes were a bit red from when she was crying earlier, and her hair was wet and limp. The shirt fit well, but the waist of the sweatpants was a little too big. Just looking at herself made her want to cry even more.
She left the bathroom and started to walk down the hall, when she heard quiet voices whispering in the kitchen.
“It looked really bad. I’m pretty sure it’s infected.” That was Dana.
“Well what should we do? Take her to a hospital?” Stella spoke next.
“I don’t know. Maybe. She said she didn’t feel sick, but it could get worse.”
Mariana’s eyes widened as she immediately turned around and practically ran back to the bathroom. She shut the door, locked it and slid down so her back was against it and she was sitting on the ground, her knees curled up to her chest.
A tear flowed down her face and onto her thigh. Then another. Mariana wiped her eyes. She couldn’t go back to the hospital. She thought about the last time she’d been there, a few months ago, and what a horrible day it had been. She silently sobbed into her knees.
There was a knock on the door. “Mariana. Are you okay?” It was Stella.
Mariana quickly wiped her eyes. “Yeah. Fine.”
She quickly stood up and then attempted to quickly rub the redness out of her eyes, but just seeing her reflection made her cry more. She stood, just staring as some of her tears fell into the sink.
There was another knock a few seconds later. “Mariana. You’ve been in there for a while.”
“I’ll be out soon,” Mariana answered, though she made no effort to leave. She glanced at the window on the opposite wall, wondering if it was worth it to bolt. The storm was still raging outside, and besides, where would she go?
“Mariana. I really need you to come out now.”
Mariana didn’t answer. She was too busy digging around in the cabinet for a razor blade.
“Shit,” Stella mumbled from outside the door. She quickly ran back to the kitchen to get Dana. She knew her FBI skills would come in handy.
Dana followed Stella back to the bathroom door where she used her shoulder to force the door open. Both women widened their eyes, and Mariana burst into tears.
Dana grabbed the bloody razor from Mariana’s right hand, and Stella held Mariana tightly and dragged her out of the bathroom and onto the living room couch. She hugged Mariana’s rigid, warm body close to her. Mariana’s face was buried into her shoulder, and Mariana could smell Stella’s natural scent.
After about 10 minutes, she pulled away, and took gasping breaths, trying not to cry.
Stella spoke softly. “Mariana. Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
Mariana shook her head. “I-I couldn’t.”
“Deep breaths,” Stella said, massaging her shoulders. Then she slid her hair band off her own wrist and onto Mariana’s.
Mariana looked up, confused. “What are you doing?”
“Once upon a time, this worked for me. Whenever you feel overwhelmed or feel the need to self harm, just snap the band around your wrist. Like this.” Stella stretched the band and then watched as it sprang back into place. She felt sharp, mild pain. “You try it.”
Slowly, Mariana reached out, grabbed the band, and snapped it.
“Just like that. You got it.” Stella gently moved Mariana’s hair behind her shoulder and out of her face.
Dana came into the room and set a glass of water down on the table. “Drink this.”
Mariana took a small sip, and then set it back down.
Dana sat down next to Mariana, and then her and Stella exchanged a look. Finally, Stella cleared her throat and spoke.
“We want to take you to a hospital to have your arm checked out.”
Mariana froze for a second. Then she shook her head. “No.”
“Why not?” Dana asked, but Stella understood.
“I know it will be hard,” she said gently. “But you really need to go.”
Mariana shook her head again. “No. I’m not going.”
Stella sighed. “We really need to get this checked out.”
“The storm,” Mariana reminded her.
Stella sighed and looked at her wife. Dana handed Mariana the glass of water, but Mariana immediately put it back down. She felt too weak and tired to do anything. She rested her head on Stella’s shoulder and closed her eyes, quickly falling asleep, while Dana massaged her shoulders, breathing on Stella’s neck. All three of them felt the warmth of each other’s bodies.
Stella felt like crying. Instead, she slowly stood up, positioning Mariana onto the couch. Even though she wasn’t supposed to do this with her clients, she gave her a small goodnight kiss on the forehead.
Chapter 4: The Hollow Men
The next morning at 7:00, Stella gently shook Mariana awake. Mariana slowly opened her eyes. At first, she looked confused, but then she realized where she was, and all the events of last night flooded back. Fuck .
“We need to get you back,” Stella said, careful not to use the word, home .
Mariana sat up and internally groaned. She’d only had one night to spend with Stella, and she’d completely fucked it up. Now it was time to go back to reality. She snapped the rubber band around her wrist.
It wasn’t until they were in the car, that Mariana remembered what she was wearing, and where she had left her hideous church outfit. “Oh shit. Your clothes.”
Stella waved it off. “Don’t worry about it.”
The car ride was too short, and too soon, they were back at the Walter’s house.
Mariana stared up at the house, annoyed. They probably weren’t even home yet. And of course, they didn’t trust her enough to give her a key.
Stella sighed. “I’ll call Grace to see if they’re home yet.” She picked up her cell phone, but the line went straight to voicemail. Her phone must have died.
“Mariana, I really think we should get your arm checked out.”
Mariana shook her head.
Stella sighed. “Okay. Fine. I can take you to school.”
They arrived at about 7:45. She was early, but the school was, unfortunately, still open.
“Go to class,” Stella told her. “I can see you again next week. Monday and Tuesday.”
Mariana nodded as she exited the car and went into the school. Honestly, she just wanted to curl up on the grassy lawn outside. She had a throbbing pain in her side. Her hand didn’t feel too good either, and seemed to be swelling up even larger.
In her first hour, she sat in class, staring blankly at the wall, her stomach hurting the whole time. Second hour she had biology. The class did some lab on water properties, but Mariana refused to stand up and just sat at her table, staring down at its black surface. She didn’t even move when the teacher wrote her up for lunch detention.
In third hour, she fell asleep, and during lunch she finally escaped from school. Walking hurt though. Her whole body seemed to ache. Her side was in a deep, long-lasting pain, her stomach wouldn’t stop growling for food, and her legs felt weak and stiff—as if they hadn’t been used in weeks. And her entire right arm hurt. The skin was turning yellow, and her veins were starting to pop out. Mariana wanted to cry, but she was too exhausted. April 24 loomed closer and closer, and the nearer it got, the worse Mariana felt.
Mariana spent the rest of the day in the field boarding the school. At 3:38, she finally arrived back at the house. Caroline was there, so Mariana was able to get in. She immediately walked into her bedroom, flopped down on the bed, and fell asleep.
A few hours later, she was being woken up by Grace.
“You need to make dinner,” Grace said in a firm voice. “Tom and I are going out.”
Mariana shut her eyes. “I’m exhausted.”
Grace huffed. “Look, missy. You need to stop being so lazy and help out more around here. Do you know how much those therapy sessions are costing us? If you’re going to be a brat either way, I might as well just cancel them.”
“No.” Mariana jumped up, the pain in her side stabbing her. “I’ll do it.”
Grace smiled. “Good.”
Mariana followed her into the kitchen.
“Your teacher called me,” Grace mentioned casually. “Lunch detention? Really? And where were you during your afternoon classes.”
Mariana snapped her rubber band and tried to remain calm.
“You know,” Grace said, touching her chin. “You’d be in a lot less pain if you just accepted god into your heart. That’s why Tom and I are always so happy.”
Snap, snap, snap .
Finally, Grace looked down at Mariana’s wrist. “What are you doing? Stop snapping that thing. It’s not good for God or Caroline.” She scoffed. “Anyway. We’re leaving now.”
I won’t miss you , Mariana thought bitterly.
She quickly made a box of macaroni and cheese for Caroline, and then hobbled back to her room. Her stomach begged for food, but she wasn’t in the mood to eat. She had chills too. She pulled her blanket around her body and lay there shivering, longing to feel Stella’s body heat.
Caroline came in to ask Mariana random questions a couple times, but for the most part, she left her alone, which was a huge relief. Mariana tried to sleep, but her body was too cold and achy, so she just lay there.
A few hours later, she heard the door open and Tom and Grace step in. She made no effort to stand up. Being awake was painful enough.
Mariana thought about her old self, back when she had a family. Her sister had run off when she was seventeen—Mariana was only twelve—and she still wondered where she’d gone. That was before the bad stuff had happened. She thought back to all the fun outings and family dinners she’d had with her parents and older brother. She always longed to be back there, and every night, she prayed that when she woke up in the morning, she’d be in her mother’s arms, and her mother would be whispering that it had all just been a bad dream. But every morning was the same and soon Mariana lost all hope that her life would ever be the same again.
At around midnight, she started to hallucinate. She imagined Stella and Dana whispering above her. She could hear them talking, but she couldn’t make out what they were saying. Then Stella came over and grabbed her hand. The scene changed, and Mariana was suddenly in a hospital bed. Doctors stood on all sides of her, speaking in monotone voices to one another. Stella and Dana were gone.
Mariana couldn’t hear what they were saying, but as each doctor spoke, the words became louder.
“They are all dead.”
Chapter 5: Touch me Gently
“It was the worst nightmare I’ve ever had.” Mariana hugged Stella, holding onto her for comfort. It had happened last Thursday—almost four days ago—but it still felt fresh in her mind.
Stella gently touched her shoulder. “It’s okay, Mariana. It was just a dream. Just breathe.”
Mariana snapped the band around her wrist multiple times as she took deep breaths.
Stella examined Mariana’s face and body. Her skin looked dry and unhealthy, and her eyes had dark circles under them, like she hadn’t gotten much sleep. Her face was red, like she was sweating, except she seemed to be cold.
“Mariana, do you feel sick?” she asked gently.
Mariana shrugged. “I guess, a little bit.” Truthfully, she was exhausted, achy, and shivering. The pain in her side still hadn’t gone away. She wondered if she had the flu.
Stella held her hand up to Mariana’s forehead. “May I?”
Mariana nodded weakly, barely registering what was going on.
Stella felt Mariana’s forehead with the back of her hand. She was burning up.
“Mariana, did you ever see a doctor about your arm?” Stella was almost positive she hadn’t, and was angry at herself for not being more firm about it.
Mariana shook her head. “No. I’ll do it later.”
“Come here.” Stella grabbed Mariana’s hand and pulled her up, off the couch.
“What are you doing?” Mariana asked.
Stella gently squeezed her hand and pulled Mariana out of the room with her and into the lobby.
Camila looked at both Stella and Mariana, clearly confused.
“Camila, watch her,” Stella said. “I’m going to get my car. Now just sit down here,” she told Mariana, gesturing to the bench in the lobby.
Camila looked worriedly at Mariana. “Are you okay?”
Mariana nodded. “Yeah. I’m just tired.”
A sharp pain jolted in her side, and she quickly clutched her stomach.
A few minutes later, Stella was back. She took Mariana’s wrist and brought her into her car. Exhausted, Mariana quickly fell into a dreamless sleep.
When she woke up, she found herself lying in a bed in a bright room. She sat up and quickly realized where she was, and felt her heart sinking.
Stella’s face swam into view. “Mariana. It’s okay.”
Mariana shook her head, as her breathing increased.
“Stay calm,” Stella told her. “Deep breaths.”
Mariana reached down for her hair band, when she saw a tube in her hand. Freaking out, she quickly pulled it out and dropped it to the ground.
Stella reached over and grabbed it. “It’s okay, Mariana. You’re safe. I won’t leave you.”
The door opened, and Stella almost gasped with surprise as Dana walked in. Dana looked surprised too.
“Stella,” she said, walking up to her. “You’re here. With Mariana.”
Stella nodded and whispered quietly, “I think it’s the infected cut. It’s gotten worse.”
Dana sighed heavily. “I knew we should have gotten it checked out right away. I’ll need to run some blood tests, and…” she glanced at the IV tube in Stella’s hand. “Replace that I guess.”
“Yeah.” Stella looked over at Mariana to see she was making her way off the bed. She quickly rushed over.
“Mariana, you remember Dana, right?” She stepped in front of her and lightly pushed her back onto the bed.
Mariana shook her head and started to cry. “Stella, I can’t be here.”
“Deep breaths,” Stella said. “Stay calm. Nothing bad is going to happen.”
“It will be just like last time,” Mariana mumbled.
Stella shook her head. She saw Dana preparing for the blood test. “Mariana. Look at me. Everything will be okay. I’ll be here with you the entire time.”
She squeezed both of her hands just as Dana poked the empty syringe into Mariana’s arm.
Mariana gasped, and quickly looked at Dana. “What are you doing?”
“She’s just doing a blood test,” Stella assured Mariana. “It will be over in a few moments.”
Mariana tried to move her hands, but Stella held them firmly in her grip until Dana had removed the needle. Mariana looked back at her, but then immediately wished she hadn’t. The syringe she was holding was filled with crimson colored liquid. Mariana gagged and almost puked, having a flashback to almost exactly this day one year ago. Her shoulders shook as she sobbed so hard, Stella holding her the whole time. Mariana felt her warmth and burrowed her face into Stella’s shoulder, which muffled her sobs.
“It’s okay, Mariana,” Stella whispered gently. “Everything will be okay.”
About ten minutes later, when Mariana had stopped crying, Dana returned with more equipment, and Stella realized what was coming next.
Dana put a heat pack on Mariana’s left arm to warm it, and Mariana left it alone, but tried to remove the tourniquet she tied on.
Stella held Mariana’s hand still while Dana put in the needle and the tube. All three of their hands brushed together.
When the procedure was over, Mariana didn’t want to let go of Stella.
“I want to leave,” she whispered.
Stella touched her shoulder. “Soon. How are you feeling?”
Mariana sighed and closed her eyes, loosening her grip. Dana must have put calming medicine into the IV. “Don’t let anything happen to me,” Mariana whispered, and then she fell asleep.
Chapter 6: Into the Abyss
Mariana spent the rest of the evening worrying about the next day. Stella tried to calm her down, but nothing worked, until she asked Dana to give her a sedative.
“I have to leave before tomorrow,” Mariana said nervously.
Stella put a hand on Mariana’s shoulder and tucked her hair behind her ear. “Dana’s going to help you calm down, okay?”
Mariana turned to look at her, and saw a needle in her hand, and she started to cry again. “What is she going to do to me?” she asked through tears.
Stella rubbed her shoulders. “Mariana, just hold still.”
Dana put the injection into Mariana’s left arm. Mariana tried to grab it, but Stella restrained her hands, and Mariana cried into Stella’s arms, until Dana was finished and pulled it out. Almost immediately, Mariana stopped struggling and freaking out and just hugged Stella tightly and cried. She felt exhausted and really wanted sleep, but she didn’t want to let go of Stella.
Dana left the room, and Stella soon found a tear streaming down her own cheek. She knew tomorrow was going to be a really hard day, and was sad by how much stress and pain Mariana was going through. What she wanted to do was give her back her family and reverse time so the accident never would have happened. She thought for a minute. Maybe she couldn’t give Mariana back her real family, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t give her one at all.
She squeezed Mariana’s hand gently as she fell asleep, thinking about what it would be like to have a daughter of her own.
The next morning, Mariana woke up to find herself alone in the room. Stella was gone.
She remembered what day it was. April 24. The room began to spin and blur in and out of focus. Everything looked surreal, and Mariana felt lightheaded. Her whole body was screaming at her to get out of there. She quickly slid off the bed and walked out into the hallway. It was empty. She began to panic, wondering if she had died and gone to hell. Maybe she’d be trapped here forever. A memory flashed in front of her eyes of the last time she’d been to this very same hospital. She saw herself sitting in the waiting room, nervously thumbing through a fashion magazine. A young woman with brown, curly hair dressed in pink scrubs came out. “I’m so sorry.”
She had held Mariana while she’d cried. Finally, after hours and hours of tears, she’d run out. They’d kept her at the hospital for a few days after it had happened.
Mariana took a step down the hallway, when Dana suddenly appeared from around the corner. Her eyebrows crinkled in concern. “Mariana? What are you doing out here?”
“I need to get out of here,” Mariana said, shaking her head. She tried to step past Dana, but she grabbed her arm.
“Stella just went to get coffee. She’ll be back soon. I’ll stay with you until she gets back.”
“No,” Mariana said. “You don’t understand. I need to leave.” She tried to pull away from Dana’s grip.
Dana pulled Mariana back into the room and sat with her in the chairs at the side of the room. Dana did a quick examination of Mariana’s arm and saw that it was still very swollen. She then massaged Mariana’s arms and shoulders.
“I feel sick,” Mariana said, resting her head on Dana’s shoulder.
Dana hugged her. “We’re going to make you feel better, okay?”
The pain in Mariana’s side suddenly came back, and she gasped and clutched it.
“What’s wrong?” Dana asked.
“It hurts,” Mariana said through clenched teeth. This time was worse than it had ever been before. Thankfully, a few seconds later, it was gone.
Dana still looked worried. “How long have you had pain there?”
Mariana shrugged. “I honestly don’t remember.” She was now starting to sweat from all the anxiety and the pain, and she wondered if it would ever end. Tears ran down her cheeks and Dana quickly hugged her again.
Stella returned a few minutes later. She wiped the tears off of Mariana’s face. “It’s okay. You’re going to get through this day. We’ll get through it together.”
Mariana sobbed into Stella’s shoulder, Dana still holding her tightly. “Oh, Stella, this is my worst nightmare. It’s April 24, and I’m back in this hospital again.”
Stella hugged her body close to her own, while Dana left the room to get a few things.
“It’s okay,” Stella assured her. “You just rest, okay.” She found she was almost crying herself.
Eventually, Mariana got back into the bed. Stella held her hand while Dana gave her injections around the infected cut, and gave her medicine to calm her nerves.
It didn’t seem to work though. Mariana spent the whole day sitting stiffly and staring at the wall, too scared to move. Internally, she was filled with anxiety, and her head was full of memories from last year, reliving through the terror. The only thing that got her through the day was knowing that Stella—the only one left who truly cared about her—was there, and wasn’t going to leave her side.
Chapter 7: Righteous Right Hand
The next day, Wednesday, was much better. Dana wrapped the infected cut up and prescribed Mariana some antibiotic pills for the infection, but she was allowed to go home, and she and Stella left the hospital at around 2:00 in the afternoon.
Caroline was at the house when Mariana stumbled through the door. When she saw her, her eyes widened.
“Where were you?”
Mariana just sighed loudly and shook her head. “Nowhere. It’s not important.”
She walked upstairs to her room, the bottle of pills in her hand. She stared at it for a while and wondered what would happen if she took them all at once—or didn’t take any at all. Sighing, she locked the bottle into her desk drawer, flopped onto her bed, and fell asleep.
She was woken up a couple hours later. Mariana opened her eyes to see Tom standing above her.
“Where have you been?” he asked.
Mariana wanted to slap him. How could he be so ignorant and stupid?
“And what are you wearing? Why aren’t you dressed for church? You know we go every Wednesday night. Come on, now. Grace is waiting for us there. We need to go.”
Mariana stared at him for a few minutes. “No,” she finally said.
Tom frowned. “What did you just say to me?”
“No,” Mariana repeated, folding her arms across her chest. “I’m not going, and you can’t make me.”
She didn’t know if it was the medicine or all the time she had spent with Stella, but her veins felt pumped with adrenaline. She felt much stronger than she had yesterday, and she’s realized that she was done following all the Walter's stupid rules since they clearly didn’t even care about her in the first place.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but you need to cut the attitude out right now.” Tom looked furious.
Mariana scoffed. “Tell it to my social worker. I don’t have time for this bullshit.” And with that, she simply skipped out of the room, leaving Tom with his jaw hanging open.
She left out the back door and walked over to the little stream that was located by the Walter's house. She sat on a rock, watching the water flow past, and thinking about everything that had happened in the past year. All she wanted was to see more of Stella. If only she get away from these horrible people and go live with Stella and Dana instead. She felt a tear roll down her cheek, and quickly wiped it away. That kind of thing only happened in movies. She knew it would never happen to her.
Then she thought about something else. What if Tom really did call her social worker, and she got moved to a new placement, in a different city? What if she never saw Stella again? Her stomach ached with anxiety. Looking back at it now, it was a stupid thing to do. But Tom just got her so pissed off, that she couldn’t control her emotions around him.
Mariana sat silently for a while. She was starting to feel a little bit sick again, when she suddenly heard footsteps, and then a boy emerged from the woods. Mariana let out a small gasp. Shawn Myers.
Shawn grinned when he saw her. “Hey. How are you doing, baby girl?”
Mariana stared at him. “I’m not your girl.”
“Chill. That’s how I greet everyone.” He took a seat on a rock close to hers. “Remember the last time we were here together? Back in October?”
Mariana shook her head. “Don’t remind me. That was the worst mistake of my life.”
“Aw, come on now, was I that bad?”
He leaned closer to her. “What do you say you give me a second chance?”
Mariana flinched. Her blood ran cold. She shook her head. “I-I have to go. I feel sick.”
She shot up from the rock and started to head back in the direction of the house.
“Hey, what did I do?” Shawn called after her, but Mariana didn’t turn around or answer him.
By the time she made it back, she was breathless and panting. She took a minute to catch her breath, and then tried the door. It was, of course, locked. She sat on the back porch, mindlessly watching the trees, waiting for them to come back home.
Stella had just sat down on the sofa with a freshly-poured glass of red wine, when the front door opened, and Dana stepped in, dressed in her white coat and sneakers.
“Hey,” Stella said.
“Hey.” Dana closed the door and took a seat next to Stella. “Is Mariana okay?”
“I think so. I dropped her off a few hours ago. I should call her to make sure.”
She called Mariana’s cell phone number, but it went to voicemail. She frowned. “That’s weird.” She checked the time. “She’s probably in church though.”
Stella stood up to pour Dana a glass. “How are you feeling?”
Dana sighed. “Just a little tired.”
Dana kept talking, but Stella wasn’t really listening. She was preoccupied with thoughts about Mariana. She’d witnessed all of her pain, and seen how sad she truly was. She never should have trusted her with all those pills.
Dana seemed to notice. “Stella, what’s wrong?”
Stella shook her head. “I can’t stop thinking about Mariana. I don’t know what she’s going to do with those pills.”
“Don’t worry too much about it,” Dana assured her wife. “She’s probably had access to pills before this. And besides, she has access to water, knives, cleaning fluid…”
Stella sighed. Dana was just making her feel even more worried. “Yeah. You’re right.”
The two of them stayed together, snuggling on the couch, until 11:00, when they took a shower together, and then went to sleep.
Chapter 8: Night Casts a Shadow
Thursday evening, Mariana heard a knock on her bedroom door.
“Mariana? Can you can downstairs? Tom and I want to talk to you.” It was Grace.
Mariana sighed and stood up. “Sure. I’ll be right there.” She opened the door and followed Grace downstairs, to the living room.
Tom sat on the couch, and Grace joined him, gesturing for Mariana to take the chair opposite of them.
Tom cleared his throat. “We don’t think this is working, Mariana.”
“What do you mean?” Mariana asked, concerned, but Grace shushed her.
“Let him finish.”
Tom continued to speak. “We have tried and tried and tried again and given you lots and lots of chances, but we just don’t think you’re a good fit for our family, and honestly we don’t know what to do anymore. We’ve run out of options. We’ve already called Denise. She’ll be here to pick you up tomorrow morning. You can go pack your things.”
They both stood up and started to walk towards the kitchen, Grace giving her a sympathetic look on her way out.
Mariana remained where she was for a moment, frozen with shock and fear. This placement had been far from perfect, but she had no idea what the next one would be like. Then, suddenly her heart broke. Stella. She probably wouldn’t get to see her anymore.
Quickly, she ran into her room, grabbed her cell, and flopped onto her bed, sobbing into her pillow. She dialed Stella’s number and then listened as it rang.
“The number you have dialed is not connected…”
“What the fuck.” Mariana wiped her eyes and saw that with her blurry vision and forceful tapping, she had typed in some of the numbers wrong. She quickly ended the call and dialed Stella’s correct number.
She picked up on the second ring. “Hi Mariana.”
“Stella, they want to send me away,” Mariana sobbed into the phone. “I’m never going to see you again.”
“I won’t let that happen,” Stella assured her.
“No, you don’t understand. I could be transferred to anywhere in the state,” Mariana continued. “I just called because I wanted to say goodbye. I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow, or if I’ll even live to see the next morning, but please know that I only made it this far because of you.”
“Mariana? Mariana, listen to me,” Stella said, but the line went dead. Quickly, Stella redialed Mariana’s number, but the line just rang and rang, without even giving her the option to leave a voicemail.
“What’s going on?” Dana asked from the couch.
Stella took a seat next to her. “Dana. We need to adopt Mariana.”
Chapter 9: Glimmer of Hope
Dana stayed silent for a moment, just staring at Stella, wide-eyed and in shock, until she finally spoke. “What?”
“We need to adopt Mariana,” Stella repeated.
Dana looked at Stella. “We need more preparation than this. We’re not ready to raise a child. A-and besides, all the paperwork that comes with it, and we’d need to get approved.” She shook her head. “I just don’t think this is going to happen.”
Stella squeezed her wife’s hand and sighed. “I’m sorry. I just got so carried away. I didn’t even ask. But Mariana really is a sweet girl. She’s just…broken.”
Dana sighed. “You know, as crazy as it sounds, I kind of want to adopt her too. I kind of just got this feeling the day I helped her with that cut. I didn’t even know who she was. But we have to be realistic too. Will the state let us?”
“We’ve been married for a few years,” Stella said. “Stable income. She knows me too.”
“Yes, but…” Dana closed her eyes, not wanting to say it out loud.
Stella sighed, knowing what Dana was thinking. “We have to at least try. I really want to go over there now though. I’m worried. We can let her spend the night with us.”
Dana nodded. “Okay.”
Stella pulled her car out of the driveway, and sped down the street, to the west part of town, where Mariana lived. She zoomed past houses and city streets until she finally arrived. She got out of the car and knocked on the door.
Grace answered. She looked confused. “Who are you?”
Stella sighed. She and Grace had met before. “Stella Gibson. Mariana’s therapist.”
Grace studied her thoughtfully. “Oh. Why are you here?”
“Can I see Mariana?” Stella was feeling nervous and impatient.
“Look, cancel the appointment next week. She’s leaving tomorrow.”
“But she’s still here tonight?” Stella asked.
Grace nodded. “Yeah. Hold on,” and shut the door.
A few moments later, she returned, Mariana following.
“I was wondering if it would be okay if Mariana spent the night with me instead,” Stella said.
Mariana looked at her skeptically, but Grace just shrugged. “Okay. Fine with me.” She kind of shoved Mariana towards the door, and Stella flinched. No wonder she felt like such a prisoner here. She was clearly unwanted by the family. She wondered why they had agreed to take her in in the first place.
Stella and Mariana walked out to Stella’s car together, which was idling by the curb.
“Are you okay?” Stella asked, as she slid into the driver’s seat.
Mariana shook her head. “No. They’re sending me away. I don’t know where I’m going to be tomorrow.”
Stella gently touched her wrist, but then felt something wet. She squinted to see in the dark. Blood. “Oh Mariana.”
“I can’t deal with this shit anymore,” Mariana said. “And I feel so sick.”
“Have you taken the pills?”
“Do you have them with you?”
Mariana didn’t answer, and Stella understood why.
“Sometimes I wish I could join them all up in heaven.” She shook her head. “Actually, what am I saying? I’m definitely going to hell.”
They had arrived back at Stella and Dana’s house. Stella parked her car and walked Mariana inside, where she sat with her on the sofa and comforted her as she cried.
Meanwhile, Dana was in the kitchen, on the phone. Stella didn’t know who she was talking to, but she seemed to be having an argument.
“I can’t stay here. I have to leave tomorrow,” Mariana said, just as Dana walked into the room.
She shook her head. “You aren’t going anywhere. I just had a long conversation with Milgram. We have a temporary license.”
Mariana looked up. “What is that?”
“You’re staying here, sweetheart. At least for now.”
The tears started up again, but this time, Mariana turned to Dana for comfort. She was feeling so many emotions; happy, sad, nervous, scared. Her body didn’t quite know how to react.
Snap the band , Stella’s voice said in her head.
So she did, until she was able to calm herself, when she hugged Stella and Dana. “Are you sure you want to do this? Please, just tell me now. I can’t take anymore heartbreak.”
Both of them nodded. Mariana let out a breath and gave a small smile before she burst into tears again. Tears of sadness, anger, anxiety, and joy.
Later that night, Mariana lay on a queen size bed, Dana on her left, and Stella on her right. She thought about the pills and what she had almost done earlier. She was feeling better now, but apart of her still wanted to go through with it; the same part that knew nothing would ever be the same again. She got up and carefully got out of bed at the bed frame by her feet, trying her best not to wake Stella and Dana.
She went hunting for the pills, until she found them sitting at the top of Stella’s bag in the kitchen. She grabbed them and held them in her hands. Maybe she should just take one. After all, she wanted this infection to go away. But a darker thought poked at her mind. Maybe she should take all of them. What if Denise arrived at the Walter's house in the morning, saw she was gone, and punished Stella and Dana? Or what if Grace somehow ratted her out for something and she ended up going to jail? Life never seemed to go the way she wanted it too, and she was tired of constantly fighting.
Suddenly, she heard footsteps coming down the stairs. She tried to stuff the pills back into Stella’s bag, but it was too late.
“Mariana?” Dana looked sleepy and confused. “What are you doing?”
Then she noticed the pill bottle in her hand. In an instant, she was fully awake, and she quickly grabbed them from her.
“I wasn’t going to do anything,” Mariana said quickly. “I swear.”
Dana kept the pills in her hand. “Do you need anything? Some water?”
Mariana shook her head. “I just—I feel sick.” She closed her eyes. “I’m so unwanted everywhere. I haven’t felt happy since the…” she started to cry.
Dana pulled her into a hug. “It’s going to be okay. I know grief is hard. I lost my father, sister, and mother all on separate occasions. But you’ll get through it. Stella and I will help you every step of the way.”
Dana took Mariana’s hand and brought her up back to bed. She stayed awake, cuddling with her, until she was sure Mariana fell asleep, and then she went to go lock the pills up in the safe they kept in the basement. She then returned to the bed, and fell asleep, her face only a few inches away from Mariana’s.
Chapter 10: Tightrope
The next morning, Mariana woke up to find herself alone in the middle of the bed. The bedsheets around her smelled of Dana and Stella’s natural scent.
The door was cracked open slightly, and Mariana could faintly hear Dana and Stella talking from another room. She thought she heard her name, so she crept out of the room and closer to them so she could hear better.
“I don’t know what she was going to do with them,” Dana said. She sounded worried.
“Oh Jesus. I’m so happy you caught her.” That was Stella.
“From now on, we need to be more careful.”
They stopped talking, and Mariana heard footsteps coming her way. She quickly slipped back into the room and onto the bed where she pretended to be asleep.
A few moments later, the door opened, and she heard both Stella and Dana enter. Stella gently shook her, and Mariana pretended to wake up.
“Hi,” Stella said gently. “How are you feeling?”
Mariana sat up and shrugged. “I don’t know. Tired.”
“I have to go into work soon, but Dana will be here all day. Is that okay?”
Mariana nodded, and Stella gently padded her shoulder before grabbing some clothes and leaving the room.
“Are you hungry?” Dana asked gently.
Mariana shook her head, but her stomach let out a loud, angry growl.
“Why don’t we go down and get you something to eat?”
Mariana started to follow Dana downstairs, when suddenly, she stopped. “I don’t feel good,” she mumbled. She ran to the bathroom where she vomited our pure acid.
Dana quickly followed her, and found her in a heap on the floor, clutching her side in pain.
Dana sat down on the floor next to her. “Mariana, what’s wrong? What hurts?”
But Mariana didn’t answer. She threw up some more stomach acid, and then fell back to the ground again and passed out.
Dana acted quickly and started to perform CPR, and after a few minutes, Mariana regained consciousness again.
“What…the fuck…just…happened?” Mariana asked breathlessly, struggling to get the words out.
Dana carried her over to the sofa, where Stella joined them. “What happened?” she asked. Her blouse sleeves weren’t buttoned, and her hair wasn’t curled yet.
Eventually, Mariana managed to calm herself again. “I want the pills,” she said. “I feel so, so sick.”
Dana and Stella looked at each other, and Mariana felt her face flush red. “Give me the fucking pills,” she yelled.
Stella took a small step backwards, surprised. She’d never seen Mariana get in a rage before.
Mariana stood up and held out her hand.
“Sweetheart, we’ll give you your medicine later. Go back and sit down now.”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” Mariana said in a cold voice, leaving the room, and slamming the door behind her.
Dana sighed. “She’s starving, dehydrated, and still has that infection. I’m not surprised she’s acting this way.”
“I really don’t want to give her those pills,” Stella said. “It was such a stupid mistake. Does it come in any other forms?”
“Just injections,” Dana replied.
Stella sighed. “Well, maybe that would be a better idea.” She looked towards the door. “I better go check on her right now.”
“I have a calming pill that could help,” Dana said. “She really needs to eat, but I don’t think it’s going to happen when she’s in this mood.”
Stella looked at Dana. “I don’t know. I don’t want a repeat of last night.”
“I have the injection too.” Dana pulled it out of her first aid kit. “Here. We can try the pill first. I know the calming effect will definitely work.” She pulled open the door and found Mariana sitting on the sofa in the office, staring out the window, her eyes looking empty and glazed over.
Stella slowly approached her. “Mariana, are you alright?”
Mariana shook her head. “I feel so sick. My stomach hurts so much.”
“Here,” Dana sat down next to her and offered Mariana the pill and a bottle of water. “This will help.”
Mariana inspected the tiny pill in her hand. “Are you fucking kidding me? This isn’t even the right one.” She threw the pill towards Dana and it landed in her lap.
“Drink this water at least,” Stella said, handing her the water bottle.
Mariana glared at her and put the water back down on the floor.
“I really think you should take this,” Dana said. “It will make you feel better.”
“Fine.” Mariana grabbed it and stuffed it into her mouth, but then spit it out less than a second later. “Holy fuck, that’s disgusting.”
She shot up from the couch, but Dana and Stella grabbed her arms and pulled her back down.
Stella moved her body so she was holding both of Mariana’s wrists, as well as putting her right leg on top of Mariana’s left.
“What are you doing?” Mariana asked, when she suddenly felt a sharp prick in her arm. “Ow,” she squealed. She tried to stand up, but Stella and Dana had trapped her there.
The medicine took affect almost instantly. Mariana wanted to fight, but she found her limbs too heavy and her body too tired to continue, so she just rested her head on Dana’s lap and closed her eyes while Dana stroked her hair.
A little bit later, Stella held the water bottle up to her mouth while she slowly drank. It felt refreshing, and she instantly felt a little better.
“I’m going to make you some soup,” Dana said.
“I need a shower.” Mariana tried to stand, but found it made her dizzy, and she fell onto the couch again.
Stella grabbed her arms and helped her up, and then steadied her as they walked to the bathroom together. She sat on the edge of the tub and turned the water on and began to fill it for a bath.
“Will you be okay on your own?” Stella asked.
Mariana nodded tiredly.
“Just call me if you need anything,” Stella said, as she left the bathroom, shutting the door behind her.
Mariana remained sitting while she took her clothes off.
After she was done cleaning herself and eating, Dana and Stella tucked her into bed—their bed.
Mariana expected them to leave, but they remained sitting at the edge of the bed, looking at her.
Stella cleared her throat. “This is going to be hard, and asking for a lot, but I really want you to try and stop cutting.”
Mariana took an extra long blink, but didn’t say anything.
“Whenever you feel the urge, I want you to snap the band on your wrist instead.”
Mariana still didn’t speak, but tears began streaming down her cheeks. “I have tried to stop. But that’s the problem. Nothing works. No one cares. I’m damaged. And I can’t.”
Chapter 11: Monday
Mariana fell asleep with her legs against Stella’s warm body. It felt nice. However, the feeling evaporated, once she entered REM and began to dream.
Mariana didn’t usually remember her dreams, but she knew that this was one that she could never forget.
It started off pleasantly. Mariana felt herself being shaken awake. At first she thought it was Stella, but when she opened her eyes, she realized it was her mother.
A bunch of emotions exploded inside her chest. Oh, how she missed her mother so much. She felt so happy to see her again, but she also felt pain, since she hadn’t seen her in a while. Nostalgic too. This was such a huge change that had happened so fast, and her body couldn’t deal with it.
The dream progressed on.
“We’re going now,” her mom said gently, lightly ruffling her hair. “Make sure to start the dishwasher before noon. We’ll be back by dinner time, okay?”
“Okay,” Mariana mumbled sleepily. She wanted nothing more than to jump up and embrace herself into her mother’s arms, but she had no control over her own body.
Her mom left the door and she was about to go back to sleep again, when she caught a glance of her alarm clock on the bedside table. 10:27 am. Monday, April 24, 2017.
Mariana’s body instantly felt hot, then cold, and then a horrible pain spread throughout all of her limbs and into her head. Memories came flooding back to her. She remembered her mother coming in to say goodbye to her; and how all she’d wanted was for her to leave so she could go back to sleep.
How could I have been so selfish . Pain pricked at the back of her throat. I should have gotten my lazy ass up and went with them. I should have made them stay. I should have hotwired the car, or popped the tires, or filled the engine with diesel.
Her heart aches more than ever. A broken sob echoed through the room. She transported out of her body, and everything went in fast motion. She saw herself waking up at 11:00, eating a chocolate bar, starting the dishwasher, settling down for a Netflix marathon of Orange is the New Black .
Then, at around 3:00, came the knock. She saw herself opening the door, taken aback that there was a police officer standing there, ready to take her to the hospital.
Out of both vehicles, only one victim had survived; her older brother, Marcus, and he was about to go into surgery.
She saw herself sobbing in the waiting room, her body filled with anxiety and dread.
Then the curly-haired nurse came out to deliver the horrible news. Mariana cried harder than she ever had in her life.
Mariana woke up screaming. Stella and Dana immediately rushed in, and saw that she was shaking and covered in sweat and tears.
“It’s okay.” Stella hugged her tightly as Mariana continued to cry. She thought about the beginning of her dream, and longed for her life to be like that again. She wished she could reverse time, and somehow prevent the whole ordeal from happening. Or if she couldn’t do that, she could have at least been in that car with them.
After about 15 minutes, Mariana finally stopped sobbing. Tears continued to silently stream down her cheeks.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Stella asked gently.
Mariana shook her head. “No. I want to forget about it. I just want my mother.”
Dana and Stella exchanged sad, sympathetic looks with each other. Neither knew what to say.
Mariana lay her head back down. She was exhausted, but too afraid to sleep, and despite Stella and Dana’s comforting warmth, whenever she felt herself slipping into sleep, she snapped herself out of it.
Eventually, she sat up and pulled away from them. “I can’t. I can’t do this anymore.”
She tried to stand up, but found herself unbalanced, and quickly sat back down.
She lay her head down in Dana’s lap, but she didn’t close her eyes.
“H-how did you deal with losing everyone?” she asked softly.
Dana shut her eyes and let out a breath. “It was hard. Really hard.”
“What did you do?” Mariana asked more urgently. “How did you get better?”
“Work,” Dana said. “I kept myself busy with work.”
“Oh.” Mariana looked disappointed. “I can’t do that.” She sniffled. “I still feel really sick,” she moaned.
Dana felt her forehead. “You may have a fever. Just relax. We have your medicine.” She gently stood up and left the room.
And then Mariana remembered. The pills. She felt like she was going to vomit, and wondered how she’d even get one down.
But to her surprise, Dana returned with an injection.
Mariana instantly backed away from her. “No. I don’t want it.”
She soon found herself sitting between Stella and Dana. She tried to stand up, but Stella caught her arm, and Mariana was too weak to fight her grip.
“It won’t hurt,” Dana assured her. Stella held down Mariana’s arm and legs so she couldn’t move or get up, while Dana put the injection in.
It didn’t hurt. But the slight prick was enough to set Mariana off, and she started crying again. She turned to her right and hugged Dana. For a second, she fooled herself into thinking she was her mother, but then remembered where she was. Dana stroked her hair softly until Mariana fell asleep again.
Chapter 12: Myop
When Mariana woke up again, the sun was setting and it was getting dark out. As a child, she’d always been afraid of it. Until she turned 15, and was forced to grow up. She snapped her band, stood up, and walked downstairs.
Stella and Dana were both in the kitchen; Stella drinking a glass of rose wine, and Dana stir frying vegetables on the stove. Both women looked up to see Mariana enter the room.
“Hey,” Stella said, setting down her glass. “You feeling better?”
Mariana gave her a weak smile. “A bit.”
“Are you hungry?”
She shook her head.
Stella walked towards here. “I’ll get you some fresh clothes to change into.”
She walked down the hallway to the stairs, while Mariana plopped down into a chair in the dining room. When Dana wasn’t looking, she took a large gulp of Stella’s wine.
Stella soon returned, and told Mariana she could go to the bathroom and change. As she did, she examined the cuts on her body. Thank god Stella had given her long sleeves and pants again.
When she returned to the kitchen, Stella was pouring herself another glass of wine, and Dana was digging around in a cabinet. She briefly glanced out the window, when she saw a boy standing out on the sidewalk in front of the house, looking around. He looked confused and lost. Mariana stepped closer to the window so she could get a better look. Brown hair, black hoodie, blue jeans, vans. The boy turned sideways, and Mariana almost gasped. Marcus?
She quickly ran outside. “Marcus!” she called out.
The boy turned to face her, and she saw that it was most definitely him. Without wasting any time, she ran over to him, but as she got closer, his features started to change. The hoodie changed from black to grey, and the jeans became baggier. His facial features changed too. His brown eyes turned blue, and his hair lightened to a dirty blonde color. Mariana squinted. Was that...Shawn?
Shawn looked surprised to see her. “Mariana? What are you doing here? And who’s Marcus?”
“He’s…” Mariana shook her head. “Nevermind. I thought you were someone else.” She snapped the band around her wrist.
Shawn gave her a strange look, but Mariana ignored it. “You moved houses?” He nodded approvingly.
Mariana rolled her eyes. “Please leave. I want nothing to do with you.”
Shawn made puppy eyes. “Awww. But babe? Isn’t there something I can do to make myself worthy again?”
Mariana shook her head. “No. I won’t be returning to school. Please get out of my life, and I promise that I’ll forget what happened.”
Shawn’s expression suddenly changed from innocent to angry. “I told you never to speak of that again.” He took a step closer to her.
Mariana flinched and took a step back. “I haven’t said anything.”
Shawn grabbed her wrist. “Are you sure?”
Mariana squirmed and tried to shake him off. “Get the fuck off of me,” she yelled.
Suddenly, the sound of a door slamming alarmed both of them. Mariana and Shawn both looked up to see Dana running out of the house and towards them. Shawn quickly dropped Mariana’s wrist.
“We’re friends from school,” Shawn whispered to her. “Nothing ever happened between us.”
“What’s going on here?” Dana asked, skeptically eyeing Shawn.
Mariana froze up in terror, until Shawn lightly nudged her.
“We-we’re friends from school,” Mariana stuttered.
Shawn nodded. “Met last year.”
Dana continued to stare at him. “Okay. Nice meeting you. Come on, Mariana.” She put her arm around her waist and dragged her away from Shawn and back into the house.
“Who was that?” Dana asked again once they were inside. “Do you know him?”
Mariana nodded, avoiding looking at her. “Yeah. We’re friends.”
Mariana spent dinner sitting on the living room couch, listening as Dana and Stella ate in the next room. She thought about how stupid she’d been, thinking she’d seen Marcus. He was dead. She snapped the band on her wrist.
She thought some more about Shawn. How he’d been the only person who would even dare to talk to her. They’d spent lunch talking about depressing, weird shit, or laughing about being loners together. Tears pricked at her eyes. How could she have been so stupid? She snapped the band again.
She thought about both Marcus and Shawn, and how different they were from each other. If he were still around, Marcus would have protected her from him. He would have protected her from anything.
Not that she’d needed it before. Nothing really happened to her, back when they’d lived in Pittsburg. But she knew if they’d been in Philly, Marcus would have immediately seen and kicked Shawn’s ass, screaming that he’d do worse if he ever messed with his little sister again.
Mariana continued to snap her rubber band. Stella and Dana both looked up from the table.
“Mariana, are you alright?” Stella asked, standing up and walking closer.
Mariana didn’t answer. Instead, she shot up from the couch and ran into the bathroom, locking the door behind her. She grabbed the rubber band off of her wrist and tossed it to the ground. It wasn’t working anymore. She craved to feel real pain and see real blood.
Stella knocked on the door. “Mariana, what are you doing in there?”
Mariana said nothing. Quickly, she looked around for something sharp. She spied a razor sitting on the edge of the tub. She washed it off a little and then began to cut into the flesh of her left arm, not caring that it was probably used and unsanitary.
The knocking persisted. “Mariana. Open this door.” Dana was there too.
Blood ran down Mariana’s arm. She dipped her finger in it and put it into her mouth. Metallic. In a strange way, it comforted her.
She quickly cleaned herself up, and then opened the bathroom door. “What?”
Stella just stared at her. “You did it again.”
Mariana tried to snake around the two women, but Dana grabbed her shoulders. Then she noticed that she was still bleeding, and a stain had formed on the sleeve of Stella’s shirt. She didn’t say anything.
Tears pricked at Stella’s arms. She hated to see Mariana like this. Plus, it reminded her of what she used to do, back when she was a young girl. Her emotions seemed to take over her body. She felt hot and her vision fogged. She needed to lie down.
Dana seemed to notice. “Come on.” She guided Mariana back into the bathroom so she could clean up the blood.
Stella left the hallway. She went upstairs and to her bedroom, where she sat on the bed and let her tears flow out. She never allowed herself to cry in front of anyone else—even Dana. She wasn’t sobbing or painfully sad, but it brought up enough bad memories to leave a couple tears streaming down her face. Eventually, she decided to walk back downstairs.
“She’s okay now,” Dana whispered to Stella in the kitchen. “We had a short talk about self harm. She’s just on the couch now.”
Stella nodded. “Thank you, Dana,” she said sincerely to her wife. And then she turned away from her and started to load the dishes into the dishwasher.
Chapter 13: Thicker than Water
“My blood is not me. My flesh is not me. My body is not me. I am just a soul. My blood is not me. My flesh is not me. My body is not me. I am just a soul.”
Mariana woke up suddenly, her clothes and the bedsheets drenched in sweat. She looked around and found that she was alone in the bedroom. Dana and Stella were gone.
Mariana stood up and walked downstairs to the living room. Stella was sitting on the sofa, reading a book, Oryx and Crake . She shut it when she saw Mariana approaching. “Hey. How are you?”
Mariana sighed. “I’m fine.”
“Sit,” Stella said, and Mariana tentatively took the spot next to her.
She sighed. “Stella, I...I don’t even know what to say.”
Stella looked concerned. “What is it?”
“I’m so fragile,” Mariana said quietly. “I just...thank you. I never want to see Grace or Tom again.”
“Don’t worry. You won’t have to,” Stella said.
Mariana settled closer to her. “I wish I wasn’t like this.”
Stella faced forward. “It’s not your fault.”
“It is,” Mariana whispered as Stella gently rubbed her shoulders.
Dana was at work, but Mariana and Stella spent the whole morning together. They talked about various things, like when Stella used to be a met officer, and when Dana was part of the FBI. They even talked a little bit about Mariana’s old life.
“And that boy outside? You knew him?”
Mariana shifted uncomfortably. “Yeah.”
“What’s his name?”
Stella had seen the threatening way he’d grabbed her yesterday, and she wanted to be sure that he hadn’t hurt her, and he wouldn’t in the future.
Mariana sighed. “Just forget about him. He’s nobody.” Shawn was one thing she hadn’t told Stella about. After it had happened, she’d felt too ashamed.
In the afternoon, Mariana took another nap. She wondered why she was always so tired. Was it because of the infection, or was it something else?
She woke up to find Stella hovering above her, gently waking her up. “Hey,” she said. “Come with me to the living room.”
Mariana followed Stella to the upstairs living room. Dana was already sitting there. Stella more or less forced Mariana to sit next to her, and then she took a seat on Mariana’s opposite side.
“Mariana. How do you feel about living here?” Stella asked.
“Um, good.” Mariana was confused.
“Be honest,” Stella encouraged. “Do you like it?”
Mariana eyed them suspiciously. “Why? What’s happening?” She prayed that she wouldn’t be forced to leave. It would have broken her heart. A tear rolled down her cheek. Maybe they didn’t want her here. “I-I can leave,” she stuttered out.
“Not if you don’t want to,” Dana said comfortingly.
Mariana shook her head. “No. Please. I really want to stay here. I’m so sorry that I’m...like this.”
Stella and Dana looked at each other. “Well. The state has approved us for long-term custody. We just need to sign a few documents.”
Mariana looked up at them. “R-really?”
Stella nodded. “Yes. If you want to, you can stay here.”
Mariana began to cry again, but they were tears of joy. “Oh, Stella, I-I love you.”
Stella gently rubbed her back. “We also want you to know something else.”
“What?” Mariana looked worried again.
“Whenever you feel like you need to cut, we want you to talk to one of us instead,” Stella said.
Mariana rubbed the cuts on her arms. “I don’t know if I can do that.”
“Please, just try,” Dana encouraged.
“I really do want to stop cutting,” Mariana said softly, looking down. “It’s just so hard.”
“I know,” Stella said, looking down. She knew exactly what it was like.
“And we also want to give you this.” Dana pulled an injection out of her first aid kit. “Are you still feeling sick?”
Mariana shrugged. “A bit. Mostly just tired.”
Mariana tried to hold still as Dana injected her. After that, the three of them sat on the sofa together, just like the family they were about to become.
Chapter 14: My Lodestar
“What time will you be home, Dana?”
Dana stopped for a moment to think. “3:00. I’m coming home early.”
Stella nodded. “Good. We can go to the social services office tonight. They close at 5:00.”
It had been two weeks since they had decided to adopt Mariana, and they just had a few final forms to sign. However, both of them had to present, and with the office’s daytime only hours and their busy work schedules, it was hard to find a time to go in together.
Mariana was now sleeping in her own bedroom and eating normally. She still had mood swings and crying spells, but they were becoming less frequent, and Stella noticed that she was getting genuinely happier. Once the adoption went through, they planned to put her back in school, though she’d be enrolled in a different one. Stella and Dana even trusted her to be home alone for short periods of time; like this morning. Stella would go to work and come home at 11:00, and Dana would be home at 3:00.
Stella knocked twice on Mariana’s door, and then opened it. “Dana and I are leaving now. I’ll be back in three hours.”
Mariana sleepily nodded. “Okay.”
Stella smiled and shut the door. Then she grabbed her car keys, and turned to Dana. “Let’s go.”
Mariana woke up about thirty minutes later. First, she went down to the kitchen, where she washed some strawberries and blueberries and had that for breakfast.
While she was eating, her phone vibrated. She picked it up. Hi Mariana . It was from an unknown number.
Mariana frowned and began to type a text back. Who are you? But before she could send it, another message popped up. This is Samara .
Mariana felt her blood run cold. Samara? Could it really be her? She’d been through enough in life not to be so gullible. Prove it.
When you were three years old, you knocked out your two front teeth on the doorknob of Marcus’ bedroom. When you were eight, When you were eleven, you failed English class because you copied Kimmy’s paper during finals. Your favorite color is lilac, or it least it was the last time I saw you. Your favorite food is celery dipped in marshmallow fluff. You have a mole on the left side above your lip.
Jesus, Mariana thought. How did she remember all this? She was still a bit skeptical, but she messaged back anyway. What do you want? Why are you contacting me? How did you get my phone number?
I heard about the accident right after it happened. I’ve been looking for you ever since. It’s not important how I found you, just that I’ve found you at all. This is actually you, right?
Mariana sighed. Yes .
Good. Can you meet me at Rittenhouse Square in downtown Philly tomorrow?
Mariana thought about it. Both Stella and Dana would be out. She wasn’t supposed to leave the house by herself, but there was no way they’d know about it. She sighed, debating. On the one hand, she kind of did want to see her sister. She hadn’t seen her in nearly four years. But on the other hand, she still hadn’t really understood why her sister had taken off, or forgiven her for doing it anyway. Also, she didn’t know for sure that this was even Samara. What if it was some creepy stalker from her old school who had somehow found this out? It could be even be Shawn.
Mariana sighed and texted back. Maybe .
What does that mean?
I’ll be there if I’m there .
There was no reply.
Stella got home a few hours later. “Hi Mariana. How has the morning been?”
Mariana shrugged. “Uneventful.” She decided not to tell Stella about the text message from her sister. She was still debating whether she’d go or not, and she was almost positive that Stella wouldn’t allow it.
Stella and Mariana had lunch together, and after that, Stella did some work on her laptop while Mariana busied herself with googled Samara. She tried her name—Samara Chabert—but it turned up nothing relevant, and Mariana figured she must either use an alias online or have changed her name. Next, she googled the phone number Samara had texted her from. The area code was 412—an area code from Pittsburgh—and Mariana wondered if it was still her old phone number. Nothing relevant turned up with that google search either, and eventually, Mariana gave up. She groaned, and lay her head back on the couch.
Stella walked over to her. “You okay?”
Mariana nodded. “Yeah. Fine.”
A few hours later, Dana arrived home. She took a few minutes to put all her stuff down and change out of her hospital clothes, and into a white shirt, navy skirt, blazer, and kitten heels.
“Are you ready to go, sweetheart?” Dana asked, stepping into the living room.
Mariana looked up from her cell phone. “Where?”
“The social security office. Today is the day.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Mariana asked. She’d hate to be a burden in Dana’s and Stella’s lives.
Dana gently squeezed her hand. “Positive.”
They arrived at the office at around 3:30, and the three of them walked in together, Dana holding Mariana’s left hand, and Stella gripping onto her right.
Mariana impatiently waited in line with them as they slowly progressed towards the front. She couldn’t believe she was actually being adopted. It was every foster child’s dream come true.
Eventually, one of the ladies behind the counter called them over.
“Process of adoption,” Stella told them.
The woman clicked on something on her computer. “Names?”
“Stella Gibson and Dana Scully.”
She typed their names in, and then a moment later, looked back up. “And you are in the process of adopting Mariana Elisabeth Chabert?”
Dana nodded. “Yes. That’s correct.”
“And it looks like you only have a few more forms to fill out. I’ll go grab them for you.” She stood up and rifled through some file folders, and then returned.
The three of them sat down together so they could fill out the forms.
“Stella?” Mariana said quietly. “Are you sure you want to do this? Because you don’t have to, you know.” Tears pricked at her eyes.
Stella looked at her, a little surprised. “Yes, Mariana. Of course I do.” She tucked a strand of Mariana’s hair behind her ear.
“Okay,” Mariana said softly. “Okay.”
When Dana and Stella finished all the paperwork, they brought it back up to the woman up front.
“Just sign here please,” she directed to Mariana, handing her a pen.
Mariana took it from her, and in wobbly cursive, scrawled down, Mariana Chabert.
The woman collected all the documents and neatly stacked them together. “Alright, that’s it. It is now official.”
Mariana found herself overwhelmed by emotions. Even though she hadn’t been a part of her family for over a year now, it felt like she’d officially distanced herself from them. But she was happy too. No more foster care. No more Grace and Tom. She could be with Stella and Dana forever.
She felt as if she was going to cry again, and hugged her moms for support. She hadn’t felt this much love in a long, long time.
Chapter 15: Unbroken Bonds
The night was perfect. They went home, ate, and then snuggled together on the couch. However, Mariana woke up the next morning with a pit in her stomach. She had decided that she was going to go through with it and meet up with Samara, and she was feeling a bit nervous about it.
She researched Rittenhouse Square on Google Maps and found that it wasn’t too far from where Stella and Dana lived. She waited until both Dana and Stella left for work, and then started to head out at 10:15. She found a table at something square at 10:48, and sat there, patiently waiting for her sister to show up. She kind of wished she wouldn’t show. She thought about the last time she’d seen her sister—her long, blonde curls, cerulean blue eyes, freckled nose. Mariana had admired her and wanted to be just like her. Until she’d run away.
Mariana turned to see Samara standing behind her, and she almost gasped. She looked exactly the same—long blonde curls, freckles nose, ocean-blue eyes. Her face and body had matured a little, but other than that, her appearance looked exactly the same as when she was 17. Not that she’d needed to change; when she took off, she’d left a detailed note, explaining why she ran away, where she went, and not to call the police to look for her. At least that was what Mariana had been told. Her mother had forbidden her from reading it, and everytime she was home alone, she’d never been able to find it, and figured her mom must have thrown it out.
“I’m surprised you showed up.” Samara shifted her weight uncomfortably.
She sighed. “I just…can I sit down?”
Mariana nodded as Samara made her way around the table and sat in the chair opposite of Mariana. “I’m surprised you hadn’t forgotten about me.”
Mariana frowned. “Forget about you?”
Samara blushed. “Sorry. That sounds stupid. Forget about it.”
They stayed and talked together for about an hour. Samara told Mariana that at 21, she was really starting to get her life together, and was working as an assistant manager at a nail salon. She said that she had moved out of Pittsburg, and now lived in an apartment in East Philly.
“And what have you been doing? Ever since the—” Samara lowered her head. “You know.”
“I-I’ve been living with a couple of different families,” Mariana said. She didn’t want to tell Samara about Dana and Stella just yet. She knew she was talking to her own sister, but she hadn’t seen her in four years, and didn’t know how much Samara had changed, and what her intents were. She’d learned to never trust anyone too much, no matter how much she thought she knew them.
“Oh. Foster care.”
Samara sighed. “I just never thought that you would be…nevermind.” She sighed.
“Yeah.” Mariana stood up. “I really should be going soon.” Dana would be home in about an hour. Mariana wondered what she’d do if she came home to an empty house.
“Okay,” Samara said. “But wait. I want to see you again. Meet me Thursday evening at the Apple Rose Grill.”
“I-I don’t know if I can.”
“Please?” Samara begged.
Mariana sighed. “I’ll see what I can do.”
On her way home, she looked behind her multiple times to make sure Samara wasn’t following her.
She entered through the back door of the house and had been sitting in the kitchen for all of five minutes, when the front door opened, and Dana came in.
“Hey,” Dana said.
“Hey,” Mariana said back, her voice a little quiet.
Dana frowned. “What’s wrong?”
For a minute, Mariana felt fear that she somehow knew about the meeting between her and her sister. She just shrugged. “Nothing. I’m just fine.”
Dana washed her hands at the kitchen sink. She made lunch for the two of them, but Mariana barely ate hers. Her mind kept wandering back to her older sister. There were a million questions she still had. She wished she could have asked her why she’d run off, where she’d been, who she’d been with, and how exactly she’d turned her life around from a teenage runaway to assistant manager. Maybe she could ask her some more personal questions next time.
“Is something the matter?” Dana asked.
Mariana shook her head. “No, Dana. I’m fine. I’m just not very hungry.”
Dana didn’t question her, but Mariana noticed that she was watching her more closely for the rest of the afternoon, all the way up to the evening, when Stella arrived home.
They all had dinner together, but again., Mariana didn’t eat much, and mostly just picked at her food. She was just chilling on the sofa upstairs, when both Dana and Stella came in. They sat next to her and comforted her.
“Do you have something on your mind?” Stella asked. “Anything you want to talk about?”
Mariana shook her head. “No.”
“Well, we’re always here if you ever need anything.”
Later on that night, she heard Stella and Dana whispering loudly in their bedroom.
“It’s just another mood swing.”
“I don’t know…”
“Don’t worry. In a few days, it should go away.”
Chapter 16: Broken Wings Can't Fly
The next morning, Mariana woke up feeling terrible. Her head hurt, her body felt heavy, and she was freezing. She also saw her right arm had a splotch of blood on it. She frowned. None of her cuts were bleeding right now. Then she saw her sister lying in the bed next to her. Her blonde curls were fanned out on the pillow, her eyes were sweetly shut, and her cheeks were rosy. Mariana’s comforter was pulled up to her chin. Mariana pulled it up, and almost screamed. Her sister had no body, and her neck was bleeding severely. Suddenly, her eyes popped open. “Hello Mariana.”
“STELLAAAAAA,” Mariana screamed.
Stella and Dana both rushed in.
“What is it?” Stella asked.
Mariana didn’t say anything. She was paralyzed with fear and was too afraid to move. She felt tears splash onto her cheeks, but didn’t wipe them away.
Stella sat on the edge of the bed and wiped her tears and petted her hair. “It’s going to be okay, Mariana. It was just a dream.”
Mariana shook her head. “It wasn’t just a dream. It was…” She turned to where Samara’s severed head had been lying just moments ago. It was gone. The blood on her arm had disappeared too, and was instead, replaced with more cuts. Cuts she didn’t remember making.
Dana sat down where Samara had been, making Mariana wince a little. She seemed to notice the cuts. “Oh, Mariana.”
“Stop,” Mariana demanded, pushing both of them away. “I didn’t do this. It was my sister. She was here.”
Stella frowned. “Here?”
In a moment of weakness, Mariana had told Stella the whole story about when Samara had run away, and how it had temporarily destroyed Mariana’s entire world.
“Yes, here! But she was…” Mariana started sobbing again. All she wanted was to be happy again.
“When will the pain be gone?” she asked.
Her two moms hugged and comforted her, but it wasn’t enough. Mariana still felt hollow and full of dread.
“I think we need to get Mariana on depression medication,” Dana said to Stella in the kitchen later that morning.
Stella shook her head. “We already tried that. She said it just made her feel even more numb. I could see it too.”
“I just want something to help her. I hate seeing her like too.”
“I don’t know what though. We’ve tried a lot of things.”
“Maybe we just need to get to the root of her problem,” Dana suggested. “Like, maybe this whole thing started before the accident.”
“It could have been when her sister ran away,” Stella said, mostly talking to herself.
Dana looked confused. “What?”
“Samara. She was Mariana’s older sister. Took off when Mariana was 12.”
Dana thought about it. “She was talking about her earlier. That could be what started this whole thing.”
“I’ll go talk to her,” Stella started to say, but just then, Mariana stepped into the kitchen. By the look on her face, both women knew she had heard everything.
“She means nothing to me,” Mariana said in a cold, quiet tone. “And I don’t need any pills.”
Stella took a step towards her. “Mariana—”
“I know it’s a helpless situation,” Mariana said. “I’m never going to get better. I’m just surprised it took you this long to figure it out.”
Wordlessly, she left the room, and Stella and Dana heard the front door slam.
Dana sighed. “I’ll go get her.”
Stella didn’t say anything. Dana left the room and went outside where she found Mariana crying on the porch.
“Go away,” Mariana said.
Dana looked at Mariana’s arms and saw fresh cuts. “Mariana, just listen to me.”
“No, you listen to me. I’ve been in pain for everyday of my life for over a year now. I just want it to end. I don’t care what it takes.”
“Stella didn’t mean—”
“Yes she did.”
Dana sighed. “Come on, Mariana. Let’s go back inside.”
Mariana followed Dana back in, eyeing the bleach on the counter as she passed by.
I should just leave , Mariana thought later while pacing around in her room. I’m just a burden to them .
She still wasn’t exactly sure why Stella and Dana had signed the adoption forms. A sick feeling swelled in her stomach. This was exactly how she’d felt with the Walter’s—unwanted and lied to. Maybe there was something wrong with her.
She stepped into the bathroom and dig through the medical cabinet, furiously searching for pills. Her pills, Advil, Tylenol, anything. But there was nothing. Not even mouthwash.
Mariana continued her search in the bathroom downstairs, even though Dana and Stella were both in the living room, which was across the hall. Again, though, she found nothing.
She took a long, hard stare at her reflection in the mirror. She hated it.
Dana knocked on the door. “Mariana, are you alright in there?”
“What are you doing?”
“Going to hell.”
Mariana stormed out of the bathroom and stomped past Dana and back upstairs to her room. She then realized that Stella and Dana were the only ones who cared about her, and now, well, she knew the truth about what they thought of her. It made her feel tired and sick. She lay on her side, crying into her pillow.
About ten minutes later, Dana came up.
“Stop, go away,” Mariana said.
Dana shook her head. “I’m not leaving.”
“Because I care about you.”
“No you fucking don’t.” Mariana covered her ears with her pillow and switched to lying on her back.
Dana sat down, but Mariana continued to ignore her. She thought about what Samara had said to her. Meet me at Apple Rose Grill on Thursday . She’d definitely be there.”
Dana left a few minutes later, and Mariana returned downstairs. She quietly dug through the cabinets until she found what she was looking for.
But only a couple drops of the white liquid hit her tongue when she suddenly stopped. What the fuck am I doing? She thought. I just got adopted. I should be the happiest girl on earth.
She started to open the cabinet again, when Dana suddenly entered the room. Her eyes widened, and she ran towards Mariana and grabbed the bottle of bleach out of her hands. “Did you drink any of this?”
“I…no…I didn’t do anything.”
Stella entered the room. “What’s happening?” She saw Dana with the bottle in her hand, and then turned to Mariana. “Please tell me you didn’t.”
Mariana turned away from both of them. But then she started to cry. She realized how much she loved Dana and Stella, and how grateful she was for them. “I didn’t do anything. I just…I hate how I feel right now.”
Stella sat next to her. “Mariana, are you okay?”
“No,” Mariana said. “I can’t believe I almost just did that.”
Later that evening, after dinner, Mariana sat on the couch, squished between her two moms.
“You’re sleeping with us tonight,” Dana told her.
“Why?” Mariana asked. “I think I’ll be fine now.” It wasn’t a lie.
Stella gave her hand a light squeeze. “We want you too.”
At around 10:30, all of them got into bed together. Mariana fell asleep right away, but then later woke up. She looked at the clock. 12:23 AM. She started to cry, thinking about everything that had happened earlier in the day.
Stella reached out the comfort her, and Mariana realized that she was awake too.
After a few minutes, when Mariana still hadn’t stopped crying, Stella climbed out of bed, and motioned for Mariana to do the same. The two of them sat on the floor together. Stella put her palm flat on Mariana’s back, and touched her shoulder comfortingly.
“Just take breaths,” Stella whispered quietly, wrapping her arm around Mariana’s shoulders.
Mariana found herself become a little calmer. In the dark, she reached out to feel Stella, and ended up touching her soft, blonde hair, and then her bare shoulder.
Stella stood up and helped Mariana up as well, and the two of them walked back to bed together.
“Try to get some sleep,” Stella told her.
Mariana lay between Stella and Dana. Their body heat was comforting, but she still couldn’t fall asleep, and new tears fell down her cheeks. Stella reached out to hug her, snuggling her in bed, until Mariana finally managed to drift off.
Chapter 17: Martrisate
The next morning when Mariana woke up, she felt tired and sore. She looked around and saw Dana and Stella both sleeping next to her. It comforted her.
A few minutes later, Dana yawned and stretched as she woke up. She smiled when she saw that Mariana was awake, and Mariana saw the mole above her lip rise, just as hers did, back when she had actually smiled.
“Let’s go on a walk.” Dana said.
“Right now?” Mariana asked. “But what about Stella?”
“We’ll let her sleep. Sunrise is the best time to be outside.”
Mariana was already wearing a thin T shirt and joggers, but Dana changed out of her nightgown into a white shirt and casual black pants.
As they left the room together, Stella rolled over onto her left side, still sleeping soundly.
“This way,” Dana said, nudging Mariana gently to the right. She wanted to avoid going by the creek, where she’d met Mariana for the very first time, about a month ago.
Instead, they started walking towards the city. Mariana recognized the street they were on. It was the same one she’d walked on when she’d gone to meet Samara downtown.
Birds chirped above them, and Dana smiled. Mariana tried to smile too, but bit her lip with nervousness instead.
“Does Stella hate me?” she asked in a soft voice.
Dana shook her head. “No, sweetheart. Stella would never hate you.”
Mariana sighed. They stayed silent for a few moments, just walking through the warm spring morning. Eventually, Mariana spoke again. “How did you and Stella meet?”
Dana blinked. “Well. Back a few years ago, when I was part of the FBI, Stella was flown over here from England to help us work on a case. We both used to work in criminal justice.”
“What was the case about?”
“A serial killer. My partner thought the killer was using black magic. I didn’t know what to think. They wanted to bring in someone rational.”
“But you’re rational,” Mariana pointed out.
“I am now.” Dana thought back to when she and Mulder were still FBI partners, and how much she had changed since then. An image of his tearful face popped into her head—the same face he’d made when he realized she was serious about quitting—and she quickly pushed it out of her mind.
“So what happened?” Mariana asked.
“We worked on the case together. We spent a lot of time together. My partner mostly did field work and evidence collecting, while I did autopsies and scientific analysis. Stella did a bit of everything. She wanted to learn how to perform autopsies, so I taught her. We solved the case, and when it came time for Stella to go back home, well, we both realized neither of us would be able to bear it if she left. She left anyway, but we kept in constant contact. Then a few months later, I went over to London to visit her. That’s when—that’s when we decided we wanted to be a couple.”
Dana remembered what Mulder had said to her when she announced that she was taking a leave of absence for a few months, and moving in with Stella in England. She’d decided to live there—and work as a met officer—for a few months. If it worked out, they would take it from there. And if not, she was still guaranteed her spot back at the FBI in Washington.
“So we lived together in London for about three months.” Those three months had felt like heaven. “I cried when I had to go back,” Dana admitted. “But then about a month later, Dana moved to Washington, and we lived in my apartment together. Then, it all picked up from there. We got married a few months later, and then I quit the FBI two years ago, and became a doctor. And now here we are, with a daughter.”
“Wow,” Mariana said. Dana’s story sounded nice and sweet. The opposite of what her life was like right now. “You and Stella are really lucky.”
“You may meet a special someone too,” Dana said. “Whoever it is.”
“I don’t think so,” Mariana said sadly. “Dana, I-I don’t know if Stella told you this, but, I’m gay.”
Dana didn’t look surprise, but she shook her head. “No. She didn’t tell me anything. That’s great though.”
“Not really…” Mariana said, trailing off. “I know it worked for you and Stella, but so far it hasn’t worked for me. I’ve known for years, and Stella is the first one I’ve come out to.” She felt tears forming in her eyes. She hadn’t even told her own mother. Her entire family had all died without ever knowing.
“I wish I didn’t feel this way,” Mariana said.
“You wish you didn’t hate it?”
“No. I wish I didn’t like girls like that.”
They stopped walking, and Dana pulled Mariana into a hug. “It’s okay, Mariana. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. All that matters is that you accept yourself. Stella and I will love you no matter what.”
They continued to walk, and then looked back around. When they arrived back at the house, it was 7:00 in the morning. The sun was fully up and the weather was pleasant and temperate. It was a perfect Sunday morning. And then Mariana remembered—it was Mother’s Day. She wanted to do something special for it. For all three of them.
Mariana and Dana walked back into the house, and Mariana saw that Stella was awake. She was sitting downstairs in a silk robe, sipping coffee from a white mug.
“Hey,” she said tiredly when she saw them come in.
“Stella, can we visit the cemetery today?” Mariana asked. She had been too scared to go back since the funerals, but today she felt like she needed to.
Stella nodded. “If you feel you can handle it.”
Mariana nodded. “Yeah. I think I can.”
At around noon, Dana, Stella, and Mariana all got in the car together. They first stopped at a flower stand, where Mariana bought Black-eyed Susans, which had always been her mother’s favorite. Then they headed to the cemetery where she was buried. It was a little far away—in a suburb near east Pittsburg—but Dana and Stella didn’t mind.
Mariana quickly located her mom’s grave—which was in between her dad’s and her brother’s—and let out a long sign. A tear rolled down her cheek. This is what they had become, just part of the earth. Something for the worms and saprotrophs to feed on. Something to help the plants grow. All three of them were destroyed in an instant, just like that.
Stella and Dana left to give her some privacy, but still hung out close by. Stella placed the flowers right below her mom’s headstone. “It’s Mother’s Day. I didn’t get to do this last year. The last time I saw you on Mother’s Day, I was 14 years old.” She let out a breath. “I hope you’re not watching me all the time. Because I’ve done some painful and horrible things. But I hope you can hear me now. And know that even though I miss you everyday, I now have two people who really care about me. A-and I also wanted to say something else. I was scared to say it earlier, and I don’t know why. But the truth is, I’m a lesbian. I just wanted you to know that.” More tears streamed down Mariana’s face as she turned around and walked back towards Dana and Stella.
“Are you alright?” Dana asked.
Mariana nodded, but she was still crying.
“Let’s go back to the car.” Stella wrapped her arm around Mariana’s shoulders and led her back in. Dana drove and Stella comforted her the whole ride home.
A few hours later, when Mariana had calmed down, she exited out of her bedroom and snuck downstairs.
Both Dana and Stella were working on their laptops in the living room, so Mariana tiptoed into the kitchen, where she carefully left two folded pieces of paper under a clean glass, and then slipped away, back into her bedroom, and fell asleep.
About thirty minutes later, Dana put down her laptop and went into the kitchen to go get a drink. “You want anything?” she called out to Stella.
“Maybe some red wine. Just half a glass.”
Dana chuckled to herself. Stella sure did love her red wine. She opened the fridge and cracked open a can of seltzer water for herself. She opened the cabinet to look for a glass, when she noticed a sheet of paper underneath a cup, resting on the counter. She picked it up, and saw they were two folded sheets of paper. One of them read Dana , and the other said Stella , written in neat cursive.
Dana grabbed the notes and rushed back into the living room. “Stella. Look.”
Stella read the names on the folded papers. “Mariana?”
“I don’t know. I just found them in the kitchen.”
Both of them unfolded the notes at the same time, and began to read them.
It’s so hard to believe I only met you a month ago. I already feel super close to you, and I’ve told you a lot of things that I haven’t said to anyone else. I am so incredibly grateful for you and Stella, and I’m sorry if it doesn’t always seem that way. Thank you for accepting me for who I am
Chapter 18: Little Red Notebook
The next morning, Mariana woke up at 9:30 am. She stretched, got out of bed, and found a note on her desk.
Left for work. Will be back this evening. See you tonight. Love you
- D and S
Mariana smiled. She folded the note up and put it in her desk drawer. She then walked downstairs for breakfast, thinking of the long, boring day ahead of her.
At around 1:00, Mariana grew so bored and restless, so she did something she knew she shouldn’t do. She went back into Stella and Dana’s room, and started digging around, looking for Stella’s therapy notes. She wanted to know what Stella wrote down during their sessions, and what she actually thought of her. Eventually, Mariana gave up on the bedroom, and started searching through all the closets, when she suddenly heard the back door slam shut.
Mariana quickly closed the closet door and sat back down on the sofa.
Stella came in, a black bag slung over her shoulder. “Hi Mariana.”
“You’re home early.” It was only 2:30.
Stella nodded and put her bag down on a chair. “Yes. Some of my clients canceled.”
Mariana wondered if the notes were in Stella’s bag. She made a mental note to look through it later.
“But we haven’t had a session in awhile. Why don’t we have one?”
“Right now?” Mariana asked.
Stella nodded. “If you want to.”
“Sure,” Mariana said softly.
“How have you been feeling?” Stella asked. “Since you’ve moved in.”
“Better.” It was the truth. She hadn’t cut in over two weeks.
Stella took out a red notebook and a pen. “And how do you feel about living here?”
“I like it. I just—I feel like I don’t deserve it.”
Stella stopped writing and looked at Mariana. “Why?”
“I just—I’m not a good person, Stella. I’m too emotional. And self centered. Not all of this was my fault, but a lot of it was. I didn’t even hug my mom before she left.”
Mariana started to cry, and Stella quickly put her arm around her body and comforted her. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Mariana shook her head. “The accident wasn’t. But everything that happened after that was. It was my fault that I got kicked out. It was my fault, that-that everything happened.” She thought about Shawn. How she’d been the one to lead him on. How was he supposed to know any better? And now she was left scarred. He may have scarred her, but she was the one who had given him the knife and told him to go ahead.
Stella held Mariana closely. “Don’t cry. Dana and I wanted this. We want what is best for you.”
“I think this is it,” Mariana said. “It’s just—I just don’t want to get in the way.”
“You’re not.” Stella thought of the note Mariana had written to her. I’m so grateful and thankful for you . “Dana and I love having you with us.”
“Thanks Stella.” Mariana squeezed her mom tightly.
“I want you to try something new. In addition to talking to me or Dana, I want you to write your feelings down, whatever they may be—good or bad.” Stella handed her a small, black notebook and a pen. “It’s just for you. Dana and I won’t read it unless you want us to.”
Mariana nodded and clutched the book to her chest. “Yeah. I don’t…really like to talk about the way I feel.” She said the last part quietly. She’d been raised to always answer, “good”, nice and politely, whenever asked how she was. This was only reinforced by Tom and Grace who didn’t give a shit about how she felt—as long as she acted politely and responsibly; and looked nice too. Stella was the only one who’d ever cared about it. And telling her still felt strange and foreign, since she’d learned to keep her feeling bottled up her entire life.
“And why is that?”
Mariana just shrugged, not wanting to explain everything.
Stella bit her lip and let out a sigh. She really did hope Mariana would open up to her and Dana more in the future. But she was happy with how things were going. Everyday, she tried to sneak glances of Mariana’s arms and legs. She hadn’t seen any new cuts, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. Stella knew Mariana wasn’t talking to them when she felt like cutting, but she hoped the cutting had stopped anyway, or at least that Mariana was doing it much less frequently. She hugged her daughter tightly. “I’m so proud of you. And I’m really happy you’re living with us.”
As Stella left the room, Mariana tried to casually watch her. She followed Stella as she went upstairs, and slipped into her own bedroom across the hall. Stella didn’t close her bedroom door, and from the mirror, Mariana saw her put the black bag somewhere in the closet. Stella then grabbed her laptop and went back downstairs. Mariana snuck over and found it hanging on a hook by the closet door. She opened it and started digging around for the red notebook she’d seen Stella pull out earlier. She found one and opened it. Annabeth Leigh , the inside cover read. Nope, that wasn’t right. She slipped the notebook back inside, and found another red one all the way at the back. Mariana Chabert . Here it was.
Mariana brought it back to her room and then flipped open to the first page.
October 12, 2017
New client. Foster care. Accident 6 months ago. Doesn’t talk much. Traumatized. Want her to open up more.
WE NEED MORE SESSIONS ASAP
October 19, 2017
Same as last session. Says she is always sad and feels empty and alone. Traumatized, depressed, neglected. Crying. Very emotional
Mariana remembered that session. It was the first of many times that Stella had hugged and comforted her. She flipped through to another section.
January 11, 2018
I’m really worried about her. Possibly suicidal. Wish the parents cared more. Want a new placement for her. Possibly abused, but not by them, just neglected. Sweet girl, just been through a lot. I want her on medication, but the mom refuses. Comforted Mariana again. Sobbed into my shoulder. She just needs a mother figure/somebody to look up to and protect her. I want to see her more than once a week but the mom refuses
Wow. So part of the reason she was in so much pain, was because of Grace. Mariana felt her body getting hotter, and quickly flipped about ten pages ahead.
April 5, 2018
I’m very worried about her. Something today seemed really off. Tried asking, but didn’t get much answer. Cried a lot. Suspect that she bottles up feelings a lot and lets them out through tears
April 11. 2018
Doesn’t go to school. Won’t tell me what’s wrong. Wants to be brave. Crying. Picked up early because of those parents—sometimes I wish I could adopt her
April 18, 2018
Breathing exercise helped. She’s nervous for anniversary of accident. Crying, in pain. Talks about old life—seemed happy for a few minutes. I need to be there for her—no one else is
April 23, 2018
Looks exhausted and ill. Death nightmare, tears. Very worried about her, especially after the incident last week
The next page was blank. Mariana closed the book. She just sat there for a moment, silently. Now she knew what Stella really thought of during all those sessions—and more importantly, during those six months of complete hell, she’d had someone who cared about her. Then she slipped the notebook back into Stella’s bag, walked downstairs, sat next to Stella on the couch, and wrapped her into a hug. “Thank you for everything.”
Stella seemed a little surprised, but hugged her back. “I love you, Mariana.”
Chapter 19: Juniper
The next morning, Mariana woke up early. She clicked the home screen button of her cell, and saw it was only 7:45. She quietly left her room and entered the hallway.
Dana stepped out of her bedroom and saw Mariana. “Hey.”
“Stella and I both finish at noon today,” Dana told her. “We’ll be back in the early afternoon.”
Mariana nodded. “Okay.” She really wished they didn’t work today. She had been thinking about her family and spent last night crying herself to sleep, and while she would never admit it, just being around them would be comforting.
After her two moms left, Mariana wandered around the house, totally bored. She found a small pocket knife in a drawer in the kitchen and turned it over in her hands, wondering what it would feel like, slicing into her skin with it. She made a small poke on her left pointer finger. A tiny droplet of blood appeared.
Next, she opened the fridge and found two bottles of Stella’s red wine. She uncorked one and looked inside. Half full. She was about to take a sip, when she noticed the selection of hard liquor at the bottom. Gin, tequila, scotch, and vodka. She put the bottle back, and took the tequila out. She only wanted a little drink, but soon found she couldn’t stop, and took sip after sip after sip. Soon, she found herself stumbling around the house. She had just made it to the bathroom, when she passed out.
“Mariana?” Stella called out as she entered through the front door.
Dana followed behind her.
Stella went upstairs to go check in Mariana’s room, when Dana suddenly came rushing up. “Stella. You have to come downstairs and see something.”
Stella followed Dana down to the kitchen, where she saw the nearly empty bottle of Gin sitting on the counter.
“Shit,” Stella mumbled. She ran through the whole house, searching, when she saw Mariana lying on the bathroom floor. She quickly ran over to her. “Dana!” She screamed. “Come here!”
Dana quickly ran over to see Stella on the floor with Mariana, who was passed out and probably very drunk. She kneeled beside Stella and felt for a pulse. She breathed a sigh of relief when she felt one was there, but decided to do CPR anyway.
She started off with chest compressions. “One, two, three, four…” all the way to thirty. Then she pinched Mariana’s nose, and delivered the two rescue breaths. She saw them going in with Mariana’s chest rising and falling. She then repeated the cycle, but while she was in the middle of giving her chest compressions, Mariana opened her eyes, sat up, leaned over the toilet, and vomited. Then she shut her eyes again, and fell into Stella’s arms.
Stella carried Mariana over to the sofa. Mariana woke up again. She started giggling and playing with the ends of Stella’s blonde hair. When Stella set her down, she immediately sat up, and then stood.
“No, no, sit back down,” Dana said.
“I feel great,” Mariana replied, slurring her words. She looked at Dana and smiled. “You look beautiful.”
Dana grabbed Mariana’s wrist and brought her back to the couch. Mariana frowned at her. “Meanie.”
Stella sat down beside her, her hair brushing slightly against Mariana’s arm. Mariana giggled. “That tickles.” She rested her head on Stella’s shoulder. “You’re warm.”
Stella sighed and shook her head. Dana did the same. Mariana blinked slowly a few times. A few beats of silence passed. Then she turned back towards Stella. “Oh, mom, I missed you so much.” She threw her arms around her. “I have so much to tell you. Everyone’s been so mean to me. I went to church. I had sex. I’m a sinner.” She giggled.
“And look at this.” Mariana pulled her shirt up, revealing her midriff with all of its cuts. Both Stella and Dana gasped in horror. It was more than they could have ever imagined.
Marina smiled at Stella. “I knew you’d come back.” She smiled, and then lay her head down in Dana’s lap and fell asleep.
When Mariana woke up, she found herself squished between Stella and Dana. She sat up and found she had a huge headache. The room spun and she fell back down into Dana.
“What the fuck happened?”
Both Stella and Dana were giving her concerned glances. “Mariana. What do you remember?”
Mariana shrugged. “I—” the last thing she remembered was crying herself to sleep. Had Dana and Stella heard her?
Stella sighed. “You were drunk. Do you remember?”
“No,” Mariana said weakly. Suddenly, all the pain of last night came rushing back. That combined with her headache and the taste of vomit in her mouth made her unable to deal with all of it. She felt sick and depressed, and just lay there, unmoving and emotionless.
“Do you remember what you did this morning?” Dana asked.
Mariana didn’t answer. She felt nauseous. She shut her eyes, hoping to fall back asleep, but instead saw images of Samara. “He raped you,” she whispered. “And if you don’t stop him, he’ll do it again.”
Mariana opened her eyes, and found she was in the exact same position, though now she was feeling a little better. She slowly sat up.
“Mariana. Why did you do that?”
Stella sighed. “You were very drunk. You drank all the Gin.”
“I don’t remember,” Mariana said weakly.
“No alcohol. I want you to talk to us instead.”
Mariana shook her head, feeling stronger by the second. “No!” She screamed. “I don’t want to talk about it. I just want the pain to go away!” She stood up and stormed out of the room.
Stella went after her. “We’re just trying to help you, Mariana.”
“I love you, Stella, but I don’t want help. Nobody can help me now.” She forcefully shoved Stella out of the way and ran out of the house, not wanting anyone to witness what she was about to do.
Chapter 20: One Breath
Mariana ran out, her headache worsening as she gained speed. She made her way towards the creek, where she stopped by the bridge where she’d first met Dana. She’d come here before. Many times. And many times she’d contemplated over what she was about to do now.
I love you, mom. I really do. I want to join you up in heaven.
Anyone who commits suicide ends up in hell.
That was Grace. Mariana ignored her.
But my life here is meaningless. I’ve just greatly offended the only two people who care about me.
Go ahead. Do it. Go burn in hell, where you deserve to be.
Life is always difficult. It’s about always fighting. But if you want to take the easy way out, then fine, go ahead.
That was Samara.
“Get out, get out, get out!” Mariana yelled to no one. She looked down at the edge, at the fast flowing water underneath. She shut her eyes and just listened to the sounds of the water, and for the first time, felt at peace. She took a deep breath and began to speak. “Nobody in this world cares about me. I’m tired of fighting the hardest and always getting the short end of the stick. Please, mom, don’t be mad at me for doing this. I’ll be much happier when I can finally reconnect with you.”
She was about to stand on the ledge, when she suddenly heard footsteps behind her. She turned around and saw Dana running towards her. Mariana started to panic. Should she just jump without any preparation? That didn’t feel right, but if she didn’t, Dana would catch her.
She climbed onto the ledge and looked down, just as Dana tugged her arm and pulled her to the ground.
“Please don’t do this, Mariana.”
Stella was right behind her. “Dana and I love you. We want you to be with us.”
Her moms pulled her away from the edge. Both of them started weeping into her. Stella hated herself for what she had done. Mariana was very clearly still in pain, and she had done nothing about it. And because of that, she had almost lost her. She held onto Mariana’s arm tightly, wishing she could hold onto it forever.
“Mariana, I don’t ever want to see you like that again,” Dana said through her tears. “You mean everything to us.”
“How? You just met me.”
“You already mean so much to me,” Dana assured her. It was strange, but true. Looking at her gave Dana a sense of warmth. Mariana was truly family.
Mariana turned to look back at the bridge. It still looked so tempting. I still want to do it, she thought. I love Stella and Dana, but…
She turned back to face them. “That can’t be true. I’m not your daughter. And you’re not my mothers.”
Tears fell from Stella’s eyes, and she held Mariana closer. There was nothing she could do the bring back Mariana’s mother. All she could do was help her heal from the trauma. Something she should have done better during all those therapy sessions they’d had together.
“We need to take her to a hospital,” Stella whispered quietly to Dana, and she nodded.
Mariana walked back to the house with both of her moms, but they didn’t go inside. Instead, Dana got into the driver’s seat of her car, while Stella stayed in the back with Mariana.
“Are you taking me back to my social worker?” She asked anxiously.
Stella shook her head.
Mariana soon realized where they were going. She began to hyperventilate and attempted to open the car doors. “No. Not there. Anywhere but there.”
Stella restrained her, and neither one of them listened.
Mariana started crying as Dana pulled into the parking lot of the hospital.
“I’m not going in,” Mariana said stubbornly. She thought back to the bridge. Oh, how she should have jumped when she’d had the chance.
Stella and Dana ended up carrying her inside. Mariana cried the whole way. She was soon given a room.
“We need you to stay here for the night,” Stella said softly to her.
Mariana narrowed her eyes at her. “Leave. Don’t come back for me.”
Stella and Dana sighed but left the room, and Mariana repeatedly slammed her hip against the bed frame, hoping the physical pain would numb her emotionally. She didn’t stop until a nurse came in and restrained her, and she still didn’t stop trying to hurt herself until they came in and sedated her, and Mariana fell asleep.
Chapter 21: A Simple Touch
“I don’t know what to do anymore.” Stella rested her head on Dana’s shoulder, feeling hopeless. “I really don’t want to keep her in locked up in a hospital. It will just be more traumatizing.”
“We don’t have any other choice,” Dana said. “Unless we were to both take off work so we could watch her 24/7. I don’t trust her alone anymore.”
Stella shook her head. “Definitely not.” She was still a little shaken by the incident and the thought of losing Mariana. It was going to take some time for her to recover.
“I might be able to take some time off,” Stella said. “I don’t have very many clients, and I could give them all to Caitlin, at least for a little while. What’s your schedule at the hospital like?”
“Not so bad. Spring is never very busy. I actually have quite a few days off this month.”
“This could work,” Stella said. “Come on, let’s get the calendar and organize it.”
They planned around Dana and Stella’s schedules for the next two months, and found that while it would be a bit challenging, it could definitely work.
“We’re going to need to set down some rules, too,” Dana said. “She has to be in the same room as one of us at all times. We need to remove sharp objects from the bathroom, and stand outside the door—no locking it.”
“I don’t want her alone at night either,” Stella said, shuddering at the numerous things Mariana could do while they were sleeping.
Dana nodded. “She’ll need to sleep with us.”
“And we need to talk to her more too. We need to ask her how she’s feeling, make sure she really is okay. Make sure she’s eating. We need to talk to her about the accident. Avoiding it isn’t going to help heal her.”
“And the self harm too. We need to know why she does it so we can truly get her to stop.”
“We can do this, Dana,” Stella said, feeling more confident. “I really think we can.”
About an hour later, Dana and Stella set off to visit Mariana in the hospital.
“She won’t say anything to us,” the nurse told them from outside the room. “Won’t eat or drink anything either. Just sits there and cries. I’m very worried. I want to keep her here in our psych ward.”
Dana shook her head. “We-we don’t want to do that.”
“Why not?” the woman asked.
“She’s been through a lot. It will only traumatize her more. I’m a medical doctor, and my wife here is a psychologist.”
“Oh, you two are…” her eyes bounced back and forth between them for a moment, and then she sighed. “Well, okay. If you have custody over her, we can’t decide for you.”
“Thank you,” Stella said. “May we see her now?”
The nurse nodded and opened the door. Mariana lay in her hospital bed, shivering and crying.
“There’s someone here to see you,” the nurse said quietly.
Mariana didn’t respond. She’d just had a horrible nightmare. She imagined herself on that long, two-way road, standing by the bushes and watching cars zip past, all of them going way over the speed limit. Then her family’s Mazda had appeared. She’d shouted and waved and tried to get them to stop, even standing in front of the car, but nothing worked. They just went right through her, like she was air. She heard the horrible sound. Watched as blood splashed onto the windows. Heard the glass shatter. She’d then walked over and peeked through a broken window, when she’d screamed louder than she’d ever screamed before. Inside were three skeletons.
Stella stood by the edge of her bed. “Mariana. Please talk to me.”
Mariana rolled her body to the other direction so she was facing away from Stella. She shut her eyes as Stella began to give her a back massage, and for a moment, she felt at peace.
Stella’s hands continued to gently move and knead her back, and Mariana’s tears stopped flowing and her breathing slowed. She slowly turned to face Stella.
“How do you feel now?”
“Better,” Mariana said softly.
“Good.” Stella leaned over and kissed Mariana’s forehead, the ends of her blonde hair tickling Mariana’s neck and collarbones. “Sleep tight. Dana and I will be back to pick you up in the morning.”
Mariana shut her eyes again. She could still feel the motion of Stella’s hands as she drifted into a dreamless sleep.
Chapter 22: Terms and Conditions
The next morning, Stella woke up early. Before she got dressed, she opened her nightstand door and unfolded the note Mariana had written her back on Sunday. From the very first day I met you in October, I knew I was going to love our sessions together. She thought about the very first day she’d met Mariana, looking at how much her situation had deteriorated her, and how broken she was. She didn’t know how much she’d bond with Mariana, and she certainly didn’t expect Mariana to become her daughter. But now, here they were.
Dana woke up a few minutes later, and both of them got dressed.
“Ready to go?” Dana asked, and Stella nodded. Dana drove, and they soon arrived at the hospital.
“We’re here to see Mariana Chabert,” Stella told the man in front.
He nodded. “Okay, but only parents and guardians are allowed until 9:00. So unless one of you is her mother…”
“We both are,” Dana interrupted.
The guy looked confused for a moment, but then he just shrugged. “Oh. Go ahead then.”
Dana rolled her eyes. She worked as this hospital. How did no one here know she was a lesbian?
Dana and Stella entered Mariana’s room, and Stella was surprised to see that Mariana was awake. “Hey. How are you feeling?”
“Exhausted. Can we get out of here?”
Stella nodded. She saw Dana talking to the doctor in the hallway. “We’re getting you checked out right now.”
“And what exactly will these pills do to her?” Dana asked, folding her arms in front of her. “And you better not tell me they’ll make her happier. Because I know medicine doesn’t work like that.”
The doctor shifted uncomfortably under Dana’s glare. “They won’t do that. They’ll just make her feel…less sad.”
“How? By numbing her emotions?”
He nodded slowly. “Y-yeah. Exactly.”
Dana sighed heavily. “I don’t know if that’s what’s best for her. I don’t want her turning into a zombie.”
“That won’t happen,” the doctor assured her. “Not if you give her enough love and attention. And we’ll do weekly check ups and adjust the dosage or change the medicine if needed.”
Dana sighed. “You’ll need to talk to my partner about this too.” She walked back into the room and returned with Stella, where the doctor explained the pills to her.
When he was finished taking, Stella slowly nodded. “Okay. Maybe this is what’s best.” She turned to Dana. “We’re going to have to talk to her a lot, and it’s going to bring up a lot of bad memories. This is only going to get worse before it gets better.”
“But I don’t want her on pills…” Dana thought back to the time she’d caught Mariana with her pills that night. “Does it come in any other forms?”
He shook his head.
“She won’t want to take them either,” Stella murmured. “But I think I know how to work around this.”
Dana sighed. “Fine. Write the prescription.”
About an hour later, Mariana was all checked out, and they left, the bottle of pills sitting at the bottom of Dana’s bag.
When they got back home, Mariana looked pretty tired so they let her sleep, and Dana left the for work. But in the evening, after Dana had returned and they had eaten dinner, Stella and Dana sat Mariana down in the living room so the three of them could all have a little chat.
“Mariana. We have something we want to talk to you about,” Dana said.
Mariana looked worried. “What?”
“You really scared us yesterday,” Stella said. “And we want to make sure that will never happen again.”
“It won’t,” Mariana assured her moms. Next time, I won’t get caught .
“So we’re going to have some new rules around her.”
Mariana felt herself sinking into the couch cushion. This didn’t sound good.
“One of us will be with you at all times—both of us at night,” Dana explained.
“And you need to communicate with us more. You need to be honest about your feelings. Can you do that?”
“I-I guess so.” Mariana stood up on shaky legs. This didn’t sound too bad. She expected them to ship her off to some hospital, or maybe even put her back in foster care for a little while so they could recover. She remembered when she’d stayed in a group home for a week when Grace, Tom, and Caroline had gone on a vacation to Florida. It was so much worse than she ever could have imagined. One of the “caretakers” had a habit of coming into work drunk, which wouldn’t have been bad, except that he was an angry drunk, and had almost hit her multiple times. Some of her things had been stolen from right under her nose, and worst of all, she’d been touched in her sleep, and almost raped by a group of boys who lived there.
“Sit down,” Stella said, softly touching Mariana’s arm.
Mariana plopped back down into her spot in the middle of the couch.
“We were so worried about you yesterday,” Stella said. “Mariana, I don’t think you understand.”
“I do understand.” Mariana avoided Stella’s gaze.
“You really scared us.” Dana put a hand on Mariana’s shoulder. “So we wanted to ask you; how are you feeling right now?”
“Relieved,” Mariana replied without hesitation.
“And why do you feel that way?”
“I just…” Mariana sighed. “I just do.”
“This is something we need to work on,” Stella said. “Tell us why. We aren’t here to judge you or assess you; we’re here to help.”
Mariana sighed again. “It’s a stupid reason.”
“It’s not,” Dana assured her.
“I just—I have bad memories of living in a group home. I thought that maybe…”
“Don’t worry about that,” Stella said. “You’re ours now. And we’re going to fight for you and never give you up.”
“Or, maybe a hospital,” Mariana said quietly.
Dana shook her head. “No. They wanted to keep you there. But we didn’t let them.”
Mariana rested her head on Dana’s shoulder, feeling a bit more relaxed. Her two moms really did love her. But then she thought about her real mom, and her older sister too.
“Fuck,” she whispered. Samara. She was supposed to meet her today. But it was too late for that now. Maybe it was for the better that she hadn’t anyway.
“What is it?” Dana asked.
Mariana shook her head. “Nothing. Just thoughts.” She took a deep breath. “Thank you, Dana. I love you.”
Dana wrapped her arms around Mariana, hugging her. They felt each other’s warmth. “I love you too,” she whispered back to her. “Both us do. And we will forever.”
Chapter 23: Veronica and JD
That night, Mariana went to sleep snuggled between her moms. But things didn’t stay pleasant. In her dream, she saw herself walking into a red kitchen. It looked familiar. She squinted. Was that…Heather Chandler’s kitchen?
A boy followed behind her. Mariana realized that it was Shawn, and gasped.
Mariana watched as she walked over to the fridge and took out some milk and orange juice, and poured it into a cup. She saw Shawn pouring in some blue drain cleaner. They didn’t talk at all. She felt confused. Why was she reenacting a scene from Heathers in her dream?
The dream continued on. Mariana lifted one of the cups. She was sure it was the milk and orange juice cup. Both her and Shawn walked down the hall and into Heather Chandler’s bedroom. She lay in her bed, her blonde curls held to the side of her head with a red scrunchie. Shawn took the cup from her.
Heather then opened her eyes, and Mariana gasped. It was Samara’s face that she saw instead. Samara stood up and Shawn handed her the cup. She downed it, clutched her throat and gagged and gasped. Mariana caught a glimpse of her blue teeth right before she smashed into the infamous glass table.
Mariana screamed and screamed until she finally shook herself awake. She looked around. The room was dark. The clock read 2:48 am. Stella and Dana lay on either side of her, both sleeping pleasantly.
She tried to sleep, but every time she closed her eyes, she thought back to the horrible noise of shattering glass and seeing Samara’s limp, lifeless body crash into the table and onto the floor.
Eventually, she gave up. She gently wriggled her body out from under the covers, and tried to inch her way towards the edge of the bed, but she accidentally kicked Stella in the shin.
“Fuck,” she whispered, as Stella woke up.
“Mariana, what are you doing?” she asked groggily.
“I can’t sleep. I’m going to get some water.”
“I’ll come with you,” Stella whispered. She got off of the bed, and Mariana followed. They both walked down to the kitchen together, through the dark halls of the house.
Mariana flicked the light switch on downstairs while Stella filled two glasses of water and ice. “What’s on your mind?”
“Nothing really,” Mariana lied.
They both sat in silence for a few moments, sipping their waters. Mariana wished she could send a text to Samara to make sure she was okay. But her phone was upstairs, in Stella and Dana’s bedroom. Besides, she didn’t want Stella to see.
“Have you been writing recently?” Stella asked.
Mariana shook her head. “Not really.”
“What have you been doing all day? When Dana and I are gone?”
“Not much.” Mariana felt her face growing hot. She wondered if Stella knew she was lying.
Stella set her glass down on the counter. “We talked about being honest with each other.”
“It’s the truth.” Mariana set her glass down too. “I think I just want to sit here for a while. I’m not tired. You should go back to bed.”
Stella shook her head. It was just yesterday that she had attempted suicide. Stella knew she was still fragile and might attempt to do it again.
“I just—need to use the bathroom,” Marina said while digging her fingernails into her palm. practically sprinted out of the kitchen, Stella following behind her.
Once Mariana had locked herself in, she let her tears flow. She didn’t want to cry in front of Stella again. Stella had seen her at her lowest, and Mariana wanted Stella and Dana to think she had been cured now, and she was happy. She looked around for a razor blade or something sharp but didn’t find anything.
“Mariana, no locks,” Stella called from outside the door.
Mariana unlocked the door and opened it, and tried to dodge Stella, but fell right into her arms.
“We want to make sure you’re safe,” Stella explained.
“Okay.” Mariana could feel tears forming in her eyes. She tried to make them go away, but she found one spilling down her cheek.
Stella brought her over to the sofa and wiped her cheek. “We can talk about it if you want.”
Mariana shook her head. “I don’t even know what to talk about.”
She and Stella fell asleep on the couch together and didn’t wake up until 7:00 the next morning.
“Maybe those pills are a good idea,” Stella whispered to Dana in the kitchen. Mariana was still waking up on the couch near them in the living room. “Now what’s your brilliant idea?”
“This.” Dana grabbed a knife, sliced the pill, and then crushed it into a fine, white powder. She then blended together a smoothie of yogurt, milk, and strawberries, and mixed the pill in with it. “There. She’ll never know.”
“Mariana. Are you hungry?” Stella asked, stepping out into the living room.
Mariana shrugged. “A little.”
“Dana made you a smoothie.” Stella brought her the cup. “Here.”
Mariana took a sip but then put it down. “Thanks Stella, but I’m not hungry right now. I just want to be alone.”
Stella sat down. “Mariana. Tell us what’s wrong.”
“Nothing is wrong.” Mariana looked away.
Dana joined them on the couch. “Drink this,” she told Mariana. “It will make you feel better.” She and Stella exchanges a brief, knowing glance.
Mariana took a sip, but then she pictured Samara doing the same with the drain cleaner. She felt a sharp pain in her upper back, and quickly handed the glass back to Dana.
Dana and Stella both wrapped their arms around Mariana and comforted her. They stayed with her, giving her small sips until she finally finished the entire smoothie.
The pain in Mariana’s back intensified. Her stomach started to hurt and gurgle to. “Oh shit,” she whispered. She’d had this feeling before. She quickly shot up, and before Dana or Stella could catch her, she ran into the bathroom and threw up.
Dana and Stella stood outside the bathroom door, shaking their heads.
“So much for that pill,” Dana said.
Stella just sighed and buried her face into Dana’s shoulder.
Chapter 24: La Culpa
“Mariana, what’s going on in there?” Dana called from outside the bathroom door.
Mariana didn’t answer, and Dana turned to Stella. “What the hell is happening?”
Stella shook her head. “I have no idea. Do you think it was the pills?”
“Maybe.” Dana knocked again. “Mariana, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Mariana called out meekly. She opened the bathroom door and looking exhausted and faint, practically fell into Stella’s and Dana’s arms.
“You need some water,” Dana said, running to the kitchen to get a glass while Stella carried her to the couch.
Dana soon returned, and Mariana took a small sip of water before handing the glass back to Dana. As she did, Dana caught a glimpse of some of the cuts on Mariana’s arms. She winced and looked away.
Mariana fell asleep shortly after. Dana left for work, and Stella stayed in the living room, doing work on her laptop.
A few hours later, Mariana woke up and stood up.
Stella closed her laptop. “Feeling better?”
Mariana frowned. “From what?”
“Don’t you remember what happened this morning?”
Mariana shook her head. “What are you talking about?”
“Oh,” Stella said. “Well it doesn’t matter anyways.”
Mariana stood up and walked towards the kitchen, seemingly cured from this morning.
“Are you hungry?” Stella asked.
“A little,” Mariana replied.
“What would you like?” Stella asked, standing up.
Mariana shrugged. “Maybe just some salad.”
Stella walked over to the kitchen to make them some. They ate in the kitchen together, and though Mariana was mostly quiet, she was acting completely normal.
A few hours after that, Dana came home. She noticed that Mariana was awake and just sitting on the couch, tapping on her cell phone.
“How has she been?” she whispered to Stella.
“Better,” Stella answered. “She’s been calm ever since she woke up.”
“Good,” Dana said, nodding, and then went over to go talk to Mariana. “Hey Mariana. How have you been?”
Mariana just shrugged.
“Are you hungry?” Dana asked.
Mariana shook her head.
“Is there anything you need?”
With that, Dana went upstairs to go put her things away. She also changed out of her work top and dress pants into a casual sweater and jeans. When she returned downstairs, Stella was gone. Mariana still remained, though now, tears were lightly streaming down her cheeks. Dana immediately sat down next to her.
“Mariana. Are you okay?”
Mariana nodded and quickly shut off her phone. Dana saw that she was on the iMessage app, though she didn’t see who Mariana was texting.
She hugged Mariana. “You can always talk to me.”
Mariana stayed silent, just wiping away her tears. She had been texting Samara about meeting up the next night, when she had suddenly thought of Marcus and went to go reread her messages to him. The last thing she’d ever sent him was from April 20 of 2017, and it wasn’t a nice text either.
Go fuck yourself. I’ll never forgive you for doing that .
Marcus was the only one who she had told about her sexuality. And then it had gotten out to the whole school. Marcus had denied that he’d told anyone but Mariana hadn’t believed him. It was the reason she’d decided not to go with the family to his baseball tournament in Philly last spring. It was the reason she was still alive and they weren’t.
Fresh tears sprung to Mariana’s eyes. She was now sobbing into Dana’s arms. After the first month following the accident, she had blocked it out of her mind. It was too traumatic to think about. But she’d always still blamed herself for it, or at least for not being there with them when it had happened. Remembering why made it that much more painful.
It wasn’t you spread the rumors. I’m so sorry I blamed you for it. I’m sorry I didn’t go to Philly with you. I’m so sorry that you died with me hating you. I hate myself now. I’ll never forgive myself. I know I’m probably going to hell but it feels like I’m already here .
Mariana suddenly broke away from Dana. “I can’t do this anymore,” she said softly.
Dana looked concerned. “Mariana…”
“I can’t keep living like this,” Mariana sobbed. She covered her eyes with her left hand. “I’m going to live with this guilt forever. I hate myself so much.”
She looked at Dana. “Please. Send me back. I don’t deserve any of this. I’ve made you suffer when really it should be me. Nobody should love me.”
Dana and Stella spent the next few hours comforting Mariana, but all she felt was numbness.
I have to get out of here , she thought. Then she thought about her meeting scheduled with Samara for the next night. Maybe just like her, I can run away .