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Witness

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She gets Toby to tell her everything. For all that Toby had successfully kept these secrets for months, getting him to spill is not even hard: it’s as if Toby needs for her to know, or, well, as if he needs for someone to know, and now that Jim is gone - now that Jim and Claire are gone (and isn’t it odd, to realize Toby was closer to Claire than Darci was) - well, now Darci is the person who’s there. In fact, Darci is the only one who’s there, and that’s unsettling to realize, too: that with Jim and Claire gone, she’s the only person their age who’ll talk to Toby at all. It makes her feel vaguely guilty.

So Darci gets Toby to tell her everything, both because she wants to know about him and because she needs to know what Claire didn’t tell her. Well, didn’t tell them, but Mary insists that she doesn’t want to know and Darci isn’t sure that Toby would tell her besides.

It takes four days before Darci realizes Toby really is going to tell her everything, and that it’s going to be a problem: it weighs on her, this story, in all of its violence and danger. She needs to talk to someone, too, and that someone can’t be Toby, because Toby is the one who needs to talk to her. That thought weighs on her in its responsibility; at least, until she reminds herself that she’s just the one who’s there - and this time, the thought brings relief rather than guilt. This time, the thought offers up a solution: to bring another person into the telling. Darci doesn’t even have to think hard to know who she wants it to be.

“Your dad hates me,” Toby says skeptically.

“My dad cares a lot about protecting people,” she replies. “I think he’s going to get it.”

It takes less convincing than she would’ve thought, given Toby’s initial resistance. It’s her dad who explains that one to her: “He doesn’t have parents, kid. He has his nana and he has Dr. Lake, but neither of them looks like a father even if you squint.”

“Thanks, Dad,” she says dryly. “Now I feel even more guilty.”

“Survivor’s guilt helps no one, Darce.”

Her dad says that to Toby, too, but Toby looks him dead in the eye and says, in that tone he uses for his most sarcastic lines, the one that means it takes you a few seconds to even realize what he said: “With all due respect, that doesn’t help either.”

It ends up taking half the summer to tell the story. That’s one part because there is a lot of story to tell, and one part her dad forcing them to take breaks. She and Toby bike around town, go bowling, watch movies - one time go camping with Steve and Eli and Mary, and it speaks to what May and early June had been like that all of them are surprised when disaster doesn’t strike. They get in the fun stuff; they definitely do not do their summer homework - which Toby, with his abysmal grades, has particularly a lot of. No one gives them grief for it, which Toby says is normal for Nana but is a bit weird for her mom, and definitely off for her dad. Darci figures that’s a side effect of including him in the telling, and tries to not think about it too much.

When they do get around to homework Toby starts crying and can’t seem to make it stop, which just puts him into even more distress. It’s an all-around mess, and Toby ends up staying the night with Darci’s family because Nana and Dr. Lake are having a yelling match. Dr. Lake seems to win the fight: there’s another doctor and there are pills, and Toby calms down over the few weeks that follow.

By then, the new school year is just around the corner, and Darci feels like she needs a vacation from her summer vacation before she’s ready for that. She tells that to her mom, who nods. “Witnessing is hard work.”

“Witnessing?”

“Listening to someone’s story the way you did for Toby, that’s called witnessing for them.”

“Like you do for Dad?” Darci asks. She immediately regrets it, but her mom just nods again.

“Exactly like that. We do it for ourselves, because we need to know, but it’s good for them also.”

“I don’t know. Maybe if I hadn’t made Toby talk about it so much…”

“It would’ve been worse for him if you hadn’t. I can tell you that much for a fact. There is very little that’s worse for a person than going through something, and having that be completely unwitnessed. But it doesn’t make witnessing easy.” She eyes Darci, a bit like she’s measuring her but not quite. “Do you still feel guilty?”

“Oh yeah.” Darci pauses. “Dad says it doesn’t help.”

“Emotions don’t always help us. Sometimes they just are, and nothing good ever comes out of trying to pretend otherwise. Your dad would do well to learn that, too.”

Darci smiles almost in spite of herself. “Thanks, Mom.”

She repeats that part to Toby, about emotions not always helping and what happens if you ignore them. Toby looks at her for a moment, then asks: “Are you okay?”

The obvious answer is No, I am not okay. Not that Darci was ever going to say that to Toby: it’s not his fault he’d spent the last year wrapped up in a war, and it’s definitely not his fault that Darci asked. Even as she thinks that, Darci knows it’s not the only reason she wasn’t going to say that; it’s like the pieces of the puzzle moved while she wasn’t looking at them.

So it’s not even a lie when she says: “Yeah, I think I am.”

 

A coloured-in mandala.