She’s gone, Rue.
You drove her away.
Just like always.
You drove her away, again.
No! No, I didn’t! It’s not – it’s not my fault…
Sure, tell yourself that. We all know it is.
It’s not… it’s not my fault, please! Please, it’s not my f-fault…
She stumbles out of the train station, tears streaming down her face, mouth cracked open wide as sobs reverberate through her small, shaking body. It’s not. It’s not my fault. It’s like a mantra, repeating throughout her head, getting weaker and quieter every time until –
It is. It is your fault.
You’re right – fuck, fuck, I drove her away. I drove her away!
“Fuck!” She gets out a loud sob, gasping for air as she makes her way blindly towards home. Her chest feels tighter than ever, sharp pains shooting throughout it – pains that make her want to crumple on the ground and cry until everything turns numb and she can’t feel the grueling pain that’s echoing through every bone of her body.
She’s gone, and it’s all your fault.
“Shut up!” she screams, but no one’s there, it’s her messed up brain, and fuck, she wants to actually fucking die. She hates everything – everything she’s been working for, working towards – all that went flying out the window as soon as Jules’s train chugged away, the light of her fucking life leaving without so much as a glance back.
She almost stops, right there and then, wishes that there was more traffic in this fucking town so that a car would come down the street she’s stumbling up and run her over, hit her into oblivion, let all of this just be over.
But it’s a small town, and no cars come, and she finds herself staggering into her home, collapsing against the door as soon as it shuts behind her, her back shaking with heaving sobs so loud that both her mom and Jules’s dad come rushing towards her but she flinches away automatically, her breathing erratic, stuck in the worst panic she’s experienced for a long, long time.
“Baby,” her mom’s saying gently, kneeling down on the ground, her voice so soft, but Rue curls into a ball in the corner, away from everything, her hands clamped over her ears as she rocks, gasping sobs bursting from her lips.
Jules is gone. And it’s because of you. She’s gone because of you. You made her leave!
“No,” she moans. “No, no, I didn’t, it’s not my fault!”
“What’s not your fault, baby?” Leslie asks, a gentle hand reaching out but hovering over her before it drops onto her shoulder softly. Rue screams nevertheless, jerking out of reach of her mother’s caring hand, her shoulder burning from the unwelcome touch. The scream echoes throughout the house, bouncing off the walls, seemingly endless, until she runs out of breath and struggles for more, chest clenching painfully.
“Look at me, Rue,” Leslie whispers. “Open your eyes for me.”
Rue just shuts them harder, her sobs increasing in pressure as both her mom and Jules’s dad start pressing in on her, both of them coming closer and closer until they’re on top of her, crushing her chest and making her stutter for breaths that she can’t control.
“Where’s Jules?” Mr Vaughn asks suddenly, and Rue’s whole world just crumples. She pushes up, an almost animalistic scream bursting from her lips, fingers itching to scratch at her wrists once, twice, seven times, just to make something make sense, anything to make sense, to take this overbearing sensation of pain and guilt and suffering and panic away.
“Don’t, baby,” her mom whispers, placing her fingers gently over Rue’s.
“No – NO!”
“Baby, please.” Leslie puts both her hands onto Rue’s shoulders, holding her shaking body down. “Rue, baby, look at me – look at me, baby, come on…”
“N-No… no, please no…”
Mr Vaughn watches, a slightly shocked look on his worn face. “Les? Can I – Can I help?”
“It’s okay,” Leslie says softly. “Maybe go find your daughter.”
Jules. “It’s my fault – it’s – it’s my f-fault, Mom… it’s my fault, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…” she breaks down into proper sobs again, more tears dripping down her puffy face.
“What’s your fault, baby?”
Rue can’t talk, unhuman-like cries ripping through her chest. She just wants Jules, but she’s also full of this stupid rage, rage that her friend had actually left, rage that she hadn’t been able to tough it up and follow her, rage that yet again, she’s been reduced to this when she just wants to be able to stay strong. She buries her face in her knees, tears pouring down her face, her back heaving with each struggling breath.
“It’s okay, baby,” Leslie murmurs. “You’re gonna be okay…”
Rue shakes her head, hiccupping through her tears. “N-No – no, it’s n-not, Mama, it’s… it’s never gonna be okay –”
Sometimes, when things go particularly bad – like now – Rue wonders whether this is all worth it; whether the small moments of happiness are worth this much pain and this many tears and this amount of panic. It comes to the point that when she feels good, when the anxiety lowers and she allows herself to be happy – she can’t really enjoy it, now. Because every time Rue feels good, she spends it waiting anxiously for it to end. She waits, treating the happiness as if it’s something the devil himself has gifted to her only to rip it away when she least expects it. She’s come to expect it, come to expect the dropping of her stomach and the heavy, filling dread and now, she can never enjoy the happiness. It’s just another obstacle in her life.
She’s not sure what the point it. Why she’s even here. For a moment there, she thought she had a purpose – stay clean, make Jules happy, keep Gia safe. She wanted it.
But she doesn’t want it now.
She wants it all to stop.
She wants to go numb again.
Because when she’s numb, she can’t feel anything. Nothing hurts. Nothing feels good. Everything feels…
She looks up at her mom, properly, for the first time since she got home, and any last shred of resolve she had breaks, lips falling into a trembling pout as she gasps for air again, so sick of this, so ready for it all to end, so utterly done with living.
“Let me hold you, baby,” Leslie murmurs, and then her arms are around Rue and the teenager kicks out, thrashing around as Leslie grips her tighter and tighter until finally Rue falls still, sobbing and sobbing until her stomach cramps and she has to stay frozen still, lest she throw up the small bite of dinner she ate.
Leslie coos softly, stroking her hair, and Rue begins to calm down, her face buried in her mother’s chest.
But then she looks up.
And it dawns on her that Mr Vaughn is still there.
Rue doesn’t tell people things. It’s a rule of hers. The only people who know she has anxiety – severe anxiety, like how she feels now – it’s only her mom and Gia and Jules and Lexi.
And now Mr Vaughn.
And she wasn’t ready to tell him.
And when she locks eyes with him, and his are filled with pity and concern and slight fear –
Her chest crumples again and she collapses into a heap on the floor, tears rolling down her cheeks,
“Baby – baby, come up here,” Leslie whispers, and Rue shakes her head.
Then there are soft arms pulling her up, pulling her against another body and she’s lead into her mom’s bedroom, laid down on the bed, and she buries her face in the pillow, drawing her jacket tighter around her shaking shoulders. Leslie droops a blanket over her, and Rue curls up under it, her whole body shuddering.
Leslie sinks down next to her, pressing a kiss to her cheeks, her forehead, her chin, and Rue sucks in a deep breath, rolling over to bury her face in her mom’s stomach and letting out a soft whimper.
“It’s okay, baby, it’s all gonna be okay.”
And at the moment, Rue really can’t see how it’s going to be okay. She can’t understand how, magically, her mom’s gonna make it all better. She does, however, understand that it’s not gonna be easy.
And she’s not sure she wants to try.
Not without Jules. Not without something to try to impress.
Ali’s told her many times that she shouldn’t be trying to impress Jules. That she should be working on impressing herself.
It had reminded her of one of those stupid self love talks. Love yourself, Rue. As if loving herself would fix all her problems.
As a kid who’d grown up hating how she looked, how her fucking brain worked – or didn’t work – hated how she was so different from the others – she wasn’t sure how loving herself was supposed to happen.
Because yeah, Rue’s known love. Her mom and her dad and Gia and Lexi – they all love her.
But she knows she’s not easy to love. She knows. She’s probably the hardest fucking person to love on the goddamn planet, except for, maybe, Nate Jacobs.
But even Nate Jacobs isn’t a fucking addict.
He’s got all her problems – the rage, the depression, the anxiety even. But he doesn’t have the added problem of being a goddamn drug addict.
And that’s her problem.
But, try as she does, she can’t bring herself to regret anything.
Because she knows, deep down, that she deserves this. She deserves everything that comes to her, because Rue believes she’s a truly bad person.
Lexi’s tried to tell her that she’s not. But Rue had yelled at her because she hates when people lie.
She deserves everything bad that’s happening, that’s happened and that will happened.
But this is when it gets hard.
Because they don’t.
Her mom and Gia and Lexi and even Jules – none of them deserve to feel responsible for her.
She’s responsible for herself.
But it gets harder.
Because she doesn’t want to be. And she knows if she gets full responsibility over herself she won’t last. Because she doesn’t fully want to be here.
But she doesn’t want to be a burden, either. So it’s just – it’s just a continuous paradox.
A paradox that Rue hates. A paradox she wants out of.
But the only way out is to go away, permanently, forever.
And isn’t that what she just had the chance to do? And didn’t she give it up?
Didn’t she lose Jules because of it?
She looks up at her mother, and she feels so instantly guilty that she wants to throw up.
“I’m sorry, mama.”
Leslie looks down, stroking a soft hand over her forehead before leaning down to press a gentle kiss to her daughter’s forehead. “Why are you sorry, Rue?”
Rue looks around, notices Mr Vaughn is gone, and tastes rather than feels more tears run down her cheeks. She shakes her head, nestling closer into her mom, and feels Leslie’s comforting arms
And later that night, when Gia comes home and finds her mom and her sister curled up on the bed watching shitty reality tv on the little box tv in the corner, when she comes over and snuggles up against them and they eat bad Chinese for dinner and have a whole pint of icecream each, Rue realises something.
She realises that no matter how much she loves Jules, Jules isn’t where she feels safe.
It’s here. At 10pm, curled up with her family on an old mattress with three or four blankets over their shoulders, reruns playing on the television, Gia’s gentle giggles echoing throughout the dark room.
It’s here, where her mom’s fingers are raking subconsciously through her curls and Gia’s hand is interlaced with hers and her mom is struggling to keep her eyes open but she’s staying awake for her girls.
It’s here, where she’s with her family and she hasn’t forgotten everything, but these moments, moments like these –
They’re what she lives for.