"I don't know. I remember being you, on the bench, watching her disappear."
The words spool out of me and the me who's still Taylor pulls back, her hands at my shoulders as she looks into me with tear-reddened eyes.
"But that... that means..." She hesitates, and I can see realization bloom. "That means you-"
I don't let her say it. "Hey. Hey."
"I'm sorry." Her voice is a scratchy whisper, old and worn.
"No." My fingers find the down-softness at the nape of her neck, squeeze, gentle and firm. "No."
I am the difference, here and before. I'm the reason why she isn't still curled up on the bathroom floor. I'm the reason why she's not going to hate herself now.
"It's not your fault," I say, and her gaze meets mine. "It's hers," I add, and we both know who I mean.
She's about to say something when we both hear it: Keys, jingling, then the distinctive rasp as the front door opens.
We both look at the alarm clock by my bed, and Taylor moans softly when she sees the time.
We've been up here for hours.
"Taylor?" His voice comes faintly through the door. We hear footsteps, and I can see him in my mind's eye, looking around the dark living room, slowly walking towards the stairs up to my bedroom.
I look back at her; the color's drained from her face, and my eyes are drawn to the stubble-shadowed pale streak across her scalp.
Her eyes close and her hands clench into fists on my shoulders; she shakes her head, trembling.
"I can't," she whispers. "I can't."
I shush her and it comes out as a poisonous hiss, my fingers tightening against the back of her neck.
"You have to," I whisper back. "You need to do this, because I can't. Not with... how I look." How I look like the girl who's been my own personal hell.
Fingers tense on my shoulders as she half-shakes her head. "I- I don't-"
She can't get the words out, but I know them already. I don't know what to tell him.
"Tell him the truth," I hiss, hearing the house creak as Dad starts up the stairs. "Tell him about Emma, tell him about school."
"What-" she starts, and I shake my head, pulling her with me as I stand.
"Don't. Not about us."
"He wouldn't understand. We don't understand. He'd just be..." Useless, part of me supplies. "...lost," I finish.
She sniffs. Nods, her lips thinning into a firm line, and I pull her into a quick, tight hug before pushing her at the door.
"Go. Go," I whisper, dropping to the floor behind the bed.
Over the pounding of my own heart, I can hear her footsteps as she meets Dad on the stairs.
I can hear them talking downstairs; at least, I can hear Dad talking, the tones of his voice audible even upstairs.
Even then, I can still tell the flow of the conversation from how he sounds: incomprehension, sadness, shock.
He's angry now, ranting almost; I can imagine his face, livid, cherry-red as the other half of me sits there like a stone under the waterfall of his words, clenched tight and numb-
And I am suddenly, blindingly furious as I lie here on my bedroom floor, fists clenched aching-tight as I listen to my father drown his impotence and empathy in rage.
I should be down there. I shouldn't have to be alone through this.
And I want to. God, I want to just- just storm down those stairs and pull myself into a hug and tell Dad this isn't helping.
I want to. But I can't, because I look like fucking Emma Barnes and my going downstairs would...
...I'm not sure I want to give my dad a target for his anger.
She comes back upstairs a half-hour later, and I pull her into my arms as soon as she closes the door, feeling the tension in her back muscles.
"We're going to see Blackwell tomorrow." Her voice is quiet, her eyes dry, and I know that look, because I've tucked my feelings away like that so many times before.
I don't say anything, just rubbing her back until I feel her start to relax and she leans against me, letting out a breath.
"You did good."
I can feel the words crack her composure, her breath hitching as she leans into me.
"I'm proud of you," I whisper, feeling like all I can offer is useless praise as she starts to cry against me.