We stand on the sidewalk and watch my copy disappear into the depot to get a refund on the bus ticket; Vista's murmuring quietly to herself, fingers pressed to her ear.
"Hey, here." I look down and see the smaller girl holding something up for me; it's one of those black masks that go over your eyes. I take it, turn it over in my hands; it's soft plastic, the inside lined with little suckers that remind me of starfish feet.
Right. Because I'm a cape now. I take off my glasses, press the mask to my face; I feel the plastic mold to my skin, warming to where I can barely feel it's there.
I wrinkle my nose, try a few expressions before I put my glasses back on and notice Vista working to suppress a smile.
There's an awkward silence as we wait for my copy to come back out - I start seeing movement as PRT officers emerge from alleys and around corners; a set of black vans pull up.
Vista nods towards one. "C'mon. We can wait inside, it'll be warmer."
She leads me around to the back of one of the vans, pulling open the double doors to reveal a cramped space, a bench on each side littered with buckles and strapping.
We climb in, one after the other; she sits on one side, I sit on the other.
Vista doesn't move to close the doors; I'm secretly grateful, even if it does let most of the warm air out.
I duck my head in something like a nod, open my mouth to say something like 'thank you', to be polite to someone who's trying to be kind-
-but my stomach beats me to it, overturning with a bubbling gurgle.
Vista chokes back a laugh. "Guess not." She reaches into her belt, pulls out a protein bar, holds it out to me. "Here."
I take it, unwrap, bite; I taste flat chocolate and musty cookie dough and I haven't eaten in hours and it's amazing-
I'm done almost before I realize that I've started; Vista's watching me with the avidity of a girl with a new birdfeeder outside her window.
A shadow crosses her face as she watches me fold the wrapper and stuff it in my jacket.
"...what did Sophia do?" She doesn't say to you; the words sit in the air between us, unspoken, suffocatingly silent.
And in that silence, I hear the chattering of a razor, fast and thready like the beating of my heart; I look at her, bluntly asking. Someone bearing authority, someone who's sitting there, willing to listen. She's been nothing but kind, I think, and she's small, a child not a teenager, I can't see her wielding the false-kindness they tried on me-
"She held me down." The words come out fumbling, halting. Sorting their way through cold tile pressed to my cheek, the humid reek of moisture in the air.
"She held me down, and Emma did this." I reach up, pull off my knit cap, watch her reaction as I finger bristly-velvet stubble-
-but it's not enough; I can see it in the set of her shoulders, half-parted lips ready to unthinkingly utter well that doesn't seem so bad-
"My mom had hair like mine." The words come out thick as I force them through grief's chokehold. "She died, and it was one of the things I had that was hers."
Telling her this feels right somehow; it feels just and it feels free, having someone who listens, someone who isn't loaded with brisant rage. Someone I don't have to pick and choose my words around.
Someone who isn't Dad.
"It was hers," I say, and it feels like I'm finally allowed to be angry, the words ripping out of me strong and true. "And Sophia and Emma, they, they cut it off and left it on the bathroom floor, and then-"
I remember being there. Staring at myself in the mirror, at what they'd done-
"...and that was when things started getting bad," Dad- my copy said, leaning against one of the van doors.
Vista doesn't respond; at least, it doesn't look like she has, but I realize how still she's gone, how pale her face is against the greens of her costume.
And when she finally opens her mouth, all that comes out is a quiet '...that bitch,' and it's spoken with a level of loathing and distaste that almost parallels mine.
Just like that, I feel the anger in me evaporate; it's gone, and I am empty and tired... but it feels good, somehow. It's like-
It reminds me of Emma; of coming home after a day at her house, tired but replete with that sensation of having been with someone who understands, who sees you better than anyone.
I smile at Vista; she smiles back, and there's something there, a softening to her expression as some of that sober professionalism fades from her face.
"You ready to go?" she asks, and I nod.
Dad slides in next to me; reaches over, pulls a door closed; Vista slides over to do the same on her side.
"We're good to go," she says, and as the van lurches to life, Dad reaches over and drops a wad of bills and dollar coins in my hand.