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14 Valentines 2013

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Now that Thea has seen Ollie's scars, no matter how briefly, she cannot unsee them. The idea that the contents of Pandora's Box can never again be fully contained is not foreign to her. If anything, it defines the last five years of her life. But she would have thought anything she could have imagined would have been worse than the reality of it. Evidently not.

On the nights when she cannot sleep for fear she will wake up and this will have been a dream, for the images of flesh interrupted and scarred—so, the nights on days that end in Y—she hits up her mother's tumbler, the aged whiskey going down warm and intense. She pretends she doesn't have to take more than a few sips these days to pull her away from wakefulness, pretends she hasn't inflicted the same kind of damage to herself on the inside as Ollie hides behind his armor of clothing.

*

At first it had just been little sips, here and there. It seemed to work for mom, to some extent, anyway, and Thea just wanted to feel better, miss Ollie and dad less. Back then it didn't take much to make her calmer, make her not care as much.

Her tolerance, of course, grew. Her need didn't lessen.

The first time she woke up next to her toilet, the air smelling of vomit, she told herself she'd stop. She told herself she wasn't one of those girls who escaped by slowly killing themselves, taking their bodies apart molecule by molecule.

She told herself that a lot throughout the first year.

*

The drugs were later, when Thea'd stopped lying to herself, acknowledged that she was going to do everything she could to get out of her mind, no matter what that meant for the rest of her. She liked the way they took away hunger, since eating often meant feeling sick, and she didn't want to feel sick. She didn't really want to feel anything.

Her girlfriends said she was looking skinny with approving smiles. Tommy said she was looking skinny with something in his voice she couldn't understand, chose to believe was fondness. (Knew it wasn't.)

Her mother didn't say anything. Thea wondered when she had disappeared, or if she had ever really been there. Perhaps, she thought, "Thea" had always been simply a shadow of Ollie, and with his body gone, hers had subsequently vanished as well.

*

Only, Ollie reappears and looks at Thea and sees her a little too well; sees the shadow of the old him and doesn't want that, doesn't want Thea.

She wants to blame him, except she feels the same way. Everyone does, so far as she can tell.

She hates him, more than a little bit, for returning in a body she doesn't know, holding secrets he won't tell. She hates that he is able to bring their mother back, when she has been pulling so hard, and been left holding on to nothing.

*

Tommy comes to see her the night after holding his fundraiser for the legal aid office. Thea wants to tell him she's not home, but can't bear the thought of feeling even more absent than she does now. Instead she smiles her Miss Queen smile and says, "Blood pact never to speak of last night?"

Tommy frowns and says, "I fucked up, Thie."

She smiles uneasily at the nickname, a simple shortening, but so very few people even remember she'd once answered to it. "Nah, I'm sure Laurel—"

He shakes his head. "When Ol—"

"Tommy—"

He keeps going though, "When Oliver disappeared, all I could do was miss my best friend."

"You were a kid," Thea says.

"No. No, Thie, you were a kid. And I turned around and pretended you were someone else's concern just like everyone else."

Thea smiles, sharp and bitter. "I am nobody's concern."

Tommy runs a hand over his face. "Ollie worries. He evidently has started doing it in overbearing and self-righteous ways, but it's still love."

She doesn't know whether to laugh or to cry. Doesn't even know which one she wants to do, really. Tommy keeps her from having to make a decision by saying softly, "You stopped watching out for you, too. And none of us even noticed."

She shrugs. "Kid sisters, and all that."

Tommy's smile is warm and sad, all at once. "Look in the mirror, Thie. Ollie may have returned, but you're nobody's kid sister."

He kisses her forehead and slips away. She doesn't look in the mirror. But for the first time in a long while she thinks she might actually pay attention the next time she does.