"What's the matter, Taylor?" Emma drawled out. "You look upset. So upset you're going to cry yourself to sleep for a straight week?"
I saw red. I couldn't stand it anymore, so I reached out and grabbed Emma's arm. Upon contact, my consciousness expanded. I was there, but at the same thing I wasn't. Now, I was in her mind. Her consciousness. I felt a memory coming towards the surface, more intense, more alive that any of the others and I drowned in it.
A white van blocking an alley. A narrow, one way street. A group of twenty something thugs of the ABB. My dad tried to move the dumpster that was blocking the other end, but it didn't even budge. Him telling me to call the police. Me, fumbling with the phone with trembling hands. Nine-one-one. It was only three numbers, but they seemed a world away.
The window of the right shattering. Hands gripping my hair, pulling it back, hauled her from my seat. It hurt, it hurt so much. And the glass. God, if he dragged me over there, the glass… my face would… I didn't even want to think about it, but the imagines of what would happen flooded my mind. The phone fell. I gripped my attacker's wrists, trying to break free.
I undid the seatbelt. I regretted it almost inmediately , but in the panic and pain, I was consumed with the desire to escape. So I did such a stupid thing.
Dragged outside, to the floor, turned. My head, my thoughts becoming a mess. The thundering of my heart ringing in my ears. Their contemptuous words, as they stood over me with a knife. They cut my hair, hit my face against the pavement. Begging them. Not the face. Hold her. Those two words felt like a bullet aimed for my heart.
There I felt fear, real fear for the first time. I felt utterly insignificant for the first time, knowing that I would be crushed, we both would be crushed, and nobody would care. My father's screaming my name, distantly, like a world away. That one eyed thug straddling me, putting his left hand on the top of her hair. He rested the flat of the blade of the tip of her nose.
"Nose… eye… well, you can hide the ears with the hair. So maybe I'll take both. Which will it be?"
The words that haunted me even to this day. The words that had lead me to push my friend away, so I wouldn't become the weak Emma from before. So I could stay strong. So I could survive. So, so…
The link broke. I didn't see it, but I understood a few more things. Shadow Stalker had saved her. Shadow Stalker was Sophia. That… I couldn't even put it into words, right now. But I had more concerns. What had happened to Emma. That Sophia had feed her bullshit about predator and prey, about the world being separated between winners and losers, that she had latched on in order to not crumble away.
I stared at Emma. She was staring at me, but not staring at me. Her eyes were wide, unfocused. She was trembling all over, tears streaming down her face.
"Jesus Christ, Emma..."
My words were cut off by her scream.
"Get away from me!"
I only noticed just then that I wasn't gripping her arm anymore. She fell back hurriedly. The girls around her scattered, looked at her with expressions filled with confusion mixed with worry. Emma's hands went to her head, and gripped, like trying to push that memory out. Her scream faded into chocking sobs.
I turned away. It was easy. They had stopped paying attention to me. I grabbed my backpack, put it on. I noticed Sophia watching me, completely ignoring Emma's breakdown, with the eyes of a hawk. I ran. Down the stairs, out of Winslow. And I kept running. Just running, and running. The memory I lived through in that instant kept surfacing in my mind, but I pushed it away. I didn't even want to consider what would it meant. Not now.
I only wanted some peace and quiet.
Next day, I went to school again. I didn't know how I managed to force myself to do it, but then, I had to ask that of myself every day I went to school before and most of all after the locker. The memory was burned in my brain. I wanted to touch Emma to use my power to force her to relieve all her bad memories. I hadn't been expecting that, let alone that she would have suffered so much that only that single memory showed up, and that it was… more real that any other of her memories, defining her every action.
Her drive to not be me, to not sink like I had done after my mother's death because she didn't think she could be strong enough to come back for that. How she had destroyed herself bit by bit, and forced herself to kept on believing a lie to hold herself together. Her admiration for Shadow Stalker, her saviour. I understood her. After so long, I understood Emma again.
That didn't make it okay. If anything, it made it all the worse. She had suffered, I had suffered. We could have worked through all of it together, if she could have managed to gather the courage to reach out to me. But she hadn't. She had throw me away for nothing. And still… I couldn't really say that. For an instant, I had lived that moment like Emma had lived it. The terror, the pain, her thoughts. I couldn't say that she could have shook it off if she would have just tried, because she couldn't have. It had scarred her for life. The memory wouldn't never go away, and she wouldn't never heal. Not truly.
I couldn't bring myself to hate her for what she had done.
When I was leaving the school, Emma got in my way. She looked ragged, haggard. She was looking at me with a murderous expression, but now that I actually understood her again, I could clearly see the self hatred and bitterness in her eyes. The pure desperation to build herself back up for what happened yesterday, even though some part of her understood she was only breaking herself.
It wasn't hard to imagine what had happened to her. The disdain, the mocking. And what Sophia had said to her. Either Sophia had made Emma do this, or she had decided to do it by herself. A test to see if she was a predator or prey. I bit my lip. Everything about this situation gnawed at me.
"Emma, please. Just… stop already." I pleaded. "This is not worth it. You're just digging your own grave, not growing strong."
"We… we can still fix it. Together. You don't have to follow her around and cling to her words because she saved you. She's a terrible person."
"I said," she clenched her hands into fists. "Shut up! Stop lecturing me. You don't have any right. You're weak. You're so weak. Even now, when you got that power, you're weak. The only way you know of surviving is to kept your head down. But I'm different. I'm strong. I'm strong, I'm strong, I'm strong, so you don't get to say that to…"
I took a step forward, and hugged her.
"W-what are you..."
I had my arms around her, so I could freely use my powers. And I did. But this time, I showed myself to her. So she could know how I felt, how I wanted things to be and to not let her room for doubt.
"Taylor..." Emma's voice had broken. "Why? Could you... Could you ever forgive me?"
Could I ever having nightmares about the locker, about dying in the locker? Could I ever stop remembering it suddenly, without reason? Could I ever be the cheerful girl I was before? Could we be the friends we were before? Could I look at her smiling and not sometimes wonder what she was thinking of, what had she had come up with to further hurt me? Could I ever stop wondering if she was going to betray me again? Could I? Could I, really?
No, of course not.
"No, I don't think so. I won't forgive you, and I won't ever forget all you have done. But that doesn't meant we can't be friends again. We're not too far gone."
Emma hugged me back, and started crying.
I held her without saying anything.
We went to my house together. She followed me without a word. It was painful to look at. Emma was broken, and desperate for anybody, anything to give her direction. I had destroyed her life, the foundation she had build herself back on after that accident, with just a touch. Quite literally.
Part of me thought that this was right, simply what she deserved. That if she would never again have even a moment of peace, that if she had to felt guilty for what happiness she gained from now on because she didn't deserve it, it would be justice. Another part of me didn't like her seeing her like this.
Dad was there already.
"Tay..." he suddenly stopped, looked surprised for a moment, and then smiled more widely that I had seen him in months. "Oh, so you brought Emma along. Its nice see you again! Come in."
Emma looked down. She didn't move.
"What's wrong?" dad asked, bewildered. Of course. I hadn't told him anything at all, so he didn't even know why Emma had stopped coming. All he was the knowledge about the locker, and his own assumptions about the situation. Not for the first time, I felt guilty. He was my father. I should have told him.
"She's feeling guilty." I said. "For the bullying."
"Ah… you shouldn't, really. I get that you distanced yourself from her to not get hurt, too. Doesn't meant I like it, but I get it. Really. You don't have to worry about it. And it seems like Taylor has forgiven you for it, so is fine by me."
"No, dad." I shook my head. "She was one of three behind it."
"W-what?" he ran his hands through his hair. There was a small pause. "Then why? Why is she here?"
"It's a bit… complicated. All I can say is that she had her reasons, she's sorry about doing what she did, and… we're going to try to be friends again."
"Well." he sighed. "I-I can't really argue with that, if you really think that's for the best. I just hope you're right."
"Yeah. I do, too."
So we ate together. Dad called Emma's father to tell her she was with us, of course. Anyways. At the beginning, Emma was clearly nervous, awkward around both of us, and had to be dragged into the conversation, but eventually, she relaxed. Don't get me wrong. She was still not even a shadow of her old self, but I was glad to see that she was getting better. It gave me hope.
Dad left for work.
"So Taylor," Emma said. "Have you gone out already as a cape?"
"Uh, no. I have been thinking about it, training, preparing and I have finished my costume at all, but I haven't gone out yet."
"Show me the costume." she seemed almost… I don't know. I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
We went to the basement together. My house is old, and the basement was never renovated. I was pretty much the only one in this house who had any reason to go here. That's why I put my costume there. I opened the box, grabbed the costume and showed it off to Emma.
"I did a lot of odd jobs to gather the money to build this. It took me a some time to be satisfied with it, but..." I shrugged. "It is what it is. Nothing fancy, but it will work."
"I helped Shadow Stalker, before she was in the Wards and after, too." Emma said, after a small pause. "I can help you. I… I want to help you."
And we fist bumped. There were still a lot of things that could go wrong, but at least, this was a start.
The future looked brighter that ever.