Manny stared listlessly at the ceiling. Once Emma had realized Manny ran out, she left school. She found her on the floor, and helped her to get down into the basement. Manny could hear Emma upstairs. She heard the crashing of pots and pans, then the slamming of cupboards. Emma said something about making her chicken soup. Manny barely heard her.
Ten minutes later Emma walked carefully downstairs. She had a bowl on a tray, as well as a glass of water. Manny sat up, dejected.
"So what happened?" Emma asked quietly after several agonizing minutes of silence. She had been watching Manny eat, though to her it seemed as if Manny was doing it more out of habit than realizing the actions.
Manny stopped eating. She looked at Emma. Deep circles that were finally disappearing under her eyes were back in full force. Emma was surprised at how horrible the girl looked.
"I think you can figure it out," Manny said hoarsely, her voice almost monotonous.
Emma chewed on her lower lip. She wanted badly to say the name, but didn't dare for fear of turning Manny. "So it was…her?"
"Did you…did you two talk?"
Manny snorted. "No. No, we'll never talk, I don't think."
Emma swallowed. "Maybe it would be better if you did."
Manny's head turned towards Emma at lightening speed, and she glared at her friend with such fierceness, Emma was taken aback.
"How can you even suggest that?" Manny demanded.
"I'm only trying to help," Emma squeaked.
"Hmph. Some help you are," Manny said, falling back onto the bed. The soup spilled over onto her lap. She didn't care. Emma caught the water glass before it joined.
"Oh, that's horrible! You should go take a shower, and I'll change and wash your sheets."
"Why bother?" Manny asked.
"Because…you shouldn't sleep in cold soup."
Manny's face contorted. At first Emma thought she was going to scream, but to her surprise the girl burst into giggles. Manny laughed with a maniacal desperation. It was somehow worse than the screaming.
"I don't know what to do," Spike lamented. Emma had told her about the incident today. She didn't want to, but figured it was her obligation to let her mother know. They had been discussing it for the past twenty minutes. "Maybe we should call the hospital."
"Mom, no!" Emma insisted.
"Emma, she's a very sick girl…"
"Yeah, but we can't send her back there. It will kill her! She hasn't even had a chance, and you want to get rid of her?"
"Em…" Spike protested.
"No! She's not like Shane, mom! We can save her."
"That is an entirely different situation, Emma!"
Emma's jaw was set, her eyes ferocious. "Exactly. And we are not giving up on her!" she raged. Emma paced around the room, her anger and helplessness practically radiating off of her. She then turned to her mother, and her voice became quieter, more subdued. "Not like everyone else has," Emma whispered.
"So am I going back?" Manny asked, hardly aware if she cared or not anymore.
"No, not now," Emma replied.
Tears glistened Manny's eyes, as they had almost perpetually in what seemed like forever. "Thank you. But I'm not sure if it's the right decision."
"What do you mean?" Emma asked.
Manny looked at Emma, her eyes red with tears. "I don't think I was ready to be let go, Em. I think I'm supposed to be there still. Everything feels wrong out here. I wasn't gone for that long. But it feels like...it feels like that's where I always was. Where I've been my whole life. And I don't think I'm ready to be without that."
"You're stronger than you think, Manny," Emma said. Her voice was emotionless, but Manny could tell she was fighting back an onslaught that could even rival her own.
"Am I? Am I really?" Manny asked. "I don't feel strong."
Emma looked at her. "You won't let yourself feel strong," she corrected.
"What does that mean?" Manny asked, her tone becoming more and more childlike with each word. Emma felt terror rise in her body. What was happening to Manny?
"You won't let yourself be strong, Manny, because it's so much easier to be weak. You feel wrong inside, but not because of anything you've said or done. You feel wrong because you're letting other people tell you that you're wrong. But this isn't about them, and it never was. You're only as weak as you allow yourself to be."
Manny felt so small, and anger surged through her body at Emma's words. "What do you know?" she snapped. "You've never felt this way."
"You're right," Emma said. "Because I wouldn't let myself."
"Oh, yeah? Do you really think you could control these feelings?"
"I think I could do better than you can."
"Emma! Why are you saying this to me? Can't you see I need comfort?" Manny demanded tearfully.
"I've tried, Manny. I've been trying. But that's not what you need. You don't need to be coddled. You don't need comfort. You need the truth. You're never going to get better if you keep lying to yourself. You think you're in touch with all these great, powerful emotions, but they are manufactured, Manny. You're doing this to yourself."
"How dare you! How dare you question what I do and do not feel! You can't feel this, Emma! Just because you can't feel it, don't think it isn't there!" Manny yelled.
"Thus my point," Emma responded.
"Wh-what?" Manny asked, thoroughly confused.
Emma smiled, though it wasn't exactly happy. "You fight me when I question your feelings. You fight so hard to make me believe they're real. But, Manny, I already believe they are real. You're fighting the wrong battle."
Manny was surprised. When did Emma get so tricky? she thought. She shook her head. She still doesn't know, Manny decided. She doesn't know, so she'll never understand.
"Even if I don't feel something for myself, it doesn't mean I'm incapable of comprehending it," Emma said, almost as if she were reading Manny's thoughts. "Go ahead, be depressed. Wallow in your self-pity all you want. But don't try to tell me that you have no other choice. You're a fighter. If you would just set your mind to it, you'd find out that you're not so helpless after all. I just wish you'd listen." Emma stood up and left the basement before Manny had time to respond.
Oh, what does she know, Manny repeated inside her head, almost as if her insistence was a mantra. She doesn't understand. She'll never understand.
Manny's thoughts overwhelmed her, her inner self insisting that her situation was so utterly unique no one in the world would never realize her pain. And before she knew it, she had fallen asleep.