She hasn't met Meg Manning. She really hasn't had time to – between Lizzie and her parents and Grace, there just hasn't been a moment to step back and look for the girl. She hears about her all the time though; sweet little Meg, all kind and fair, friend to all, Duncan's girlfriend, isn't she great? It makes her want to be sick. It was almost a relief when the whole purity test scandal happened, just because it made everyone shut up about pure sweet honest Meg for five seconds.
She wasn't relived when she was locked in the closet again, for the first time since she was ten, letters around her feet and book in her lap. Because they just couldn't believe their girl could do this, the girl they could break and crumble and rebuild from ashes, the girl who they could shape in their image and make her call them God.
And they were right.
She doesn't cry about the closet. She never has. There's no point to crying about the closet. The closet is a fact of life, it is what happens when you are in the wrong, so she climbs inside and takes the book, scrawls the words over and over and over again, I was bad, I deserve to be punished, until her wrist aches and she can barely see.
Lizzie is different. Lizzie cries about the closet every single time, she yells hysterically and bangs on the doors , she refuses to write the lines, she was not bad, she does not deserve to be punished. She sits in there for hours until they wear down her resistance, and after she crawls to Meg's room with tears in her eyes, and Meg comforts her and gives her a hug, telling her it's okay, because Meg is such a good liar. She wants to hurt Lizzie and force her to accept it, and to beg her little sister to tell her how she learned to do that – to fight – but it doesn't really matter, because nobody cares what she thinks. They care what Meg thinks.
Lizzie changes. She doesn't cry about the closet anymore – she sits there and does what she's meant to, just like Meg would, because everybody wants to be Meg. It doesn't come close to working and she really doesn't really think it's meant to, but it makes her wonder what magical type of person Meg must be to inspire this change.
Then one day, wild Lizzie is dragged back from summer camp, having been too wild. She hears the story, about waking up in the counselor's cabin, but Lizzie will not say a word, or move an inch, no matter how many hours she's locked in the damn closet. She is allowed out after half the day, and for the first time in years, Lizzie crawls into Meg's room and cries.
Meg tries not to judge. She doesn't bother.
Grace is different still. Grace has tears in her eyes every time they lock her in there, but does not say a word. Grace is the most pitiful combination of her sisters, as she does not fight like Lizzie used to, or put it out of her mind straight after like Lizzie did now, but she cries afterward like Lizzie used to, and not even Meg and her comforting nature can fix that.
Meg had always seen this, and been enraged and disgusted at her parents for it, but it's the first time she really feels it.
Meg becomes a baby-sitter. Meg needs some extra money and she needs out of her house. She expects to see sweet innocent happy children, to mock her with what she doesn't have, what she can never have. She doesn't. Instead she sees everyone broken around her, perfect puppet-on-strings Edwin (dancing on a string all perfect so much like Meg), or the terrified look in Rodney Goodman's eyes whenever his parents come home (does he have any right to be so scared?)
One night, Grace is locked in the closet. Meg waits for a while, and when her sister's out, Meg comforts her and gives her a hug.
She starts writing an email.
She doesn't quite know what makes her need to sleep with Duncan. There's the obvious, where he is her boyfriend and highly attractive, and Meg is a teenage girl with a healthy libido, but that's not it. She really thinks about her parents and Meg, how much they would hate this (Meg always wanted to wait) and it makes her smile. She leaps into his arms and smothers him with hard kisses, she guesses this is what makes Lizzie so wild, and she barely makes it to his bed.
He tries to slow her down, to make it tender and loving, and Meg wants that, but she'll have none of it, because this isn't Meg's moment, it's hers. She's taking everything she should already have, everything Meg has, and she's doing the taking. She rides him hard and fast and moans loudly, and when she collapses on top of him, it reminds her she exists.
His arms wrap around her tight, and it doesn't make her feel safe like it should. She feels trapped and stifled, because it's dark and she's contained, and her eyes dart around, wondering where she put the book. She forces herself to calm down, and she softly kisses Duncan.
He runs a hand through her hair. "I love you," he whispers, and in that moment, she is whole. She is above Meg, above her smiles and sweetness and good, she is real and feeling and when she pants, the oxygen is going in and out of her lungs, not Meg's. Duncan kisses her again.
"Meg," he starts. "I love you."
She pauses. Of course. Everyone loves Meg. She sighs and looks into his eyes. He means well.
She snuggles closer to him.
She doesn't know why she's even surprised. He didn't love her. She should have seen that long ago. She doesn't doubt for a second that he wanted to love her, that he told himself he loved her, that he tried as much as he could. Duncan Kane was not the type to use someone as sweet as Meg and not have to lie to himself about it.
She avoids Veronica. It's not fair or just, or anything Meg's so famous for being, but it's how she copes with all this. And besides, Veronica doesn't really need her right now, not after Lilly and Aaron and Abel Koontz, not after the millions of people telling her "I knew you were right all along." She trusts Veronica not to buy that, but it does sort of eliminate the need for her.
She wonders if that was what the friendship with Veronica was all about. Trying to ride in and "save" the girl with no friends, abandoned by everyone. It sounds like something Meg would do, adding the Unpopular Girl to the long list of "People Who Think Meg Manning is Awesome."
She frowns. Veronica was her friend. She remembers the purity test, she remembers parties and a hot deputy, she remembers a secret admirer (she tries not to) and she remembers Manila Whore Barbie. Meg might have made Veronica another one on the list, but Veronica was her friend.
She suddenly figures out why she's surprised. It's no shock Duncan didn't love her.
But who didn't love Meg?
She walks by the Dot, where Veronica now works, and she sees Duncan sitting there. The feeling only lasts a second, but it's still the only time in her life that she has genuinely wanted to be Meg.
She is born the day she finds out she's pregnant. It's also the day she storms upstairs, rushing past her whole family, wrenching open the closet and tearing the books apart.
Years and years of I was wrong, God is watching, whatever her parents chose, it turns to wreckage in her hands. She hits and kicks at the door of the closet before she tears again into the books. Her hands are covered in splinters and paper cuts, her whole family cowers away from the clearly mad daughter. Lizzie looks shocked and has arms around poor innocent Grace, whose big eyes fill with tears and terror. It must be petrifying to watch her do this, like watching someone destroy their car with a shovel in a fit of rage petrifying, and she does. Not. Care.
Her father drags her up and throws her in the closet. She can faintly hear Grace sobbing outside, but she beats down the guilt because that is Meg's guilt, and Grace is sobbing over Meg, and that is not her problem.
She doesn't have to write lines, her hands are too cut up. She doesn't mind the blood, because it is red, and red is anger – the anger she has earned, after her parents and sisters, and Duncan and Veronica and the baby, after stupid fucking perfect Meg breathing down her neck with everything she does.
She looks down at the shreds of paper around her, and she feels satisfied for the first time she can remember. She falls asleep in the closet, because it doesn't feel like a prison anymore.
It feels like home.
The school year starts, and she is actually alive. She knows this because people keep asking her if she's okay. She's quite clearly not and she never has been, and with the baby it's worse, but they all see that now, they see her. It doesn't even anger her when people call her Meg now, because now she's not being forced into Meg, Meg is being forced into her and no-one can stop it, because sweet perfect happy Meg is gone and there's nothing they can do about it.
She wonders if Meg will be mourned. She hopes not.
It angers her when she's kicked off the cheerleading team, because that is hers, not Meg's, and just because Meg is gone, she shouldn't lose that. Veronica tries to figure it out and she does not bother helping, because she is still angry damn it. Angry about Duncan and the baby and everything it is completely unfair to blame Veronica for, because she is not fair. She makes accusations and snarks, and she tries to forget how much she and Meg both liked Veronica.
She can't believe it. She's going to die. She was only born a month ago, and this is it. Maybe this is karma, for turning against Meg, for not blending into such a sweet, beloved girl.
The baby. The baby is going to die. Her poor sweet baby who hasn't ever had a chance, the one thing she can love with no reservations, and it has never known Meg. It doesn't take long for her to realize that's not a good thing.
She makes a deal, because she loves her baby. She is wrong and broken and bitter, she is everything Meg is not. Her bargain is simple. I can die in this. But let my baby live. Let Meg live. He needs his mother.
The baby is just like everyone else. He doesn't need her. He needs Meg.
She is not his mother. Meg is.
She was expecting to wake up alone. Or possibly with her family, with their obligations. Maybe even Duncan and Veronica, if they knew the truth and felt guilty, though she can't see how her family would let them be with her.
Who she actually wakes up with? There is no real reason for him to be there.
It only takes a second for her to correct herself.
He's not her, but she can see Beaver slouched over his shoulder the way Meg always was, and it's suddenly important that she not help Beaver with that.
"You're awake," he whispers, and she just nods. She doesn't have the energy to respond, because months-long comas don't do as much for your resting as you'd think. She looks down her body and sees her stomach swelled out in front of her.
He shrugs. "Not exactly expected."
"Why are you here?"
He looks down, and mumbles that he doesn't know. When he looks up again, she realizes he looks as broken and she feels, although she has no idea how he possibly could be.
He can clearly see her feeling as broken as he looks, because in that moment, he looks scared of her. He smiles and squeezes her hand, and says he'll go get a nurse.
It feels like he's the only one who knows she exists.
She feels half-dead and half-hyper alive. The baby makes her scream with pain and her chest is killing her, but she's so woozy she can barely move, and she's pretty sure she's dying.
At least Meg's going with her.
She pities the baby. She does love her son or daughter, and it should be able to grow up with someone sweet and good like Meg for a mother, and if that's not possible, it should have a mother, even a broken one like her.
She can see her mother praying out of the corner of her eye, Lizzie crying again with her arms wrapped around Grace. Her father bites his lip and his face goes red, and she wants to laugh at him, at all of them. She doesn't expect them to waste any time mourning her. They'd be too busy.
She sees a beautiful blonde offer her a hand. "We meet at last," Meg says, and she smiles.
"Hi Meg," she says and takes the hand. "Do you know I hate you?"
Meg nods. "I know," Meg wraps her comforting arms around her other self, and her other self lets her do it. "You made it quite clear."
"I'm kind of a bitter bitch."
Meg draws back from the embrace, and shrugs. "It doesn't matter now. Come on, Megan – we have somewhere to be."
Megan begins to understand why Meg was so loved.