Disclaimer: I own nothing, nothing at all.
My blood freezes in my veins, thickens to sludge. My heart thuds painfully, trying to push the slush through my body. My tongue's glued to the bottom of my mouth, paralysed with all the words it wants to shape, all the excuses and the angry questions and the terrified pleas and the casual dismissals.
Mom sucks on the glowing cigarette in her fingers, end burning brighter. It's quiet enough to hear the paper burning, a soft sound like tickling, whispering. There's a coiled calmness in her body, like she's a snake waiting to strike. I don't know how to play this. I don't know whether I should be puffing out my chest and bluffing my way through with bravado. Maybe I should be cowering, reminding her of that little girl who did the same, every night she came home drunk and pissed about something. Maybe I should be angry, demanding how it's any of her fucking business. I'm cycling through all the characters I should be, all the different costumes I don to get what I want, and I can't find a single one that fits. Because I don't want anything from her, I just want to get away from her. I just want to close my eyes and pretend I'm still in that room with Cat, holding her hand. That I'm at Carly's, and this past year has all been a bad dream.
The cigarette's burnt down to Mom's yellow-stained fingertips by now, and she twists it out on the letter. I watch my name go up in flame with a wince, eaten away by the last gasp of the cigarette before it's nothing but dead ash. She pulls herself to her feet unsteadily. She'll always be taller than me, always tower over me. I got my shortness from my dad. At least, that's what I've always been told. It's just another thing wrong with me. Not smart enough, not fast enough, not strong enough, not tall enough. Not straight enough.
I can see Mom mumbling words in her mouth, jostling them about, searching for the sharpest ones that'll do the most damage. "Fucking dyke." She settles on. It's a whipcrack off her tongue, and she follows it up with another lash. "Did you think I wouldn't fucking find out?" She takes a step forward, leg bumping against the low coffee table. "You've had her here." She hisses, the words slipping between her teeth. She takes a wheeze of a breath, straightening. "You had that- that slut in here." I choke back the vitriol that stings my throat. Her calling Cat a slut... that's something I hear in my own voice, something I thought bitterly the night after I met her. Something I thought to make that first kiss mean nothing. Mom's voice isn't so different from mine. "Everyone always said to me that you were no good, that Melanie was the only one worth keeping. She was the one that was supposed to be born. You were just a mistake. That's why we sent Mel away-"
"You didn't send her away, Mom-" I break in, unable to stay silent. "They took her away. They took her away because of how shitty a Mom you are."
"Then why did they leave you?" She sneers the words I used to whisper to myself every night, and they sound just as painful out loud. "I knew you weren't no good. I said to myself, my Sammy might be a criminal, and she might be dumb as a post, but at least she's-" Her lip curls, gaze falling to the scorched note. "At least she's not a dyke."
My teeth clench, muscles taut in my jaw. My hands have curled into fists without my noticing, a dull throb in the stiff joints. I want to fight her, to throw her words back in her face. But she's right. She's always right. I'm everything I'm afraid to be, and she names my fears every time I walk through that door. I was the monster under Melanie's bed, and I was forced to come out once that bed was cold and empty. I swapped the bed for the closet. I changed the setting but not the situation. I'm still hiding, still cowering, hoping I won't be found. I was never meant for the light. I was a mistake, and I'd fix that if I could. But not for her. Not for Mom. I'm a mistake, but I'm not hers. A monster doesn't hide, it doesn't shut itself away. I'm not the monster here, she is. I'm only just starting to realise she's another fear I can't face.
"Why did you go into my room?" I say the words quietly, spacing them out between my heartbeats. Slowing them down doesn't seem to help. It only makes the shaking in them that much more obvious.
She ignores the words, table screeching as she moves forward, shoving it out of the way. "Did that slut do that to your back?"
"Did you let her scratch you up?" She's close enough now that I can smell her breath, sour with whatever she's drank. She smells like ash and anger. "What, you think I didn't see you this morning? You think the whole world doesn't already know what you are, what you do? They know, Sam. They know what you are." Mom sneers. She's a vulture, looming over me, just waiting for the chance to pick my bones clean. I'm almost dead, almost. She just needs to wait. To keep squawking until I no longer twitch. "Show me." It's a wheeze of a whisper. Her fingers pluck at my shirt.
"Mom, no." I slap her hand away. "You can't do this."
"I can do whatever the fuck I like. You're my daughter, and you're mine." Her voice is growing louder, getting more hysterical. "Show me what she did."
I push her hands away again, almost tripping over my feet. My anger is running a race with my fear, and they're neck and neck. "Mom, sto-"
The back of her hand cracks into my face, driven with all the wiry strength she possesses. My head's wrenched to the side, breath choking in my throat, mid-word. There's a sharp twisting twinge in my cheek, followed by a hot gush of blood, heavy and metallic on my tongue. My teeth have cut the inside of my cheek open. The thought registers dully, a whisper beneath the clanging in my head. I'm dazed for a moment, stumbling back against the wall, bloody sputum on my lips. It's enough time for Mom to twist me around, bony fingers tearing at my shirt. The sound of ripping forces its way into my ears, nails scraping my shoulder. There's a pause in the assault, an intake of breath. She's seeing the marks I was so proud of; Cat's dainty handwriting. And then she's yelling at me, loud, angry words I can't make sense of yet. The heavy ring on her hand glints ruby at me. She must've cut my cheek open, too.
I try to make the world swim back into focus, to make it stay still instead of wavering. My hands are scraping on the wall, trying to find some hold as my knees tremble and fail. Mom's hand slams into my shoulder, jarring it against the wall and spinning me back towards her. My knees hit the thin carpet hard, any noise of pain spat out as blood. My arms raise protectively as her hands beat at my head, wingbeats compared to the slap she gave me. There's something angry and growling inside me, something hot and burbling. It's yowling its way ever higher until it chokes me. Every 'slut' my mother spits out, every 'whore' she calls Cat, every drunken word that burns its way out like bile. I'm trying to slow my breathing, to stop the quick sobs of breath that are fanning this flame higher. I'm trying to remember what it is Ruben said to do in situations like this, but he didn't say a fucking thing. I never told him about this, I never tell him about anything.
My eyes are shut tight, knees aching from their awkward position. I'm bowed but not yet broken. My insides are cracking and splitting, red spiderwebs of heat licking their way through me. Finally the fissures find my skull, slipping warm fingers of lava into my brain. Molten rock grips the root of my tongue, forces my jaw open, and the noise that pours out isn't me, isn't an entreaty or a challenge, it's the sound of an explosion. Of something ripping, tearing. It's the sound of my soul sundering.
I can't take it anymore. Any of it.
I'm on my feet in one raw movement, my hands gripping Mom's wrists so tight I can feel the joints and bones slip under my fingers. She lets out a grunt, her slew of slander silenced.
"Stop it." The words grind their way out from behind my gritted teeth, flecks of blood and spit spraying with them.
There's a curl in Mom's lips. Disdain. But I can see the fear in her eyes, fighting with the anger, the alcohol. "Get out." Her voice is calmer, lower. "Get out of here."
My hands release her wrists, arms falling limply to my sides. The fire's fading from my veins, cooling and hardening back into stone.
"I told you before, I wouldn't have a dyke under my roof."
"This dyke is your daughter." The words are broken glass in my already bleeding mouth.
"Not anymore. You were a mistake, and I'm finally correcting you. You're not my daughter. You're nothing." Mom straightens, trying to regain a semblance of dignity, but the screaming has left her voice raw and ragged. A croak in her throat. "I took care of you for all these years, I raised you. Nursed you when you were sick, and this is how you repay me? I did my best, I did all that any mother could-"
An insane urge to giggle rises in me, at the very absurdity of her statement. She didn't take care of me, she didn't raise me at all. She never cared when I was sick, it was always me nursing her, stealing cough syrup from the pharmacy and trying to heat up chicken soup on the broken stove.
"No, you didn't." It's a helpless refutation. There's no anger in my voice, just... exhaustion. I'm tired of my life, I'm tired of everything slipping through my fingers, no matter how hard I try to grip it. I'm tired of being a Puckett, and all that comes with that. I'm tired of being the shadow of my Mom, always lesser, always having to follow in her footsteps. I'm tired of her looming over me, controlling my every action when she's not even in control of her own. I'm tired of having to fit someone's mold.
Mom's arms cross, a gesture of finality. "I want you out, and I want you out now. I won't have something like you-" Her eyes skim over me like razorblades. "-under my roof."
The blood's still pooling in my mouth, heavy and metallic with every thick swallow. My teeth cut deep, but there isn't much pain. My cheek is still numb and hot. I'm trying to think of something to say, something to take the morality out of her posture, the superiority. But there's nothing. There's never been anything. Her thoughts have been mine for so long, it's hard to refute them.
My shoulders drop. "I don't need you." The words come out wet. "I don't need anyone." I swallow again, blood in the back of my throat. "You want me gone? I'm gone." There's an echo of a snarl in it, the last of the fire I can summon, before it too turns to ash. I'm gone.
I go back out the way I came, trying to convince myself that the prickling in my eyes is just from the pain, the shock of her attack. The discarded tourniquet is still in the elevator, coiled in the corner. I wish for a moment that I had a syringe, that the rubber band was gripped between my teeth, pulling it tight around my arm. I wish there was something I could inject to make everything go away. I think about it for a moment, about going to one of the dealers that lives in the building. About knocking on their door, my clothes spattered with blood from where it's drooled from my mouth, and hoping they'll take pity on me. But that's just a temporary fix. It's just a bandaid, and I've been sticking them on every problem I've ever had. Now they're getting ripped off, one by one. No, I couldn't stand being so high, so euphoric, only to have to come back to this. I wouldn't pick forgetting this for a moment, because remembering it again would only make it so much more painful.
It's cold outside, and I hug my arms to me. My knuckles throb. All of me throbs. My cheek is starting to ache. I probe the cut cautiously with my tongue. The edges are ragged, the taste of blood stronger. I grimace, spitting onto the pavement. The bleeding is stopping, gradually. I hunker down next to the entrance of the building, cold bricks at my back. There's a strange hollowness inside me. I figure it'll be like my cheek. Numb for a while, and then the pain will slowly creep in. I put a hand to my swollen cheek, fingertips brushing away some dried blood. Mom's ring. It doesn't feel like it needs stitches, not that I could afford them anyway. My hands lower to rest on my knees.
I don't know what to do.
A/N: Reviews are always appreciated, especially if they're just keysmashes of painful emotion. But even more so if they're words expressing things. The more reviews I get, the more likely I am to update (because I copy and paste my chapters together from reviews).