A/N: Thanks to all my readers and reviewers. Enjoy this chapter!
"I told you, she's in my study group!"
"I don't think you can call it a 'group' if there's just two of you!"
"I told you, Benny got held up at work, and Sasha was visiting her grandma!"
"Benny works at a car wash! Was there some sort of car-washing emergency? Perhaps a soap overflow? A vacuum that turned out to be a portal to King Arthur's Court?"
"Jade, he got hit by a Subaru!"
She slammed her locker, but not loud enough. She could have been one of those superheroes in a metal suit, capable of punching through a wall, and it still wouldn't have been enough.
"Why don't you just say what you're really afraid of?" he demanded. "You're afraid that someone is going to steal your boyfriend!"
"Wouldn't you be? If you found your hot boyfriend alone at a café with a girl?"
"We were researching the Holocaust!"
"My jealousy bothers you," she said, turning to face him, hands on hips.
"Everything about this bothers me," he said.
"Well, if I bother you so much, why don't you just leave? Head back to your fancy café and that slut!"
"Jade, Serena Sarris is not a slut," he said.
"And yet she hangs out with other girl's boyfriends. What does one call that, pray tell, if not a slut?"
"Do you remember the part where we were researching the Holocaust? What about Nazis and storm troopers is supposed to be the pipeline to sexy time? No one thinks that's hot!"
"There's got to be someone on the Internet who does."
"Jade, there's a billion people on the Internet who think those cat pictures are cute! There's somebody for everything!"
"Or for everyone!"
"What is your point?"
"You wanted to spend time with another girl instead of me."
"To research the Holocaust!"
She shook her head. "I don't want to talk about this."
"Oh, great. That'll make things better. Let's just stuff this under the rug and we'll never talk about it again."
"You want to talk about it?"
"No, I want you to stop being so jealous! You're such a heartless bitch!"
She stared at him for a moment. Rage was boiling in her veins, which once upon a time she might have considered to be hyperbolic drivel, but which now she understood painfully. She felt hot, heat radiating from the tips of her toes to the ends of her hair.
And he just stood there calmly, waiting for her to say something back, spitting more anger so he could deal with it in his cool-guy way.
She wasn't going to let him have that satisfaction.
Instead of speaking, she simply turned and walked away. Stomped, really.
Stomped all the way home. Cars went by on the street, honking at her when she wove into traffic, drivers cussing her out from behind their steering wheels. But their words were slippery, instead of the barbs they intended.
Not like Beck's words.
She was in a cocoon now, wire and cotton and glass wrapped around her body to keep her safe. Safe from words, safe from Beck, safe from Holocaust research, safe from girls who studied at a café, safe from Subarus and car washes and fights and everything. Safe.
She was safe all the way home, all the way up the stairs, all the way into her bedroom. Safe as she took off her boots, safe as she put her backpack on the bed. Safe as she opened the drawer where she kept all her favorite scissors and knives and blades.
She was so safe, cradled so gently in that cocoon of invisible wire and softness, inside a world yet looking out. Safe as she thought no more of Beck, no more of Cat, no more of school or birthdays or Sikowitz or college, safe as she thought of nothing but ending everything that had ever caused her pain. No more barbed words, just safety. No more arguments, just safety. No more jealousy, just safety. No longer a heartless bitch, just somebody safe.
And in her head she was safe right up until her very last conscious thought.
Safe with a blade in her hands and blood on her jeans and her whole life slipping away, safe, safe, safe the whole time.
It was when she woke up that she wasn't safe.
Her chest hurts, and someone is screaming.
"Jade," Stella says. "Jade."
She sucks in another breath and realizes it's her, it's her doing the screaming. Her chest hurts like she's been running for hours, and her throat feels raw. The room is spinning around her, all of Stella's obviously carefully-chosen furniture and furnishings, such lovely vases and flower prints and –
And if she's going to die, going to die for real now, it's going to be in this lovely room. Do people die from screaming? It seems like it could be dangerous. No air getting to the brain…
And she takes in another breath, and with that she feels something settle in the pit of her stomach. The flower prints on the wall are no longer looking at her like evil Fantasia escapees, the vases no longer going to jump up and drown her.
"Jade. I want you to know that I'm here for you, whenever you come back."
Stella's voice is way too calm. Did they teach her that at her fancy hypnotherapy school?
"I understand that you must have been through some terrible things, and I apologize if anything we're doing here has triggered some poor memories."
Poor memories. It sounds like something someone's grandmother says.
"Jade, do you feel safe right now?"
No, I'm screaming because everything is going exactly the way I want.
And then one of the screams turns into a hiccup, the hiccup into a word. "Beck."
"Back? You're back with us?"
Another hiccup-word. "Beck."
Stella looks down at her clipboard. "You're talking about Beck. Your boyfriend who came to your session with Dr. Shrude."
"He still…" – she hiccups – "… he still cares."
She reaches up for her necklace, the one they took off her as she was brought up to the psych ward. It still feels like it's there. Is that part of the hypnosis?
"Well, of course he still cares," Stella says. "I'm going to count backwards from five, and when I say 'one,' you will feel more relaxed. Five…"
How could he still care for me after all of this?
He came all the way up here.
Even though he was the reason I did this.
I'm sick of thinking that everything he does is some sort of puzzle.
So he really does care.
"Jade, what are you thinking about?" Stella asks.
"That sometimes Holocaust research is just… Holocaust research."
And it doesn't bother her that Stella has no way of understanding what she means. With her fingers pressing the spot on her neck where the charm of her necklace would lay, it feels like Beck's in the room. It feels like he can hear her admit that she was wrong.
She knows it's not enough, that she'll actually have to talk to him next time. Really talk, not just fling accusations around or try to find the words that will hurt him the most.
She's spent far too much time doing that lately. There are other words.
She's going to start with "I'm sorry."