Things are winding to a close. Reviews welcome!

Chapter 12

It's too late. Cat's had a taste of freedom, and no matter how hard Caterina pushes, her other, past—weaker—self, fights back with a ferocity Caterina hates because it belongs to her. Cat's supposed to be weak, the baby girl that needed others to survive, that needed people, that needed her friends.

Caterina's supposed to be stronger than all that.

She stays at Tori's house for the weekend, and when Trina complains, she's deathly afraid that Tori's parents—nice, normal Mr. and Mrs. Vega—are going to ask questions. An hour passes, then another, and finally Tori comes upstairs with a determined smile on her face and tells Caterina that she's free to stay for as long as she needs to.

Caterina doesn't ask if Tori told them. The tears on Tori's cheeks are answer enough.

She refuses to leave the room, just sits there quietly, strumming Tori's beautiful, sleek guitar that the other girl never truly learned how to play. Cat had laughed when Tori had told her that, so flippantly, as if guitars came along freely. Caterina was jealous.

She's not that good—with only a couple lessons with Andre, how could she be?—but the chords are sweet and the way the strings dig into her fingers reminds her that she's still there. She's still sitting in Tori Vega's house, feeling the soft bedsheets around her thighs.

The smallest things make her want to cry. Tori's soft hand on her shoulder, the bright, clean lights that twinkle out when she's supposed to be asleep, the polished, glowing floor.

She closes her eyes to block out the room that looks too much like her fantasy castle when she was little and trying not to think about the smell of dirty clothes she was too small to wash, the rotting food and sound of her mother sobbing over another empty bottle.

But then, when her vision is black, her mind refuses to quiet, choosing instead to replay all the memories. Were things really so bad, back then? She remembers smiling, laughing—not always genuinely, but at least it was laughter.

Saturday dawns and Tori heads off to some community arts program that's sure to impress college admissions at whatever school the star decides to attend. To her credit, the older girl turns and looks at Caterina, and her voice is completely honest when she tells her that she'll stay if Caterina asks.

Caterina doesn't ask.

Her mind tells her that she doesn't want—can't have—company, that her defenses are so weak that any more blows might shatter Cat's prison. Her body, however, doesn't seem to hear, and before she knows it she's out of the house and walking down a too-familiar street.

When Jade opens the door, Caterina's first thought is that the other girl looks completely normal. Annoyed and irritated, but only to the degree that Jade normally was. Her second thought is complete fury. How can her best-friend be so normal after breaking Beck's heart?

Then, Cat forces her to look deeper, and she sees the carefully applied makeup covering the redness around Jade's eyes, the gaunt shadows under the other girl's cheekbones, the lines on her wrists where Jade's fingernails dug too deep and broke the skin.

She's not okay.

Caterina loses the ability to speak. Jade just looks at her, and Caterina knows with complete certainty that the older girl needs comfort, needs Cat to hug her and tell her everything will be alright.

She's already let Cat out once in the last twenty-four hours, and the irony is not lost on her that while the last time it was for Beck, this time it's for the girl that made it necessary for her to find him.

And yet—Jade is her best friend, and Caterina just can't stand there any longer.

The prison shatters, and Cat takes over. Just for a moment. Just enough to wrap Jade in her arms in a hug so fierce that it pushes the girls into the house, the door slamming behind them.

The older girl is thinner than she remembers—Jade's always been slender, but something about the unhealthy boniness of her hips lets Cat know that this isn't natural. Jade is crying into her hair, and Cat lets her, because she's realizing that it's her fault, or, partly her fault at least, that her best friend has lost so much weight.

They don't talk, but Cat lets Jade babble nonsense mixed with curses mixed with emotions that make Caterina fight for control again. But Cat is in control, and she's not giving up her throne, not just yet. The fact that Jade is so vulnerable in her arms just solidifies her determination, and Caterina finds to her dismay that no matter how hard she fights, she's stuck to the barest corners of her own mind.

Or has it been Cat's mind all along?

They end up on Jade's roof. It's a slippery, dangerous perch, but the wind dries their tears and ruffles their clothes, as if promising to sweep away the heartache that has so burdened them for so long. Her parents are out, and Cat is grateful. She knows that Jade doesn't want to see her model of a mom or picture-perfect father at the moment, not when she's lost the edge that gave her who she was apart from the West family's normalcy.

Jade doesn't thank her, but Cat doesn't need her to. The way the other girl leans into her shoulder—as if Cat is strong enough to support both of them—is enough. For Cat, at least.

Then, Jade straightens, and locks Cat in a stare that is suddenly angry. "Why did you go to him first?"

They both know exactly what she means.