A/N: This is dedicated to Pearl (lydiamaartin), who is celebrating her birthday today and is one of the most talented, honest, clever, and generally lovely people that I know. I love you a lot, and I hope you like this and that you have an amazing day!

Warnings: first–person POV, sort of non–linear, a lot of angst, mentions of depression/hopelessness and allusions to unrequited feelings and sex, and possibly confusing because I really don't know what I was trying to accomplish by writing this in the way that I did. So if you finish this and realize you have no clue what you just read, don't worry, because I have no clue what I just wrote.

giving up is not an art

"I want to care, but I don't. I look at you and all I feel is tired. I walk through school and all I want to do is leave. I wake up in the morning and don't know why I'm here. I feel like I'm not real." ––Miracle by Elizabeth Scott

I'm haunted by the knowledge of how things could have been different. It plagues me from time to time, reminders of the obvious now and overlooked then things I could have done to prevent the outcome that resulted resting heavily upon my shoulders, because that's where the blame always lies.

I start sleeping a lot more often to escape these harsh realities, which is surprising considering similar concerns in high school had led to frequent insomnia. The variation between the two worlds is simple – in high school the questions constantly on my mind had been: Who out there who wants to ruin my life? Are the people I love safe? Am I going to revisit chaos tomorrow morning, or will everything have been magically resolved somehow once I get up to face my life? whereas in college, it's more of a troubling statement: I finally know who ruined my life, but I don't know how to deal with it.

The last thought that occurs to me before I close my eyes and attempt to go to sleep is At least when I'm asleep, I won't be tired or scared or stressed or depressed. I won't be anything. Then the more irritating part of my brain voices a fact I already know all too well and want to forget: But everything will still be shitty when you wake up. Nothing about you or your life will have changed.

I go to sleep anyway. When I wake up, sure enough, things are still fucked.

The thing about the truth, as pretentious as it sounds, is that it's a vacuum. It sucks in everything in its path, not differentiating between the bullshit and the real because that categorization is irrelevant. All that matters is whether I happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time to bear the consequences of its wrath. It's a burden, not necessarily pure, and significantly more destructive than lies. It's something that could be chased after for a whole lifetime and regretted in the end when it's discovered since that's how harmful it can actually be. Some people go through their entire lives lying, telling lie after lie to make it through their life until there is no truth left in it at all, and they continuously don't get caught. I know this because I don't know any such people, because if I did, I would know that they were more skilled at lying while maintaining a regular heartbeat than writing their own name on an exam, but of course this isn't obvious in the way they stand or speak or breathe. That's the paradox – as it turns out, life and lies are just fucking full of them.

The thing about my life, as self–explanatory as it may seem, is that I'm not a perfect liar. The absence of feeling in the spaces between where the truth touched me are long forgotten, hardly memorable when taking into account all that turned out to be a lie, but some truths still stand out: the crunching of leaves under my sneakers when I ran in the middle of afternoons in autumn; being alone and yet not lonely and eventually being surrounded by people and yet feeling more lonely than imaginable; a flash of light catching in Spencer's hair on occasion, framing her profile like a halo for a queen. Aside from that, everything I've said and done may as well classify as a lie for all the weight of its believability.

Years ago, Alison had connected the dots unreasonably quickly. She was young but looked so old. It was her eyes, I'd thought at the time. She'd seen too much for her years. Sometimes too much experience happened to be just as bad, if not worse, than none. "Don't look at her like that," she said, tone chastising once Spencer left to go to the bathroom.

"Like what?" I replied hushedly, even though the person I was afraid would overhear was clearly out of earshot.

Alison rolled her eyes, flipped her hair, pretended that she didn't care about my attention no longer being completely and utterly devoted to her. "Like she's the world."

I sat, unmoving but overwhelmed, and acted like I never heard her. It was the only instinctive strategy I possessed to deny the truth, both to her and to myself.

Years later, Alison appears again, barging straight back into our lives like she hadn't even left, and I have to remind her of what she did before she gets too comfortable – still as selfish as ever, she'd turned away, left us to fend for ourselves with less than the bare minimum familiarity with the messes she'd created required to make sense of what exactly we'd gotten roped into. She wasn't there for me when I needed her and when we all needed her. She might as well have never come back. So after a while, when she doesn't comprehend or grasp the extent of her betrayal, I turn my back to her, because that's the way the real world works – and it always has worked that way, but I've been steadily avoiding it, falsifying reality when there's no room for that if living without being victimized by deception is my main goal.

"Don't be like that, Emily," she says evenly, no hints of genuine remorse or repentance offered in the least.

"You weren't there for me. You don't know me. You know how I used to be, and this is the only way I can be now. This is who I am," I reply, exhausted of how forgiving I'm expected to be, how it's consistently been anticipated that apparently my eyes blind to the egocentricity of every person in the universe, whether it's prominently or subtly exhibited, will never be opened. Not anymore.

Alison laughs, condescending. "If you think it'll work out for you by just abandoning me, you're wrong. Spencer's still only looking out for herself."

"So are you," I manage to say before walking away, but it's hardly an escape. If anything, it's just sprinting deeper into a self–made cage.

I really start thinking once the world collapses – it's funny the way that works, with the whole world being built upon the premise of lies, and when the lies fall apart, so does the world they created. And it's not only my world. It's everyone's, since we've all heard the deceptions being administered so much and so often that they've become a part of us, nearly second–nature and ironically more universally accepted than any credible truth – You are not strong enough. You are not good enough. You are absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things.

But thinking, of course, is a dangerous habit, because as a result of it, "How could she do that to us?" immediately turns into "How could we not have seen it?" and then "Who was she?" becomes "Who are we?" because if one of my best friends was a sociopath and I never saw through it or suspected anything even for a second until it was a second too late, then what the hell does that make me? Are Spencer and Hanna and I really any better than her? Even naivety and enduring trust has its limits. I should've known, should've guessed, should've been a bit more questioning – except I wasn't, because that's not the way friendship is supposed to work. If I start playing the blame game, however, there would be no end to it, and I wouldn't make it out unscathed, so I'll leave it at the truth that the real world is exponentially worse than you initially think it is. Optimism and loyalty are just illusions.

I know I've reached a point of no return when even having Spencer and Hanna on each side of me, three bodies curled next to one another on a double bed as we try to allow our minds some rest doesn't help put me at ease. It's nothing more than systematic breaths taken in and let out matching the quiet sound of a thousand more thoughts than go through our heads during the day since there's no words left to say rushing across the walls, the sheets, behind my eyes until I don't know my own name or age or location because my total cognitive process is just a uninterrupted repetition of She lied echoed by My entire life is a lie.

The first time it happens, it's accidental but not exactly on purpose. The second time, it's most definitely on purpose. By the third time, I've stopped thinking about it, because as previously established, thinking can lead to unfavorable assumptions – like this is all just some coping mechanism, which it may very well be, but I don't like calling it that for obvious reasons, so like everything else, I just try not to think to think about it and fail at that objective the majority of the time.

I stretch my legs out, bumping into Spencer's legs that are already outstretched on my side of the bed. I glance over for a moment. Her eyes are open. Hanna is nowhere nearby. It's mentally draining when I have to acknowledge that it was always Spencer – not Hanna, though I love her more than I could ever describe, and not Aria, who I once trusted with my entire life. It was Spencer and everything that came along with her – the fights, the tears, the companionship, the silences. There was no one other than Spencer who could challenge me and simultaneously ground me, no one else to fall into something so intense and nameless with.

"You're awake," I begin blankly, not meeting her gaze, "I thought you fell asleep a while ago."

"Emily," she says slowly, and I brace myself for what's surely coming next, "We can't keep doing this and not talking about it."

"I know."

"So do you want to talk about it?"

"No," I reply softly, because giving up is not an art. It's a default method of surviving.

She doesn't respond, but she keeps coming over. We never talk about it or talk about talking about it again. It should be understandable, because at the end of the day, that's the label we've taken on – no longer individuals with a relationship that is defined by being friends or lovers or both, but two individuals who have been reduced to their mere psychological instability; damaged goods seeking repair and comfort that they'll never find because the promise of that is simply another lie.

A/N: I'd really appreciate reviews, but please don't favorite without reviewing!