“Do you?” I ask. My voice is petulant. Whiny. Childish. But her hand stays on my shoulder. There is weight to it, but not too much. No icy touch, no burning heat. Just a hand, an ordinary hand.
“Yeah,” she says. “I do.”
I turn and look at her. Who knows why. It’s not like that veil she wears will suddenly betray a hint of emotion. “How could you?”
“___,” she says, her voice carrying a firmness born of pain. “I’m not a monster. I’m not heartless. Do you think I don’t miss you, too?”
I blink in surprise at that. The words echo in my ears long after she’s gone silent. Finally, I shake my head. “How could you? Christ, you’re not even real. An undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a shot of Beast.”
The Lady in White leans in and her voice drops to a whisper. There’s an edge to it, but it’s not mean or cruel. It is simply blunt and direct, saying what needs to be said in a manner ensuring it’s actually heard. “And whose fault is that?”
I frown. “Oh, this is my fault? It’s always my fault, huh?”
“If I’m not real, then yes. Whose else could it be?” She tilts her head to the side, punctuating her irritation with playfulness. “Maybe you ought to ask why you’re doing this to yourself.”
“No sense asking questions you already know the answer to,” I say, muttering, spitting the words.
“Why don’t you ever try talking or doing, instead of just thinking?”
“Is this making you happy?”
“Does this make things easier?”
“Is this really how you want to remember me?”
The answer comes instantly. “No. No, never.”
“Then fix it.”
I’m just about to ask how, but again, there’s no sense in asking questions you already know the answers to. Stop hearing her. Listen. Stop seeing her. Look. Stop thinking and talk, act, do anything.
I reach towards her veil, but my hand stops in mid-air. Baby steps. I reach for a her hand instead, feel the smoothness of the gloves, and pull. With a little effort, it gives way, first one and then the other. The straps of the dress next, the patent leather of the heels, lace and silk and leather and jewelery. A cage is a cage no matter what it’s constructed from. A wall remains a wall. A monster can be made from anything.
Blue jeans. A pink and purple shirt under a grey jacket. Hair tied back in a ponytail. She looks at me. She smiles. Lines of happiness at the corners of her mouth, her eyes. It’s funny how there’s so much warmth in the cool blue and green of her heterochromatic eyes.
This is what I want to remember.
This is what I will.
This is what I do.
* * *
My eyes open. It’s morning. A number of things occur to me all at once.
I’m on the floor. Again. The room stinks of vomit. I’m holding a pillow lifted from some bed tightly in my arms. I can feel cold marble underneath me and a high thread count bedsheet on my legs, which means I’m naked.
I took the Beast, hallucinated my balls off, puked everywhere, and fell asleep trying to fuck a pillow. Glorious.
I roll over away from the stench, the pillow left behind and I find my friends standing over me, staring down at me in silence. They are motionless, expressionless, and I can’t decide if I believe that they’re actually there or not. Finally, I say, “Hey” to no one in particular. They murmur in response, and I let out my breath, unaware I’d been holding it.
“So you’re not dead?” Googe asks.
I sit up straight and look around, surveying the destruction that’d been visited upon the villa since I’d taken the Beast the night before, registering every note in the chorus of pain my body is singing me. Broken bones and missing teeth and contused flesh, and none of that even counts the brain cells I’ve surely fried like eggs.
But my heart’s still beating. That’s undeniable. I’m pretty sure it is, anyway.
I shrug my shoulders at Googe. “I guess not.”
Erb sighs, reaches into his pocket, hands Googe a credit chip.