I’m napping — more out of boredom than actual tiredness — when a heavy object drops onto my stomach. I lurch forward, winded and clutching the strange item. A figure stands beside my bed and I nearly scream before recognizing Brie’s unimpressed face staring down at me.
“Brie! What the hell are you doing!?”
“Waking you up. The door was unlocked,” she says, putting her hands on her hips, “It’s two in the afternoon and you’re not even dressed.”
“I was taking a nap,” I say, as if this also explains my state of dress. I look down and realize that the thing I’m clutching is my missing purse, “I didn’t think I’d ever see this again. How’d you guys get it?”
Brie sits on the edge of the bed, tucking her dark curls behind her ears. Her composure and tidy appearance contrast starkly with my own messy hair and mismatched pyjamas.
“Yagher gave it to me,” she says, as if that makes perfect sense.
“Yagher?! What if he’s put something in it that he can track? It’s obviously a trick,” I throw it across the room like a ticking time bomb.
“We checked it of course,” Brie laughs, retrieving the purse and shoving it back into my hands, “There’s nothing magical in there. And we got rid of the cell phone, just in case. Harvey stopped in out of the blue and asked to talk to me. He told me that he wasn’t sure whether I’d see you again, but on the off chance that I did he wanted me to give this to you and to say he was sorry. He doesn’t understand your decisions, but he’s going to leave you out of it. He’s only after Hunter, so you don’t have to worry about getting arrested or whatever.”
“Yeah, right,” I say, certain that there’s some sort of deception here, “There’s no way Marle would forgive me for getting the best of him like that. And for helping Mirena escape.”
“Maybe. But he’s not Marle, he’s Harvey. He really seemed like he felt bad about it.”
“Oh no, don’t you dare Brie!”
“I’m not trying to set you up, Selene,” I squint at her suspiciously and she throws her hands up in the air, “Honestly! I just think that maybe he’s as mixed up in all of this as the rest of us. You’ve given everyone else a second chance, maybe he’ll come around too.”
“Maybe,” I look down at the leather bag in my lap. Is he really trying to help me? Does this mean I can actually leave this stupid apartment? Fear and hope mingle painfully in my crowded heart.
I open the purse and begin cataloguing my belongings to distract myself. Brie is chewing her lip; she’s thinking about something she doesn’t want to say. I probably know her little quirks and tells as well as Grant does.
“What is it?”
She turns her head away. “Selene, I saw what’s in the bag.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask as my hand closes around the small cylinder of a pill bottle.
“You haven’t been taking them have you?” Brie knows I used to be on meds, that I haven’t needed them in a while. She was probably surprised when she saw that I had a newly filled prescription.
“My doctor said I didn’t have to. It was after your party and he thought I might need them,” the skin around my knuckles is turning white and I can feel the ridged lid biting into my palm.
“Selene, I’m not your doctor but… I think maybe it might be best if…” her voice is gentle and concerned. Brie never talks to me this way and I squirm uncomfortably.
“I’m fine,” my voice is firm and sharper than I intend; I’m angry at myself for worrying Brie, for letting her see me like this.
“You’re not,” she is louder now, more confrontational, “You haven’t been okay for a while now. I’ve seen you like this before, remember? Nothing interests you. You spend all day in bed. I can tell you’ve been crying when I come to visit.”
“I can handle it. I don’t need a fucking crutch anymore. I’m tired of being so weak and useless, the least I can do is keep my own shit together.” I wonder if she can tell that I’m not talking to her. Not really.
“Weak and useless?!” Brie pushes herself up from the bed, turning on me. She’s almost shouting now, “You always do this, Selene. When you screw up or something doesn’t work out the way you want, you can’t stop blaming yourself. Do you ever actually stop and think about the things you’ve done? Do you let yourself have credit for anything? You fought a fucking hell beast and a psychopath to save my life and you think you’re weak?! You gave up your dreams to save a stranger bleeding on the side of the street! Then you go and forgive the guy who caused the whole mess in the first place! Do you know how many people are alive because of you? If you’re so useless I guess it doesn’t say much about what they’re worth does it?”
“Brie, that’s not what I…” I’m crying. Again. How can she not see how weak I’m being right now? How much I’m hurting the people around me?
“The only person you never help is yourself. Just take the pill, Selene,” she’s no longer shouting but I wish she were. Then maybe I could be angry back, maybe then I could argue with her. All I can do now is look up at her, this beautiful and powerful woman, and think about how much I wish I could be like her. How much it hurts to realize that the only way I can be as confident and controlled as her is to fuck with my brain chemistry. Like cheating to keep up with the class.
“I… I can’t,” I can barely speak through my sobs. I drop my head into my hands, letting the pill bottle fall onto the bed where it rolls to the ground with a clatter. There’s a knock at the door and Brie storms away to answer it.
I can hear Hunter’s voice. Brie says something about needing to get some fresh air and something sarcastic about him being able to help. I hear the door slam as she leaves. All I can think is that I don’t want Hunter to see me like this. I push my purse onto the floor and pull my knees up, hugging them close to me as I lean my forehead down onto my arms.
I hear his careful footsteps as he enters my room and then the rattle of pills as he picks up the bottle from the floor. More footsteps, moving away this time, followed by the faucet being turned on in the kitchen. When he returns, I feel the mattress sink under his weight as he sits beside me on the edge of the bed. We remain in silence for several minutes before I finally peek over the side of my arm. In one hand he holds my prescription and in the other is a large glass of water. He stares at the small window on the opposite wall until he notices me watching him.
“The meeting with Victor went well,” he says casually, “So far he seems to want to support us. He even put forward some good ideas, though I can’t be sure what his real intentions are.”
“I’m sorry you had to see me like this,” I whisper, imagining what a wreck I must look with my tear-filled eyes and my face red from crying.
“I’m sorry I didn’t realize it had gotten so bad. If you needed a new prescription we could have gotten you one.”
I shake my head, “I went so long without it. I don’t want it all to be for nothing, to go back to being that weak person again.”
“Selene, you’re not weak. You’ve been through a lot — anyone would be struggling to cope. If your doctor gave you the prescription he clearly thought it was reasonable that you might need it.”
“You’ve been through worse and you don’t need it.” I wish I was as strong as you.
“Do you really think I’ve come this far without help? You think I could go from being what I was to who I am now without support? When I saw what you did for Yagher I was confused and scared. It took over a year of travelling and talking to people to sort things out. I sought out philosophers and scientists, trying to understand humanity and the world around me. And I sought out doctors and therapists, trying to understand what was going on inside my own head. I couldn’t have done this without them,” he tilts his head a little, a few red locks falling past his grey eyes, to look into my face. He’s so confident and gentle that I can’t imagine him behaving as pathetically as I am now.
“But what you’ve been through Hunter, it’s different. I struggled long before any of this.”
“Selene, you’re depressed — your body makes life harder for you than it should be. Struggles don’t make people weak, they make them strong. And you came this far after a past full of abuse. There’s nothing shameful in admitting you need help, especially not after that,” his strong voice is comforting and yet I can’t give in. He doesn’t know the truth, the words I’ve left unsaid. I don’t want to tell him, but I feel so convinced of my own inadequacy that I need him to see it as well.
“Hunter, you don’t even understand. I didn’t tell you everything.” Sobs wrack my body and hot tears blur my vision. I wipe the them away and, before new ones come to take their place, I can see the confusion distorting his face.
“What didn’t you tell me?” I want him to sound angry, to accuse me, but he’s as calm as ever.
“He never… he never hit me, Hunter. Never hit either of us. Not once.” My breaths sting my throat and I feel like I’m going to vomit. I watch as he slowly sets the water and pills on the table beside my bed.
“That doesn’t mean he didn’t abuse you, Selene,” his voice is in my ear, his arms holding me close as one hand strokes my hair. He leans his head into mine. Is it possible that he has remained when so many others have walked away?
“I wanted him to hit me so badly,” the confession slips out before I can staunch it, something I’ve never told anyone, “People would care then. They’d understand. You can’t call the police when your father tells your mother she’s garbage, that she’s worthless without him. No one fights for you when he calls you a slut because you were out late with a boy. When he tells your family made up stories about you because you stood up to him. They all just say ‘at least he doesn’t hit you.’ When I told people I was abused they stood behind me, but the moment they found out he hadn’t touched me…”
“You’re so strong,” he says and I can’t breathe, “You carried it on your own for so long. You forged your own path, even when everyone told you it was wrong, and then gave it up to save someone else. And despite all that you still have the strength to be there for everyone. To offer me help when you barely knew me.”
I wrap my arms around his shoulders and hold him close, wanting so badly for his words to be true. Wishing I could be as strong as he thinks I am.
“It’s your choice how you move forward Selene, but know that asking for help isn’t weakness,” he whispers in my ear, “And… sometimes, taking care of yourself is one of the bravest things you can do.”
I pull away to look into his storm-cloud eyes and then turn to examine the water and pills sitting on the table. I reach for them but hesitate. I grab the cell phone beside them instead. He’s right, I need help to move forward. I dial Dr. Maharta’s number. As the phone rings I realize that what Hunter and I have experienced here is something altogether different than the visions we’ve shared. A connection that’s somehow even deeper than magic.
When the receptionist greets me he holds my hand tightly and I know that, somehow, I am ready to let myself heal.