345 Days Ago
I don’t think it’s too much for me to say I nearly peed myself. In fact, the nearly qualifier might be a vast overestimation of my coolness under pressure.
Yes, had my stupid, obsessive act not drawn Paragon into a private place so he could be killed, you might be reading another blog article about the several hundred people he saved this week. Instead, you’re hearing about my bladder control problems when confronted with his killer, the girl who I thought had been my friend, figuring out I had been there.
“Savvy?” Aldridge had clearly been saying my name a few times as I privately lost every single ounce of my mind. Was brainpower measured in ounces?
As my mind inexplicably drifted, he repeated himself, “I said, you hungry? We could go get some pizza or something. Or we could get a cheeseburger, if you feel carnivorous.”
I wasn’t looking at him. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from Gesmine, who was still standing over there just staring at me. She said nothing, mouthed nothing else, but she had made it clear already. She knew. And the fact that she knew wasn’t going to go away, no matter how much I wished it would.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t known this confrontation was coming. I just hadn’t expected it to be this soon. I needed more time to plan out what I was going to say, how I was going to confront her. This was all wrong. And yet, she just kept standing there, clearly waiting.
And Aldridge still needed an answer.
“No.” I said, trying to stop the tremor in my voice. I couldn’t run off to get food with him, as much as a part of me wanted to keep Aldridge right next to me for the next three hundred and seventy meals, at least, just on the assumption that Gesmine wouldn’t try anything while I was with company.
But I couldn’t take that kind of risk. Whatever was going to happen now that she knew that I’d seen what she did, it had to be between her and me. No matter how terrified that made me.
You know what? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that being afraid that the person that should be one of your two best friends in the world is going to kill you or your family is one of the absolutely worst feelings that I will ever experience. Not that I haven’t felt some pretty bad stuff, but emotionally, that was something in a completely different league.
“I’ve got plans with Ges.” I said quietly. “We have… girl things to talk about.” Oh god, I hoped she wouldn’t kill me. Please let me survive the next few minutes.
Something in my voice made Aldridge frown. “Sav, you okay? Is something going on between you two?”
“No.” My voice broke and I had to cough. “No, it’s just personal stuff. Trust me; you don’t want to know about it. But I’ll catch you later.” I tried to sound confident about that. “Like I said, it’s girl stuff. Icky, icky girl stuff. Run, flee while you can before we mention things you don’t want to hear.”
“Uh huh. Okay then.” Aldridge finally shrugged. It was clear that he still thought something screwy was going on, but he backed off. “Give me a call, and try picking up your pudding once in a while so stuff like this doesn’t happen.” He tugged at the sleeve of the letter jacket. “You used up all of your luck for the next century getting this thing. Now you’re all out.”
If I hadn’t been so distracted, I might have made a remark about how clearly all of that had to be my fault. Then he would have said something else that made me laugh. Instead, I stayed quiet until he walked away, all while I stared at Gesmine and tried to force myself not to faint.
To this day, I have no idea how I did what came next. It was the most difficult, terrifying thing I had ever done up to that point. Going into that restaurant with those thugs and rescuing Kacey was cake compared to this.
I took a step forward. Then I took another, and then a third. I kept putting one foot in front of the other, closing the distance between the two of us. The physical distance, at least. The vast gulf that stood where the trust between us had once been might as well have been an impassable expanse.
Sooner than I expected, we were standing face to face. Her expression hadn’t changed. She still watched me with that calculating look, like there were things she still wasn’t sure about, even if a large question had been answered.
“Ges,” I started to speak with no idea of where the sentence was going to end, “we should talk.”
Rather than speak, her head dipped into a simple nod. Then Gesmine turned and began to walk away. She was heading for the field behind the school, the one we used to cut through to get to the mall more easily. We went all the time, a couple of months and a couple of lifetimes ago.
I stood still, a not insignificant part of me wanting nothing more than to run as far as I could in the opposite direction. Maybe never stop running. It would be easier than what I was about to do.
Instead, I followed her. Maybe it was stupid, but in spite of everything, I wanted to see what she said. I had to hear it from her. And, to be honest, I didn’t see the benefit of running away from a girl who could break the sound barrier with a brisk jog. If she wanted me there, I was going. I’d rather just do it under my own power. Call it stupid pride.
For a few minutes, we walked in silence through the overgrown field. We were parallel, but not quite side by side. I deliberately left a couple of feet of space between us. Not that it would have mattered, considering Gesmine’s speed, but it made me feel marginally better.
Even standing that close to the girl who had been my friend for so long made me feel sick, betrayed, and angry. How could she have done this? How could she have become this person? Had she always been this sick and I was just too blind to notice?
It was she who finally spoke up, breaking the silence. “We have a lot to talk about.”
Bile twisting in my mouth, I took three quick steps ahead and pivoted to face her. “Is that right?” I was angry now, my worry and fear and disgust with her transforming into fury. “What would you like to talk about, Whiplash?”
She winced, just a little, but didn’t look away. Her gaze continued to meet my own. “We need to talk about what happened to you.” She kept her voice steady. “And about what you’ve done since then.”
“Or?” I couldn’t keep the slightly high pitched tone out of my voice. “Or what? Let me guess, I tell you everything you want to know, or you do to me what you did to him? No, wait, you still might need me. What, you’ll threaten my parents? Or Aldridge? Where’s the line, Ges? How low are you willing to go? How fucking twisted are you?”
After getting all of that out, I finally forced myself to look at her once more. I expected anger, or maybe amusement that she had upset me so much.
Instead, I saw confusion. Gesmine stared at me, her mouth open partway. “You… think I would hurt you?”
“I think you’d kill me!” My voice went up into a squeal, but I didn’t care. “Just like you killed him! Just like you killed Paragon for his power.”
She was still staring as if she had no idea what I was talking about. I couldn’t believe she was going to play it this way. I didn’t understand it. “Savannah,” she started.
I didn’t let her finish. “I saw you!” I stepped forward and, heedless of every possible risk, gave her a hard shove. All of the confusion I’d felt since I’d realized who was under that mask boiled up and I shoved her so hard she stumbled backward. “I saw you stab him! I saw you stab him over and over and over! I heard you talking about taking his power! I was there! I heard every sick word! You’re sick! How dare you!? And now you’re gonna what, gonna kill me to shut me up? We were friends! You just–You’re–” My hand lashed out to punch her, the anger completely overwhelming my common sense.
She could have avoided it. I knew that. I expected that. Avoided it, or blocked it, or punched me six times before my punch came near her. What happened was the one thing I did not expect: she took it. My punch knocked her head to the side, and I felt an immediate pain shoot through my fist. Turns out punching someone like that hurt, a lot. Especially when I’m not borrowing a master martial artist’s skills at the time.
There was a red mark on Gesmine’s face where I had punched her. Blood played over her split lip, and she continued to stare at the ground, face turned away from me from the force of the blow. She didn’t even bother to touch her lip, even though I knew it had to hurt. Maybe even hurt as much as my hand did.
“You believe that.” Her voice sounded hollow. “You believe that I would do that. You think I’m going to hurt you, that I… could hurt you.”
“What?” I rubbed my sore hand, unable to stop the tears that came forth unbidden. “I saw you do it, Ges! I saw it! You’re Whiplash, you killed Paragon!” Even in the empty field, I kept my accusation to a hissed stage-whisper.
The expression on Gesmine’s face when she turned back to me was not that of someone guilty at being caught. It was not even anger. It was despair. She looked completely broken that I believed that about her, as if my believing she had murdered Paragon was the worst thing that had ever happened to her.
“Savannah,” she spoke in a halting, pleading voice. “Listen to me. I know this is a lot to take in, I know. But you have to listen for just a second. There’s something out there, something that’s been infected people. It makes them act different, makes them do evil things and they don’t even remember doing them. I know, it’s… you don’t believe me. You can’t believe me, but–”
My throat caught. “The shadow thing.” I said, and her eyes rose to meet mine. “You mean the oil creature.”
“How do you–” Ges started to ask before she realized. “You’ve seen it. You know about it.”
My mouth opened and then shut. I closed my eyes before opening them. “You’re saying you were possessed. That it wasn’t you.” I had to blink away tears then, staring at the other girl. “How can I believe that? You could be lying. You could know all about the girl who saw that creature, if you’re working with it, and now you’re using it to make yourself look innocent.”
I wanted her to have an answer I could believe. I had never wanted anything more in my life, but I didn’t dare hope. “How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
For a long moment, Gesmine stood silently in front of me. I saw a torrent of emotions cross her face. There were words she wanted to say, pleas she wanted to make. When she finally spoke, it was in a low, quiet voice and she never broke my gaze. “You don’t. You don’t know, Savannah. I can tell you that I could never, ever hurt you. Not you. I could tell you that I… that you are incredibly important to me. I could tell you that I would rather die than have you look at me like you’re looking at me now. But I can’t prove it. I can do a lot of things, Savvy, but I can’t make you magically trust me again.”
“I can’t prove it. Some things you have to take on faith.”
We stared at one another, the silence that fell after her last words stretching out. Her eyes were locked onto mine, and she made no move, made no sound. She was waiting for my choice.
Paragon was never coming back. Superheroes or not, this wasn’t a comic book. Dead meant dead. But worse than the death of my hero, my obsession, had been the betrayal of my best friend. Not just a personal betrayal, but a betrayal of everything and everyone. She hadn’t hurt me, she had destroyed my faith in her and thus in everything. Yes, I had begun to move on, had even done some good. But the betrayal, the evil that I had seen in her and thus in everyone, had become a knot of depression deep in my soul. It had whispered to me at night for weeks now. If my best friend could do this, then what good was anyone else?
And now she’d asked me to choose whether I believed that what happened wasn’t really her. I had to choose to believe, or choose not to. There was really no way of testing, or of being certain. Ges was right, I had to act, had to choose, based on faith.
Then I realized that the choice wasn’t hard at all. Not when I thought about it, because this was one of two worlds. Either it was a world in which my best friend was still a person I could trust, or it was a world in which she had killed before and would kill me. One world I would have my friend back, and in the other, I would die.
But I only wanted to live in one of those worlds anyway.
My arms were around Gesmine before I knew what I was doing. A gasp of surprise escaped her, escaped my friend, and then she was hugging me in return. The sick feeling in my stomach that I’d been holding onto for so long dissolved and I clung tighter, closing my eyes against the tears.
I’d made my choice. Maybe it would be the wrong one. Maybe I would regret it. But it was the only choice I could possibly make and still be able to live with myself afterward. It was the choice that I had to make, the one that the real heroes make every time they put on their mask and go out to risk their lives just to help other people, just to make the world a tiny bit better in spite of everything. Because belief isn’t always a matter of measuring evidence. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of choosing between two possible outcomes.
I chose to believe my friend.