Leading up to August 4th, 2020.

This is what’s known as a flash-forward. Many of these scenarios and concepts have not been yet introduced to you. Be patient. This eventually becomes a flashback within a flashback within a flash-forward. I’ll try to keep it organized.

2020 was a rough year for everyone. As I write this, I’m speaking of it in past-tense, hoping it will catch the hint and die already.

Only days before, Ash had pounded my door as if it were a masochistic twink. I opened it, shaking– the entire household had agreed not to have any serious conversations, to just pack, then move somewhere safe to lick our wounds. Yet here they were here, snapping, “It was my idea to move AJ here?”

Well. “Yeah.” That was the entire point. AJ would move in with all of us, with four separate incomes to support their missing portion. I certainly wouldn’t have suggested it. Even with AJ being homeless, I doubted my ability to be able to support us both until they got a job. In fact, I was doubting myself with a lot lately.

“No, I suggested it.”

What’s the difference? Their tone was sharp; they were angry. I had been venting to Asra just moments before, about my frustration that AJ was being used as a reason for me not to commit suicide. AJ needs me, I don’t die, my former household don’t have to feel guilty. Not my best friend, not the man I had adored and trusted to an extent I’m no longer capable of; this was justified. My private venting in my journal was proof of that. Even AJ knew they were being used. I didn’t expect my conversation to Asra to be shown to Ash, but it did seem par for the course, these days.

“It’s not fair to them.” My voice sounded weak, even to my own ears. “When we first agreed to this, it was all of us supporting them. And now– like you said they would always have a place here, even if we’re moving–”

“Plans change,” they said curtly. “And if you feel that way, we can ship all of their packages back to them and just let them stay homeless and, I don’t know, die in the woods somewhere!”

I stared at them. I’d never known them to be cruel. They were once someone I wanted to hold me while I cried. But then, I’d never known them or Arkady to ever do anything like this to me. This person in front of me, shaking in rage over the knowledge of me having the gall to vent to a friend about a near impossible situation– seemed like a bloody stranger. And it wasn’t just the haircut. “I didn’t lie to them. I don’t lie to them. I’ve never lied to you, either!”

“Oh, you’ve never lied to me? Um, let’s see!” Their hand flicked out in a rapid countdown. My own hand was pulling at my ponytail. I was probably going to break another hair-tie. “Aberle! Kaspar! Vex!”

“I never lied about them!” How could I have had? I could still feel the sensation of Kaspar’s fine, waving hair between my fingers. I could feel the sharp sink of Aberle’s old couch as we sat down for another round of video games, smelled the lingering Chinese delivery in the air. Vex– well, I’d tried ducking her for months, but she knew she was needed. I felt the pressure of her circling, like a mother wolf after its cub. “It’s all real to me!”

“Really? Because once when I texted Aberle on Discord, your laptop pinged!”

I blinked. I was used to being accused of things I’ve never done, but– “I don’t even know how to use Discord! You can look on my laptop, I don’t have Discord.”

“On your phone, then!”

“Look through my phone!” Ash shook their head, despite their love of looking through other people’s things.

“Look, either you’re lying to me or you’re disassociating so bad that you don’t know you’re texting me, and either way, that’s fucked!”

Aberle, using my body? A bizarre concept, but this was a magically-inclined household. “I mean. I’ve tried to channel people from other planes before. Like you do with Arannan and–”

“I can do that with Arannan because he exists! Because he’s real! These people that you claim you know– they’re not!”

Maybe they were right. Maybe I never had enough reason to believe about half of my friends actually existed within their own bodies and had their own social security numbers. Except… “But you slept with Aberle? You told me you met him? In person?”

“Yes, because you projected him out in front of me and made me see him!”

What can I even say to that?

Ash went on. “Look, when my alters do something, it’s still my responsibility. I’m not saying that these are alters, but…”

There was some sort of transition within this argument. Or maybe there wasn’t. I was on track for a breakdown, so the thought that I just randomly interrupted with this is rather believable. “You’re not even seeing me anymore. It doesn’t matter what I say or what I do, you’ve just already decided on who I am. Arkady even lied about me!” At this point, I was breathing quickly, perhaps even to avoid sobbing. “He told Asra that I was the one who suggested we search for March’s birth certificate. Not you! I didn’t even know a birth certificate would show multiple births. You did that! You suggested that!”

Ash was shaking their head. “Yes, you’re right, the birth certificate thing was my call.” Their voice had softened for just a brief instant. “But listen, if Arkady was like this… why do you want to get back together with him?”

“Because he’s better than this.” The Arkady I had fallen for would have never screamed at me. Would have never gone to my abuser. Would have never lied to me and about me. Would’ve never approved Ash going through my journals. And I’ve only seen glimpses of him in the past six months.

“Xanthe. I have dated Arkady for six years. I think I would know. This is him.”

Even if you’re right, why is that okay with you?

We had initially been having what I thought had been a good conversation, the week before. We had gotten to the March 3rd incident, the first day that my journals had been violated and I was being accused of witchcraft. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that being gained up on makes my mind go blank. And when someone I trusted and adored assumed what I was doing, blood magic, I just agreed. Out of the four trauma reactions, Freeze and Fawn are my most frequent. It seemed the only thing to keep April at least somewhat mild.

We all had PTSD in this house. Something innocent may occasionally remind us of something nefarious. It was a common concept, and yet…

Ash asked, “So, that’s how you see Arkady? As someone your brain compares to April?”

God damn it. “No, mate. I was like deep in PTSD territory. It was so bad that the nurses at Strong thought I was currently being abused, not in a flashback.” This was just a misunderstanding. Probably my communication issues acting up. “That’s why they gave me that domestic abuse survey. All they knew is that I was freaked out, jumpy, and that I’d had a fight with my boyfriend.” And of course I kept talking. “I also didn’t know how I was delusional, I just kind of kept saying my boyfriend said I was, which probably wasn’t helpful–”

“You’d have to paint quite an appalling picture for them to think that Arkady is abusing you.”

I stared at my phone screen in disbelief. It was a mental health professional’s job to ask those questions. What reason would Ash have to get so viciously defensive? Of course, Akardy wasn’t abusive.

He just. Was distant and called me names and screamed at me and told me that I was manipulative and crazy, constantly invaded my privacy, but sometimes when I behaved for a while and never complained about how I had been treated the past few months, not in journals or in poems or to other people, sometimes he treats me like a human being if he’s also in a good mood– Oh.

Oh.

Well, time to stop thinking about that and just focus on packing, then.

“Yeah, just. Control you.” I muttered to the angel in my room.

Xhaxhollari was sitting on the corner of my bed, with his legs crossed. He’d actually used my body before, so, on Arkady’s advice to ‘control my world’, I’d said that I was integrating him. I sort of thought it would happen just by me saying it. “He’s integrated, he’s integrated, he’s integrated.”

“You can keep telling everyone I’m gone,” Xhaxhollari suggested. “It’s worked well enough so far.”

I ignored that and laid back down on my chaise. If I could ignore him, he wasn’t really there, right? I texted Asra, “Thanks, Ash just pounded on my door as if the cops had arrived.”

Xhax wasn’t one to give up. “Do you think that’s what’s happening? That I’m an alter? That we have DID?”

I looked back at him. He looked like an elongated, inhuman version of me that had lost most of his pigment. His wings had the faintest sheen of champagne gold and he draped it over himself like a cloak. There this angel sat, in my tiny bedroom in Rochester, New York, casually offering me insight into my brain. “Well,” I sighed, “We have something.