Leading up to our much-needed vacation was stressful enough for it to warrant its own vacation. Vali had heard that Arkady and Rowan were daring to take their vacation and this 28-year-old decided he couldn’t be left all alone for two weeks.
As someone who had spent the majority of the past three years alone, this definitely summoned a streak of bitterness in me. I successfully beat it back, though. For all the good it did me. Vali was pushing towards Rowan only having one week down in Georgia instead of two. (Maybe to cut down on babysitting fees?)
You see, what was so odd about the attic incident before is that Arkady actually did not know, until I told him, that I hadn’t even said anything to Vali about the room arrangements. He had already been chastising me for ‘How I treated Vali about it’ and I actually had to interrupt him, over the phone, to explain that I never even talked to Vali about the attic. I remember how much that surprised him, and how abashed he was for assuming. (Again, the good ol’ days.)
Then, only weeks later, Rowan had come up with a plan to satisfy both parties. They would spend only one week in Savannah, then return just in time to pacify Vali. Arkady would spend two weeks with me so that I didn’t feel cheated.
Arkady was laying into me, over text, about how selfish I was being, for an answer that I haven’t yet given. This time, he went even further than the last. Arkady was referencing Vali’s ill-planned, haphazard lurch across the country– how his car broke down and how he had to have Rowan pay to air-ship himself and many of his belongings by airplane– and sold that as the standard I should aspire to. I was stunned. He had never been cruel to me over text before. “Just because you feel alone doesn’t mean everyone else has to feel alone too!” “You’re so selfish for still staying in Georgia. Vali had to leave a lot of his stuff behind and didn’t get time to plan, why don’t you just hop a bus and get up here if you’re so lonely down there?” Even more bizarre, he seemed not to be responding to anything I was actually saying. It was as if we were having two entirely separate conversations. He wasn’t even typing like him. “Why did you say no to Rowan only spending one week in Savannah?”
Indeed, I’d already spoken to Vali about this. He’d started the conversation off with some dribble. “Apparently I’m not allowed to be happy.” Something along those lines. And I told him that I never said no. In fact, I felt that it was a good idea.
Finally, he seemed to read the words, especially when I had a screenshot to prove it. “You didn’t?”
“No!” As I explained, Arkady actually seemed taken aback and shaky. “THAT’S what I have an issue with. Not how long Rowan is going to be down here. It’s like Vali’s name is brought up and I’m suddenly scrutinized half to death, about shit I didn’t even say yet. I feel like if there was a newspaper headline that said, ‘We’re putting Xanthe to death and also Vali wants a cookie!’ and I read it and went, ‘What the fuck’, you and Rowan would hop on my ass with, ‘Oh, so Vali doesn’t deserve cookies?’ What the fuck is going on with you lately? It’s freaking me the fuck out.”
Arkady agreed and apologised in what seemed like a daze. He said that he was confused, and that he’d had to go to bed. Apparently, Vali was already telling the household how selfish I was for not agreeing to the plans.
Even stranger, Arkady texted me the next day to tell me that he didn’t remember any of that conversation. He just flat out did not remember saying any of that stuff to me, but definitely agreed it was out of character.
I was learning to tread lightly where Vali was concerned. But finally, the middle of May arrived.
Gods, it was something out of a fairytale. It was not only my husband-to-be and my best friend, but also the lovers and siblings and families of so many of my parts. Strange, how my heart doesn’t twist when I remember his kisses. Those vacation pictures tend to pop up on my timeline and get the biggest smile from me, if perhaps a few notes of grief.
I never deleted the romantic photos. I’m not the type to ret-con my relationships with people. As regards to Arkady, I worry for him. Sometimes I feel as if I’m in mourning. Other times, it feels like he’s missing. Once, when thinking of him, this song popped up–
The vacation did start off on a… note. Arkady had left his mood-stabilizing medication at home, under the impression that they would swing back home before beginning the long journey from north to south. Rowan refused, saying that it would be hard on Vali to see them both again before they set off.
I’m not kidding.
Arkady, who has bipolar, had to go two weeks unmedicated, to spare Vali a moment of discomfort.
But altogether, it was a lovely vacation. It was honestly two of the best weeks of my life.
With one very severe exception.
Rowan, Arkady, and I had just been to Tybee Island. It was the same day the Famous Picture was taken of Rowan and I.
Rowan wasn’t feeling all too well, so we decided to take an Uber home. During the Uber ride, I couldn’t help but notice that Rowan was getting multiple calls in a row. They declined each one, looking more nervous all the while.
The calls were from Vali. Repeating. Rowan even tried to text him, perhaps that they couldn’t talk just then, but couldn’t even type out the sentence without yet another call.
But, thanks to my ever-hectic work schedule, I’d only requested that night off to go to my favourite speakeasy, Mata Hari. Rowan seemed not to want to say much about the phone-calls– just that Vali needed calmed down. (Maybe burped and changed, too?)
I was uneasy about it, but Arkady and I did manage to go out for about an hour. I don’t know if we would’ve decided to go back early if Arkady’s card hadn’t declined– maybe I would’ve trusted Rowan’s judgment of their new partner and tried to savour one of my last times at Mata Hari. I honestly don’t remember which, but I feel as if I had a bad feeling.
A quite justified one, as it would turn out. Arkady and I returned to a startling scene.
Rowan was on the phone with Vali, laying on those two mattresses I put together on the floor. They were crying. “I’m sorry I’m not there. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.” Arkady and I were silent. The volume of Rowan’s phone was so that we could both hear Vali’s drunken yelling on the other end.
(TW: Graphic description of suicide threats and abortion.)
“I am all ALONE for my traumaversary! You left me all alone for it! I just can’t do this anymore.”
Rowan was desperate but actually fairly rational, towards the beginning. “I can call a friend to come over and sit with you. I could even call a family member. You don’t have to be alone.”
“I am alone, Rowan! You left me alone for my traumaversary! I had to cut a life out of me, by myself, bleeding out on the floor! I’m a killer, Rowan, it happened this day! I don’t want anyone to know!”
Rowan was tearful and visibly shaking. Arkady and I weren’t saying a word, trying to grasp the situation. Having been through this situation many times in both my inworld and outerworld, I was triggered as fuck. I remember drinking the last of our collective wine as if it were water, trying to stay calm. Rowan said something, then, that would definitely perk my suspicions. “You don’t have to tell them why! I’m sorry, I knew about the traumaversary, but I thought you told me that it was on the 6th?”
One thing I’ve noticed about Rowan. They never forget traumaversaries. They’d remembered mine sometimes before I did. Arkady concurred– for them to have forgotten such an outstanding traumaversary that would be happening during the week they’d be on the other side of the country was exceedingly unlikely.
Months later, I’d search his Facebook up and down for all posts on May 16th, on every year. Vali wasn’t exactly what one would call reserved, but each “traumaversary”‘s posts were nothing of note. Not even a lapse of posting, not even a hint. He’s cosplaying and sharing memes just like any other day. The traumaversary of which, by the way, he was fine with Rowan being away for.
“No, it’s today! It’s today and you left me all alone. I’m not going to make it through this, Rowan. I’m sorry. I wish you were here.”
Again and again, Rowan would suggest that a friend of theirs or relative could come in and be Vali’s personal suicide watch. Vali either seemed not to hear them or outright refused, saying, “I don’t want to talk to anyone about this! I don’t want them to know! I almost died, Rowan! I could almost die tonight because I’m all alone!”
Then Rowan said something horrifying. Something tear-choked, scarring, that was said to someone they had dated for four months. “Vali, if… you die, you realise you’ll be taking me with you, right?”
“Rowan?” Arkady whispered the name of his fiance. In the dark of my flat, I could see tears running freely down his face.
I feel like my senses hyper-clarified everything in that moment. Shadows were darker, light was more pronounced, colours more saturated. I felt as if I were being forcibly grounded– I absolutely did not want to be. Vali was doing that manipulative, coy bullshit of, ‘Maybe I took something, maybe I didn’t, maybe I’m slurring because I’m drinking, maybe because I overdosed’ in a cyclical, sadistic kind of manner. Rowan was continuing to beg, once more guaranteeing that Vali’s suicide would be a two-for-one sale.
At one point, Rowan shakily offered to spend hundreds of dollars to get an earlier flight home. The next morning, perhaps. Rowan pulled it up on their phone and realised there was one last seat in the next morning. Vali started to calm down at that. “You can come back here?”
“Yes, yes! Please, just wait! I’m transferring money over now.” Rowan’s tone was so pleading, as if this man was actually standing on the a roof’s edge rather than just drunkenly wandering around a red-lit attic.
I was so disgusted. Even thinking about it now makes the bile rise in the back of my throat. Nothing, including a sick Rowan promising to stay on the phone, being watched, being comforted, anything stopped Vali in his rampage until this fucking vile toddler got what he wanted.
And it was reminding me of someone I thought I’d left behind a long time ago. I’m usually not partial to weed, but they’d brought over weed gummies for us all to try. I needed to escape, and the wine had run out. (Should that be the tagline for this series?)
Once Rowan had transferred the cash, they switched tabs to purchase that plane ticket. By some miracle, the seat had already been filled. Rowan took this about as well as you’d expect.
“What? What do you mean it’s been filled? No, it hasn’t!”
“Yes, yes, it has! I’m so sorry, Vali, I literally just refreshed it and–”
“You did that on purpose!” Vali’s voice had changed from pitiful to angry. He was effectively yelling at Rowan for the fact the flight had filled up.
I’m pretty sure I was frozen, at this point. I can’t remember a single thing I said or did. I definitely was trying to comfort Arkady. Maybe pet Rowan to try to calm them down. This conversation had gone on for four hours. Four hours of Rowan feverish, begging, crying, thinking the life of their partner and themselves could end at any moment with them as an auditory witness.
I think the only one who wasn’t frozen, at that point, was Arkady. He’d always taken action whereas I was more likely to freeze. It was those balances between one another that I lived for.
He took the phone from Rowan and suddenly the protective, scalding Scorpio in him was alight. “Vali, this is unacceptable. This has gone on for hours. If you’re in that much danger, I’m calling the police.”
Vali: “You will NOT call the police on me! Don’t you dare! If you call the police on me, I’ll kill myself before you get here!”
“No, Vali, Rowan is crying! They were SICK. You didn’t even mention that it was your traumaversary until now–”
“DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE, [ARKADY]? DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO CUT ANOTHER LIFE OUT OF YOU, TO BE A MURDERER, AND TO BLEED OUT ONTO THE FLOOR? DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE? I ALMOST DIED.”
“Vali, ENOUGH.” Arkady was all fire and ice. It was beautiful. My heart was soaring. There I was, in trigger city, living in a nightmare that only existed in the deepest recesses of my mind, and Arkady was there, swinging a sword at it. Protecting both of his partners. That’s certainly not the same man who harassed me for journaling, that’s for damned sure. “Vali, I am hanging up the phone, and if you call back and threaten to kill yourself again, I will call the cops.”
And gods, he was wonderful after that. He knew I was triggered, he knew Rowan was freaked out. Despite the explosion of protective anger just moments before, he was so sweet to Rowan and I. “Everything’s fine, it’s all going to be fine.” He was holding us both.
My cross-fade had hit me at full force. I was giggling, somewhat hysterically. I’d reached out to hold Arkady’s hand and it, humourously, looked as if I were trying to shake his hand. “Is this your goodnight handshake? Is this your high goodnight handshake?” He shook it back and I laughed, genuinely. He could always make me feel like everything could be fine.
A year and a half later, Vali would yell at me in front of Rowan and Arkady, about how I had thought of him unfairly over what was a “Severe PTSD episode.” Over something he’d never proven had ever happened. Not in a prior conversation to the date in question, not in any references in chats to that specific date– it also didn’t even make logical sense. Details had always changed, there was no conclusion on how he’d actually survived, the dates apparently shifted. Much like the deceased twin he can’t prove exists– but we’ll get to that.
I didn’t know all this that night. What I did know that I had two people I adored beyond all measure, and a situation I could only dream of– they were all in danger. They were all in danger by someone who reminded me a lot of Kirra.